The Story Behind The Filming Of “I Can Only Imagine”


Andy and Jon Erwin, the Birmingham, Alabama-based directors of  the new movie “I Can Only Imagine,” filming a Rock Talk segment for EWTN’s show “Life on the Rock” with LOTR Co-Host Father John Paul Mary (left). Tune in 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, March 18 on EWTN to see the interview!

“This story, if you’ll let it, will change you. It certainly changed us.”

So says Jon Erwin, who with his brother Andy, directed a blockbuster movie that tells the story of Bart Millard of Mercy Me, who wrote “I Can Only Imagine,” the bestselling Christian song of all time, and the first and only Christian single to be certified platinum (twice) for sales of over 2 million digital downloads. The trailer alone has been viewed 125 million times, and has garnered more than 300,000 comments, and is poised to break the record as the most viewed trailer online for a faith film ever. (Go to to see the official trailer and more.)

Quaid facing left

Actor Dennis Quaid, who plays the abusive father in the new film “I Can Only Imagine,”  told Directors Andy and Jon Erwin that he had never played a character who had gone through such a major transformation.

The movie, in theaters March 16, vividly portrays how Millard’s abusive father – a “monster” in his son’s words – is eventually transformed by faith and his impending death. That transformation, played to perfection by Actor Dennis Quaid, leads to the healing of the father/son relationship and, after the father’s death, the writing of the blockbuster song by his son.

The song imagines what it would be like to be in heaven with Jesus, but to get to the place where it could be written, Millard had to go to hell and back. The Birmingham-based Erwin brothers recently visisted EWTN to film a segment for “Life on the Rock,” which airs 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, March 18, with encores at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 22 and 5 p.m. ET, Friday, March 23. (Find EWTN at The movie is all about redemption and forgiveness and, after hearing their stories, it’s obvious that neither the cast, the stars, nor the audience was immune from its power.

Bart Millard 2 THIS ONE

J. Michael Finley plays Bart Millard of Mercy Me in the new film “I Can Only Imagine.”

The song itself was personally important to Co-Writer and Co-Director Jon Erwin when it debuted because he had just lost a close family friend, and it became important to him again this past summer when his 3-year-old son had unexpected heart surgery. “That song, which was an anchor of hope long ago, became an anchor again,” he said. “Pain can become your greatest inspiration. Being able to tell this story while that was happening did change me. God has a plan. [Your] pain can become your voice and can morph into the song you’re meant to sing.”

The two co-directors have many wonderful stories about the impact of the film on audiences fortunate enough to preview the film. For example, after screening the film in South Dakota, Jon said a 25-year-old man in the audience told him that while he was watching the movie he had texted his father – who he hadn’t spoken to in 10 years — and invited him to lunch so they could talk. The two later reconciled.

“The wonderful and dangerous thing about film and entertainment in general is that it gives permission for the audience to do what they’ve seen on the screen,” he said. “In this case, it gave someone the courage to make the phone call they should have made 10 years ago.”

Trace Adkins facing right

Trace Adkins initially turned down the role of Scott Brickell, manager of the band Mercy Me, according to Andy Erwin, who co-directs the new film “I Can Only Imagine.”

As it turns out, the stars of the film were equally impacted by the story. Trace Adkins initially turned down the role of Scott Brickell, the manager of the band Mercy Me, where Bart Millard is the lead singer.

Director Andy Erwin explains: “I asked him why. He said, ‘I’ve had a rough couple years. I don’t feel like I’m good enough to be in a faith-based film.’” That’s a sentiment to which every Christian can relate! So Andy took him golfing, and remembers saying, “The movie is about redemption. It takes you where you are and offers redemption and forgiveness.” That obviously convinced the star, who reportedly told Andy, “I could use a little redemption in my life!”

Like Adkins, Dennis Quaid has had some well-documented hard times. “He talks openly about overcoming drug addiction,” Andy said. But unlike Adkins, Quaid was eager to take on the role. As Andy remembers it, Quaid said: “I want to do this film. I’ve never played a character that’s gone through this kind of transformation. In the end, he’s so childlike and quiet and redeemed. It’s a beautiful thing!”

Bart Millard facing left

Directors Jon and Andy Erwin praised the great natural instincts of Actor J. Michael Finley, who plays Bart Millard in the new film “I Can Only Imagine.”

Over the course of the film, Andy says Quaid became “a dear friend.” He says the star was raised by a devout Christian mother, but went on a journey to find God in the 70s. He asked questions of different faith traditions but ultimately found “his life and his comfort were the words of Jesus.”

Twenty-five years ago, Jon Erwin said Quaid wrote a powerful song called “On My Way to Heaven,” but never finished it. “He wrote it in the Gospel tradition. On the set of ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ he came back to it. He wrote the bridge and the final chorus. We’re going to release a music video about it next week!”

When the film was finished, Andy took it to Quaid’s house so he and his twin 9-year-olds could screen it. “At the end of the film, Dennis was sobbing. He said, ‘That was just powerful.’” Quaid also told him that after seeing the film his kids began asking him questions about God.

Teacher who believed in Bart Millard

Priscilla Shirer plays Mrs. Fincher, the teacher who discovers that Bart Millard can sing and pushes him to perform in the school musical in the new film “I Can Only Imagine!”

The Erwin brothers were favored with a lot of “God moments” during the making of the film. They were three weeks into filming in Oklahoma, and they had an “unknown kid” playing Mercy Me’s Millard – but no star. Andy called Stephen Kendrick, who produced the popular Christian film, “War Room,” and explained that he and his brother had a serious problem. “He [Kendrick] said, ‘If this is God’s movie and you really feel he’s leading you, you’ve got to leave it in His Hands.’ So I said, “Okay God, it’s your problem!” Next thing we know, Dennis Quaid is on the phone saying, ‘I want to do this film.’”

How did the film come to Quaid’s attention? Andy says Producer Kevin Downes “suddenly” discovered that Noah Hamilton, one of their cameramen, was the brother of Bethany Hamilton, author of “Soul Surfer”, which was made into a film about the courage of the surfer who lost her arm after a shark attack. Quaid played her dad in that movie and Noah said the family still has a close relationship with him. The rest is history!

Amy Grant 1

Singer Amy Grant, who was planning to debut the “career-making” song, “I Can Only Imagine,” gives it back to Bart Millard, in an act of selfless generosity, because she believed the song was his to sing.

Another “God moment” came when the Erwin brothers were searching for the finale to the film. The finale came to them as result of a “chance” conversation with someone in the business. When the Erwin brothers told him they were planning to film “I Can Only Imagine,” the man said, “I was in the Ryman that night in Nashville when Singer Amy Grant, [to whom Bart had given his “career making” song for her “comeback”] called Bart on stage and gave him his song back!”

That was a story Jon Erwin hadn’t heard! He realized instantly that this was the elusive finale for which they had been searching! Fortunately, the brothers knew Amy Grant because they had filmed a music video with her earlier in their careers. However, in an incredibly selfless and Christian act, Grant came to believe the song wasn’t hers to sing.

In real life, she called Bart before the concert to tell him he could debut the song himself during one of her own concerts! However, in the film, she has the realization that Bart should sing his own song in the middle of her own concert, and in a surprise move calls the largely unknown singer up to the stage to sing his song before a sell-out crowd. There’s more to the scene, but you have to go to the film to see it.

Bart Millard extra

J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard is watching Amy Grant’s concert when she calls him to the stage to perform his song, “I Can Only Imagine,” during the finale of a new film by the same name.

Will the film become a hit? A movie executive, who declined to distribute “Imagine,” told the Erwin Brothers that he didn’t believe there would be more than 18,000 people who would be interested in a film about Christian music. Yet the Erwin brothers said they believe that by the time the film premieres it will have easily surpassed the 132 million views earned by trailers for the Christian film “Miracles from Heaven.” That would give “Imagine” the distinction of having the most viewed trailers online for a faith film ever. If even a small fraction of the audience that has seen the trailers comes to see the film, that “doubting Thomas” movie executive will undoubtedly be telling stories about “the one that got away” for the rest of his life!

But that’s not something that concerns the Erwin brothers, whose previous films include “October Baby,” “Mom’s Night Out,” and “Woodlawn.” They’re too busy making films that matter.

“For us personally, when we stumbled into [filmmaking], we were kids that had a hobby,” said Andy Erwin, as he and brother recalled their early years making music videos. “I was a Christian. I had entrusted my life to Jesus, but I didn’t have any ambition to have this kind of calling. Along the way, as the Lord has allowed us to tell stories like this, you can’t help but have it shape you. To tell stories to a world that desperately needs the message of Christianity – we have kind of become zealots for the cause!”

Amen brothers!

See you in theaters March 16!

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Building the Body of Christ in Nigeria, One Woman at a Time

Catholic Women Organization Nigeria PHOTO

Can a group of Catholic women save 186 million Nigerians from the horrors of Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills and the heartache caused by same-sex marriage – especially when it’s not their primary mission?

According to Nwanneka Cecelia Okolo, National President of Catholic Women Organisation Nigeria (British spelling!), CWON recently managed to do just that!

“Last Monday, Feb. 19, there was supposed to be a hearing in the Nigerian Senate on the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill,” Okolo said during a recent visit to EWTN to film an episode of “The Church Universal” with two of her colleagues. “The bill was all about Planned Parenthood trying to see if they could push abortion and same-sex marriage. They tried before and failed, but they keep trying.”

As CWON’s National President, Okolo had the ability to ask the Presidents of the 54 dioceses and one vicariate that make up CWON to submit petitions, position papers, and memorandums to the Senate. The women were also asked to flood the Senate, inside and out, on the day of the hearing.

“On Friday, Feb. 16, the message came to us that the Senate had postponed the hearing indefinitely!” Okolo said. “Why? About 95 percent of the position papers were against the bill! The Senate also said they didn’t want women filling the whole place – and not just Catholic women! We get others to move with us!”

Okolo is proud of this accomplishment. But unlike a secular group that might form a lobby to protect its interests, Okolo says that CWON’s successes – which include economic empowerment of women and children – are an outgrowth of one thing: its members’ religious formation in the Catholic Church.

“We encourage Catholic mothers to embrace the life of Christ; to bring their children up in the true Christian manner, knowing what is right and wrong, and with the doctrines of Christ and the sacraments.”

CWO Nigeria Photo 2Okolo says this spiritual formation takes place in monthly meetings in a parish or diocese, each of which is served by a chaplain adviser and a sister adviser. Meetings begin at 4 p.m. with the rosary. This is followed by the Gospel of the day and commentary on that Gospel. Someone then delivers a talk on an assigned topic, which might involve the Church’s social doctrines, encyclicals, or an apostolate. This is followed by a discussion of one of the sacraments, where reference is always made to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Leaders also recommend good books and encyclicals for members to read on their own.

CWON is a member of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations, an international group that encompasses affiliates in almost 100 countries. Their mission: “To evangelize and transform society” by following in the footsteps of Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The 54 dioceses and one vicariate in Nigeria that make up CWON are organized into nine ecclesial provinces. There is a hierarchy that is part of each province. But what is most striking about it is that each province has a vicar in charge of evangelization; that is, a priest who actually teaches the women how to evangelize!

“When we want to train evangelizers for each diocese, we call the vicar,” Okolo said. “He talks about when you evangelize, and how you address people. Before you even start talking, your life needs to reflect what you’re trying to say! Pope Paul VI says that modern man prefers witnesses to teachers. The vicar hammers on the fact that you are supposed to live what you preach and then [takes you through the evangelization process] step by step.

“Pray first, share the word, don’t joke around. He advises us not to focus on ourselves. It’s good if you give examples of others more than yourself. Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ. We are encouraged to read the Bible. The vicar teaches us how to defend the faith.”

CWON Nigerea Photo 3

To empower women and children, CWON provides opportunities for them to learn a simple trade such as sewing, dressmaking, knitting, housekeeping, and computer. “We even have one lady mechanic,’ Okolo said proudly. Okolo herself asks the women she advises to think beyond cultural stereotypes. For instance, when making up their wills, Okolo suggests women consider including their daughters as well as their sons.

While CWON is obviously interested in serving its members holistically, Okolo says, at the end of the day, spiritual formation is what makes everything else possible. “You can’t give what you don’t have. We train our members to be true Christians. If you have a spiritual person, everything else is easier.”

Amen, dear sister in Christ!

Note: If you would like to help CWON in its mission, which includes distribution of free bibles to its members, please go to “The Church Universal” episode with CWON will air in the Fall of 2018 on EWTN. Find us at


Posted in Africa, The Universal Church | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Three Things You Can Do To Help Your Departed Loved Ones, And One To Ask A Priest To Do For the Dying

cemetery 6November is the month when the Church Militant prays for the Church Suffering, meaning the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Most of us submit the names of loved ones to our parish or a Mass society to be remembered during this month. But ask yourself this:

  1. What else can I do to make a difference for my loved ones who may still be suffering in purgatory?
  2. Besides the Anointing of the Sick, is there anything I can do to spiritually assist a loved one who is dying?

For answers to these questions, I turned to EWTN Chaplain Fr. Joseph Mary. Here’s what Fr. Joseph recommends we do in November:

cemetery 3

For the Souls in Purgatory:

  • November 1-8:  You can obtain a plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls in purgatory if you “devoutly visit a cemetery and, at least mentally, pray for the departed.”

(That means you don’t have to pray out loud, but you certainly can!) If you are reading this after Nov. 8, don’t worry. You can still receive a partial indulgence by performing the actions above.)

  • On All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2): You can receive a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory, if you “devoutly visit a church or oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed.”
  • Daily in November: Here’s a suggestion Father Joseph was given and really likes – so he is passing it on to EWTN’s viewers. Get out your calendar, and write down the name of a deceased family member or friend that you intend to pray for that day. Offer up everything, good and bad, that happens to you that day, and pray as much as you can for their release, if necessary, from purgatory. This is an important spiritual work of mercy!
  • At any time, you can gain a partial indulgence for the poor souls by reciting morning or evening prayer from the Office of the Dead, or devoutly reciting the prayer “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

cemetery 2For Those in Danger of Death:

There are many benefits of working at EWTN. When my husband was dying of cancer, I knew I needed to ask a priest to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In fact, my husband had been anointed a number of times over the eight years he battled the disease.

However, when EWTN Chaplain Father Joseph Mary visited our home in the days before my husband’s death, he asked my husband if he would like to receive an “Apostolic Blessing.” That’s something I didn’t know about. You definitely want to ask your priest to administer this blessing to a loved one who is dying as part of the last rites, which state, “A priest who administers the sacraments to someone in danger of death should not fail to impart the apostolic blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached.”

If a priest is not present as a person is dying, and they haven’t previously received the apostolic blessing during that sickness (which would suffice),  the Church “grants to the Christian faithful, who are duly disposed, a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they are in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime; in such a case, the Church supplies for the three conditions ordinarily required for a plenary indulgence” (confession, communion, and prayers for the intention of the pope).  In those situations, the Church also commends the devout use of a crucifix.

cemetery 4All of the above has yet another benefit. Father Joseph says that #958 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that our prayer for the souls in purgatory “is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”

Did you know that?  While the Holy Souls can no longer pray for themselves, they can pray for us!  Think of the greeting you will get one day when you meet a soul whom you helped obtain release from purgatory! In helping them, we may very well be one day helping ourselves, when they are in heaven and we are not yet there!

(Note: For the LIVING to receive an indulgence we must go to confession 20 days before or after we perform the indulgenced actions, receive Holy Communion (preferably on the day or days we perform the actions), pray for the Holy Father’s intentions, and be unattached to sin. That latter is a tough one, but all is not lost. Since most of us are attached to something, we may receive a partial indulgence rather than a plenary indulgence.)

Posted in afterlife, Catholic, Death, EWTN, Fr. Joseph Mary Wolfe, Michelle Laque Johnson, Religion | 3 Comments

EWTN Exclusive: Don’t Miss the U.S. Concert Of the World-Renowned Sistine Chapel Choir

EWTN’s viewers are cordially invited to what may legitimately be called the most historic music concert to hit U.S. soil in decades! In September 2017, for the first time in more than 30 years, the Sistine Chapel Choir traveled to the United States for a three-city concert tour. EWTN was there – and you can be too if you tune in this week to “In Concert: Sistine Chapel Choir,” which was recorded at the gorgeous and acoustically immense Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.

Others may have snippets, but EWTN is the only place to see the entire concert as well as behind-the-scenes video and interviews. This 90-minute special will air 6:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Oct. 21; 1:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 22; and 10 p.m. ET, Friday, Oct. 27.

“In Concert” Host Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, Chair of the Department of Music at Birmingham-Southern College, as well as the Artistic Director of its Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts, called the performance “world class,” a return to a “golden era,” and an evangelization tour de force.

What follows are a few of the reasons the Sistine Chapel Choir is so highly regarded:

  • The Sistine Chapel Choir is the Pope’s Choir.

“Their sole duty is to sing at all of the liturgical celebrations of the Holy Father,” Leary-Warsaw said. The papal choir has existed from the first centuries of the Church, but when Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the building of the Sistine Chapel in 1471, she says “the choir was reinvented and became a bigger and more important part of the papal liturgies.”

  • The Pueri Cantores (Latin for child singers) who make up the “white voices” section of the choir are the pride of the entire choir.

The term “white voices” refers to the fact that the young voices don’t sound like a man or a woman, but like a child. “Their origin dates back to the 6th Century when Pope Saint Gregory the Great founded a school of children’s singers to support the adult singers in these papal celebrations,” Leary-Warsaw said. “It’s incredibly competitive for a child to become a member of the five-year program.”

  • Maestro Msgr. Massimo Palombella, Master Director of the Choir, is a “music director of firsts.”

“The choir is not only the oldest choir in the Church, it one of the world class choirs in the world.’ Leary-Warsaw said.  Thanks to the reputation that the choir has developed under Maestro Palombella, who was appointed in 2010, the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon approached him several years ago about making a commercial recording. “Maestro Palombella was the first director to make commercial recordings and, for the first time in history, recordings were made of the choir in its home: the Sistine Chapel. One of them, “Cantate Domino,” received an award as an outstanding recording.”

  • The Sistine Chapel Choir’s purpose is evangelization through music.

To understand how music evangelizes, Leary-Warsaw provides a little history. The choir’s repertoire consists solely of Renaissance music; that is, music from the 15th to the 17th centuries, much of which was written exclusively for the Sistine Chapel Choir.

“Every day Maestro Palombella works with the repertoire of the choir. Everything they do has texts that are taken from Holy Scripture so he says that he gets his inspiration from the music itself. In working with the music, the Maestro has constant contact with Biblical verse. So he says he has no doubt in his mind that when people hear the Sistine chapel choir that music can be a door through which others can meet God!”

You won’t want to miss this special evening, which was hosted by The Catholic University of America.

“It is the first event sponsored by the newly formed Catholic Arts Council, which was created to promote, support and sustain the arts at Catholic University,” Leary-Warsaw said. “They are very happy to invite anybody who would like to be a patron of Catholic arts in the Church to support the artists, particularly young artists who are students at Catholic ( And we certainly have the Basilica to thank for the use of that venue.”

Leary-Warsaw extends an invitation to this historic musical event to one and all: “It was quite something to have the Sistine Chapel choir perform at the Basilica,” she said. “It’s just a superb concert!”

Posted in Catholic, Catholic Evangelist, Music, Religion, Television, Vatican, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EWTN’s “Called and Chosen – Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno” Showcases Military Chaplain’s Heroics On and Off the Battlefield

In this scene from EWTN original docudrama “Called and Chosen – Father Vincent R. Capodanno,” the Military Chaplain, played by Actor James Hutson, hears the battlefield confession of a fellow Marine, played by Michael Sedler. Premieres 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 30 on EWTN, Encores at 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Sept. 4.

In these days when the world is in so much need of real heroes, Father Vincent R. Capodanno stands out as a man of God, who is worthy of emulation. If you want your teenagers to understand what it means to live for more than yourself, and how to set an example without preaching, then gather the family around the television at 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 30 for the premiere of “Called and Chosen – Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno.” (Encores at 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Sept. 4.)

This EWTN original docudrama depicts the life of a former Maryknoll missionary in Taiwan, a young man who would eventually die – at the age of 38 — on the killing fields of Vietnam as he was administering the sacraments and pulling others to safety. This extraordinary priest died, not because he cared about the politics of war, but because he cared about the men who were dying on those fields; men who needed God and the sacraments; men who needed what only a Catholic priest who was unafraid to die could give them.

The real Father Vincent R. Capodanno, the Military Chaplain whose life is depicted in EWTN’s new docudrama, “Called and Chosen.”

The film will be preceded by a special “EWTN Live” with Writer/Director James Kelty (“Kateri”); George J. Phillips, Chairman of the Board of the Father Capodanno Guild (who served with the priest and whose testimony is also in the film); and Mary Preece, Vice-Postulator of Cause of Father Vincent R. Capodanno.

“Not only was Father Capodanno a hero, he was one of those people who had charisma while still being a very humble person,” says Kelty. “People just wanted to be around him — everyone who knew him told me that.”

The docudrama begins by depicting the priest’s idyllic early life as the son of Italian-American immigrants in Staten Island, N.Y.  Young Vincent was born into a family of faith in 1929, and was captivated early on by stories of brave missionary priests whose martyrdom was portrayed in the stories and films of his day. Little did anyone know that this little boy would one day join the ranks of these martyrs.

Battle scene from EWTN’s “Called and Chosen – Father Vincent R. Capodanno.”

“Called and Chosen” is most riveting in the last hour of the 90-minute film, which intersperses the testimonies of those Marines with whom Fr. Capodanno served with realistic battle scenes that put viewers into the heart of the action. We see a Military Chaplain who went into battle – even though it wasn’t required of him — armed only with the weapon of his faith.

Writer/Director Kelty is clearly an admirer. “He had a quiet strength, a way of mixing his ministry, the heart of which was to bring Christ to people,  in a way that made people feel that he wasn’t just pushing something on them, that he cared about them. When he was stateside (on leave), he would go to the hospital to visit someone he didn’t even know. He was that kind of person. He just never said no. Some of us, our basket is full. We have to withdraw. But he didn’t seem to do that. He was always there, available to everybody.”

In this war photo from Vietnam, the real Father Vincent Capodanno leads the Marines he served in prayer.

As this film explains, this was a priest who received 120 to 150 letters a day from former Marines who had returned home – letters he always did his best to answer. This was a priest who handed out St. Christopher medals and rosaries – including his own when he ran out – and who asked the recipients to pray for the enemy.

The men who served with Father Capodanno depict a priest who was fearless, who lived and prayed with the troops, who had a tremendous ability to listen, who could somehow tell what a Marine wasn’t saying, who had a sense of humor, and who almost always allowed others to decide when a conversation had ended.

Father Capodanno died exactly where he wanted to be, where he knew God willed him to be. As one Marine who served with him said upon seeing Father’s body: “Every other American I had seen killed had a very terrified look on their face. He was at peace.”

Fifteen of the actors portraying the young Marines in EWTN’s “Called and Chosen – Father Vincent R. Capodanno” are students from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

Kelty says the hand of God was on the film from start to finish. He managed to connect with John Paul the Great University in San Diego, Calif., which directed him to five recent graduates who Kelty said did a phenomenal job of lighting and shooting the film.

Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. connected Kelty with 15 students who do a superb job of playing Marines in the film. The actor who plays Father Capodanno even looks like the priest he portrays. The young actors were thrilled to meet a number of the Marines when the veterans visited the set during the filming, something Kelty called a great grace. “Hollywood extras wouldn’t have felt it the way these [Catholic student actors] did. The grace came from the vets that knew him and from these young guys who wanted so much to connect with that kind of heroism and courage and faith.”

Viewers will want to listen closely to the opening montage. Kelty was able to obtain two short snippets of Father Capodanno’s voice. In the first snippet, the priest calls upon God to grant absolution of sins. In the second snippet, part of a sermon Father gave to the Marines in Vietnam, you can hear him tell them: “God chooses the moment to call us back.”

The Marines who served with Father Vincent Capodanno said they never saw a priest celebrate Mass with such devotion.

God called Father Capodanno home as he was administering the sacraments and saving the life of a fellow soldier. As Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This film will not only make you proud to be Catholic, it will make you want to be a better Catholic and, whatever you are facing, it will give you courage. After watching the heroism of this young priest, viewers will want to take to heart the message that Father Capodanno imparted to his men before they went into what would be this priest’s final battle: “Do not be afraid this day, for God is with us.”

Posted in martyrs, Missionaries, saints, Uncategorized, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Encountering God With ‘Real Life Catholic’s’ Chris Stefanick

“Real Life Catholic” Host Christ Stefanick

How does the average Catholic encounter God? “Real Life Catholic” Host Chris Stefanick is on a quest to find out. Join him! (Airs 11 p.m. ET, Tuesdays beginning June 6; 5:30 p.m. ET, Thursdays, and 2 a.m. ET, Sundays. Also live streams online and at

“I don’t hear the voice of God often, but I asked Him what He wanted us to do with our video ministry,” Stefanick said. “I felt like God was telling me, ‘Tell My story.’ And what that meant was not to talk about Him, but to show how He is moving in His Church, in average ordinary people’s lives. So that’s what we did!”

In his quest to encounter God in fellow Catholics, Stefanick travels from the cranberry bogs and crawfish ponds of Wisconsin and Louisiana, to the beaches of Hawaii, the youth in Poland, New Mexico, and more. You’ll hear from people encountering God in their busy lives and in the death of loved ones.

In the cranberry bogs of Wisconsin for the “Holy Cranberries!” episode of “Real Life Catholic.”

“One of my best friends lost his wife,” Stefanick said. “His oldest child is 8-years-old. Six months later, we filmed our death with dignity episode. For me, that was stunningly beautiful and hope-filled without whitewashing the pain. In every experience of life, He [Jesus] is there.”

Stefanick is 41 years old. What experiences in this young man’s life led him to put together such a show?

“My parents dragged me against my will to a retreat,” he said. “I was in 8th grade. It really transformed me. It wasn’t just the speakers or the music, it was the people. I could see that they were alive. Pope Benedict XVI has a beautiful quote. He says the early Christians called themselves ‘the living ones.’ When I found myself in the presence of these people, I realized I was dead inside.”

Dead? Even though he was only in 8th grade, Stefanick says he had been drinking after school on a regular basis.

Fr. Nguyen talks about his escape from Vietnam in this “Freedom in Philadelphia” episode of “Real Life Catholic.”

“I was on the wrong way really fast, and I became an apostle really fast. I’ve done nothing but share the faith ever since.”

Since his conversion, Stefanick has graduated from Franciscan University at Steubenville, married his college sweetheart, had six children, and worked in parish youth ministry in East Los Angeles, in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin for Bishop Jerome Listecki and then Bishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke, and in the Diocese of Denver for Archbishop Charles Chaput. Since 2012, he has used all of that experience and all of those contacts to build his own non-profit, “Real Life Catholic,” which is the ministry on which this series is based.

“Real Life Catholic” goes to Hawaii in this episode entitled “Kauai Catholic.”

Stefanick says he wanted the show to be every bit as good as secular reality television shows, and he believes his team succeeded. In fact, he wanted the series to be so fun and so engaging that those who watch it will want to send links on social media not only to their Catholic friends, but to those they know are on the fence, and to those friends who aren’t even Christian.

“I think our biggest crisis in the church today is that a lot of people associate Catholicism with various issues which are unimportant. The branding of our faith is so removed from the Gospel. People don’t think of Catholicism as the Church of the Gospel. The world has come to see Catholicism as a list of rules and regulations.

“Real Life Catholic” recreates this iconic scene from “Rocky.” It’s part of the Freedom in Philadelphia episode of EWTN’s “Real Life Catholic.” Find EWTN at

“This program is something to show the world that, ‘No! We have something incredibly life-giving.’ When you come into relationship [with God], ordinary life looks the same on the outside, but it’s completely different on the inside. It’s the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In order to get in touch with the Spirit, Stefanick said he had to learn to quiet his soul, to take a deep breath, and to learn how to recognize God in the moment.

Today, he says: “Every moment, every Catholic is surrounded by the grace of God. If we learn to experience it, we can be transformed by it. We become ‘the living ones.’ Filming this show has made me a better person and I hope it has the same effect on the people who watch it. I think it will.”

To learn more: Follow EWTN’s Facebook page,, which will live stream the show and provide reminders about when it will air on EWTN television. (Find EWTN at  To sign up for Stefanick’s newsletter, to get monthly video clips and links to the show, and for schedule updates, please go to

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EWTN to Air the Message of Fatima – Month by Month, Message by Message

Our Lady of Fatima appears to the three Shepherd Children in this scene from “The Message of Fatima.”

The Miracle of the Sun occurred on Oct. 13, 1917, during the sixth and final monthly apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. A torrential rain had been falling. The ground became extremely muddy. Everything and everyone was soaked. The sun, which began zigzagging in the heavens and throwing off many colors, suddenly appeared to become unhinged from the sky and to hurtle down towards the earth. People screamed in fright. And then, in an instant, the sun returned to the heavens and the ground and everyone standing on it was completely dry.

The three Fatima seers kneel in awe at the sight of Our Lady of Fatima in a scene from EWTN’s “The Message of Fatima.”

“I first heard about the Miracle of the Sun as a young child,” said Stefano Mazzeo, writer/producer/director of EWTN’s blockbuster new mini-series “The Message of Fatima.” “I thought, ‘How do [unbelievers] explain that?’ Someone said it was mass hysteria. But it couldn’t be because people outside the village were seeing it. Even then, I realized that this was a supernatural event.”

During this 100th anniversary year, the Church invites her children to return to Fatima. To assist in this effort, EWTN is premiering a blockbuster mini-series, “The Message of Fatima.” Over the next six months, viewers will have the opportunity to experience the six apparitions, month by month, message by message.

Director Stefano Mazzeo gives directions to cast and crew for a scene with the Angel in “The Message of Fatima.”

Not everyone knows that an Angel appeared to the three shepherd children in 1916 to prepare them for the apparitions from the Mother of God the following year. Episode 1 of this important docu-drama, which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, May 10, prepares viewers for what is to come by conveying the Angel’s messages. At 8 p.m. ET that same evening, Fr. Mitch Pacwa will interview Writer/Director Mazzeo on “EWTN Live.”

Actress Julia as Jacinta taking direction from Writer/Director Stefano Mazzeo.

Then, just as at Fatima in 1917, EWTN will air an account of one of the six apparitions on the 13th of the same month in which they originally occurred. Each monthly episode will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, beginning Saturday, May 13 and ending Friday, Oct. 13 with the Miracle of the Sun.


Filmed on location in Fatima, the series will feature reenactments by children who look stunningly like the original seers, expert commentary, an original score, authentic costumes, and settings such as the church in which the Fatima seers were baptized, went to their first Confession, and received their First Holy Communion.

What is the message of Fatima? There is a lot to it, but Mazzeo, who was also the writer/director or producer of “The Inquisition” and “Wales – The Golden Thread of Faith” on EWTN, says: “In every apparition, Our Lady asks us to pray the rosary, but she also asks for acts of reparation and sacrifices for sinners because hell exists and there are people in hell. We cannot say who is in hell, but we must make sacrifices to keep people from going there. We need to try and live a pure life and to make reparations to save sinners.”

Despite the supernatural subject of the series or, more likely because of it, filming hasn’t been easy. As Fr. Louis Marie O.P., Promoter General of the Rosary, one of the film’s experts, told Mazzeo: “If you’re working for Our Lady, the devil will attack you.”

Fatima seers Lucia and Jacinta dance while Francisco plays his little pipe.

Mazzeo said he soon realized that falling into bed after a hard day of filming and forgetting to say his rosary was not a good idea! “I got attacked by a group of mosquitoes and my face swelled up really huge,” he said. “Also, the audio didn’t record one morning, so we had to shoot the whole thing again.”

After incidents like the above, Mazzeo said the crew became “very particular to say our prayers.” And they paid off. “I’m sure there’s been a spiritual battle over the program, but I think we’re winning it.”

The Fatima Seers, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, (top) and the children who portray them (bottom) in “The Message of Fatima.”

The casting is phenomenal. The three Portuguese children, who look eerily like the three seers, are the exact ages of the seers. Because they can’t speak English, filming was a challenge, but the children’s enthusiasm for their roles is evident in the final product.

For the role of the Blessed Mother, Mazzeo was presented with a screen test by a young Catholic actress in London named Rachel Clifford, who immediately got the part. “We couldn’t just have anyone playing Our Lady of Fatima,” he says. “The actress not only had to look the part; she had to be the part. To find a devout Catholic girl in England who looks like Our Lady of Fatima when in costume is providential.”

Mazzeo’s production team also managed to obtain a Dorthean habit, which is what Sister Lucia, one of the visionaries, wore after becoming a nun. For the important Portuguese shoot, the group worked with a local Fatima group called Casa do Povo, who supplied the costumes and did reenactments of the children and adults singing and dancing in and around Fatima. They also located and hired people from local film production armories in the south of England, who arrived on set with real machine guns (which regular citizens aren’t allowed to own) for an important scene in Episode 4.

Says Mazzeo: “What Sister Lucia saw [on July 13, 1917] was a vision of a congregation representing the Church coming out of a desolate city in ruins. The Pope was leading bishops, priests, nuns, and other religious and the congregation up a hill. The Pope kneels in front of the cross, puts his hand on it and prays – and soldiers arrive and shoot them all.”

The Fatima children were shepherds as is shown in this scene from EWTN’s “The Message of Fatima.”

To give the series its rich context, Mazzeo also brought in experts such as Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, rector of the Shrine of Fatima; Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow, Poland; Nuno Prazeres and Ana Reis of The World Apostolate of Fatima; Fatima Theologian Pedro Valinho Gomes; Most Rev. Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Karaganda, Kazakhstan; Most Rev. Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, England; Fatima Author Donal Foley, as well as Fr. Louis Marie.

The Fatima Shrine today attracts people from all over the globe!

Mazzeo said he hopes viewers will take away a greater belief and knowledge of the message of Fatima. “I always try to go for the wow factor and I think Our Lady has helped a lot with that.”

But while the mini-series is entertaining, it is also important.

“Pope Benedict XVI said, “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete,” Mazzeo said. “The message will continue to be lived out as long as there are people on earth. It’s a private revelation, so we don’t have to believe it, but it does lead us to and re-emphasize the deposit of faith. I cannot say for sure that anything will happen this year, but I believe that the message of Fatima is not finished yet. The prophesies are ongoing.”

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