The numbers are disturbing. Numerous studies have indicated that more and more young Catholics are leaving the Church. All of these numbers, however, don’t measure dedication, commitment or heart. Numbers don’t measure faith. Even just one person can make a significant difference in the community and the world at large.
For irrefutable proof, look no further than one Joseph Cinemato, a high-octane 29-year-old one-man ministry who manages to keep more plates spinning in the air at once than the finest Ringling Bros. performer. While working full-time as a professional filmmaker and photographer, Joseph has served the Catholic community, in the Diocese of Orange and throughout the country, in a variety of capacities, much of it in the Young Adult Ministry. At the same time, last year he managed to complete an intensive one-year MBA program – without ever earning a bachelor’s degree.
How does Joseph do it? Part of the answer lies in early mistakes, tragedy and, ultimately, faith.
“I barely graduated high school,” Joseph says. “I began partying way too hard, running with a bad crowd. Most of the others ended up in jail – and some dead.”
Joseph’s life was shaken up badly after the death of a close friend, killed in Iraq by a sniper. “He was like a brother. When he died, part of me died.”
So he turned to the Catholic Church, which led him to two very powerful awakenings.
“As a sacrifice for [my friend], for the 40 days of Lent, I gave up my ‘dark’ lifestyle. It had such a profound effect on me, and it sent me on a new path.
“Although by then I was more alive than ever and regularly going to church, I never went to confession. When a priest asked me why, I said, ‘I know there’s a God. I just have no faith that He cares about me.’”
What the priest said next changed Joseph’s life forever. “He asked me if I’d ever thought about asking God for that faith. That really hit home. I knew I’d have to either take this very seriously or just walk away.”
Joseph jumped into Catholicism with both feet, and he’s been a man on a mission – well, several missions – ever since.
However, Joseph was broke and had no viable profession. So he attended Chapman University’s prestigious Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. During his time at Dodge, Joseph managed to eke out a living as a freelance photographer and filmmaker. Over time, he was mentoring other students and had worked with several professors, tops in their field.
After his “graduation” and a year plying his craft, Joseph worked as a missionary and videographer alongside the U.S. Army Special Forces in war-torn Africa.
“It was during the peak of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s surge into the Congo,” he says. “I spent time in field hospitals, assisting doctors with surgery and visiting refugee camps – all while trying to tell the story through video.
“It had a huge impact,” he adds. “Today, if someone gets my coffee order wrong, I just picture a family’s despair after their home had been torched. It puts things into perspective.”
After returning home, Joseph put in long hours of “sweat equity.” To date, he has used his skills in cinematography, photography and production work, partnering with ABC/Disney, Paramount, Fox, HGTV and BBC, along with the U.S. Department of Defense and the State of California. He’s won seven Telly Awards, essentially the Emmys for commercials and non-broadcast video and television programming.
Despite spinning more plates than ever, Joseph has continued to thank the Catholic community for the impact it has had on his life.
How? Fasten your seat belts.
Joseph founded the newest Knights of Columbus in Orange County, becoming one of the youngest Grand Knights in the region; serves as a founding member of Blessed John Henry Newman Church, in Irvine; has spoken at parishes throughout the U.S. about his work with “Hands Together,” a Catholic mission in Haiti; serves as director of Young Adult Ministry at Our Lady Queen of Angels, in Newport Beach; and helps lead the local Habitat For Humanity’s Catholic Coalition. He has appeared on Orange County Catholic Radio, talking about how Catholics can better relate to the community and each other, and in a week he’ll lead the Diocese’s fifth-annual Young Adult Retreat.
“Most of my life, I’ve felt called to do missionary work,” Joseph says. “I’d like to grow my professional success and influence so I can let the beauty and truth of Catholicism show through to society in a very renaissance kind of way – through media and art, business and education.”
To most, this may seem like a pie-in-the-sky dream. Thanks to everything he’s learned, to his faith and commitment, and to his never-ending desire to help, to Joseph Cinemato, it’s just another challenge.