Adults, youth, and religious from the Diocese of Orange and scattered throughout San Bernardino and LA dioceses gathered at Christ Cathedral’s Freed Performing Arts Theater for the West Coast premiere of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries’ multi-part film and television series, entitled “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players.”
The August 31 event included Bishop Kevin Vann, and featured a live studio audience taping, and the world premiere screening of the series’ latest episode on “St. Francis of Assisi – The Reformer.”
“Part of my goal as an evangelist is to get out beyond the walls of the Church. I love reaching out to both Catholics [and inactive Catholics], but I’m also very interested in the people outside of the Church,” shared Bishop Robert Barron, who serves as the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and is the regular host for Word on Fire.
“We wanted this production to be in a PBS, high-level of quality,” Barron told EWTN’s Doug Keck in the live interview taping for “Bookmark,” only on EWTN. “We need to delve more into the richness of our Catholic tradition. To get those outside the walls of the Church.”
The “Pivotal Players” series is a part of Bishop Barron’s well-known “Catholicism” ten-part documentary, and focuses on an in-depth study of the lives of influential figures in the Church–artists, scholars, and mystics whose great works and miracles have shaped the foundations of Catholicism today.
Barron and the Word on Fire team of producers and cinematographers have traveled the globe, doing extensive research and getting special permission to film in the very same spots were great saints like Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Calutta once stood.
Fr. Steve Grunow, CEO and executive producer of Word on Fire, talked the series’ great success in both the Catholic market and worldwide.
“It’s successful because it’s beautiful,” Fr. Grunow said. “The appeal of the Catholicism series, and all of Word on Fire materials, is that we try to make them beautiful. Because beauty is a lure; it’s a route of access to God–when people see something beautiful, it’s compelling in an almost transcendent way.”
Each episode highlights a different saint or renowned figure in the Church, with Bishop Barron–who writes the scripts–leading viewers through an interactive experience, walking in the historical places they lived and experienced significant “God-moments” in their lives.
Volume I of the series so far has included St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed John Henry Newman, Michaelangelo, and GK Chesterton.
“We want to bring what’s in this series to show the breadth and depth and variety of the Catholic tradition,” Barron shared. “I know from a lot of experience preaching and teaching that narratives compel, in a way that strict ideas don’t. [Through Pivotal Players, we] are trying to express the Catholic faith in terms of these literal pivotal lives.”
In the “St. Francis” episode, Barron is seen walking through Assisi, Italy; in places like San Damiano Church (where Francis first heard God’s voice to “rebuild His church”), and the tomb where the great saint was laid to rest.
“In these very [ancient, historical] spaces we have a very limited amount of time,” said Matt Leonard, “Pivotal Players” Director. “We’re so fortunate that Bishop Barron can go up and just do one or two takes, before we’re out of there.”
Leonard, who interviews Bishop Barron on-camera, also shared his experience directing the St. Catherine of Siena episode. “She was somebody I didn’t know a lot about. Reading the script, hearing the stories, and actually visiting Siena; it was really inspiring to see how much she devoted herself to the faith.”
“One of the things I think that works is the visual orientation to the way we seek to answer life’s questions,” Fr. Grunow added. “Now, people learn via screens; where knowledge is imparted and delivered. Bishop Barron is a master of the delivery of content of the faith via the screen…He’s able to communicate through that medium in a way that both young and old find compelling.”
The series has multiple intellectual, theological, and visual layers to it; appealing to people of all faiths, who are interested in learning about the featured Pivotal Player, and the beautiful richness of the Catholic tradition.
At least 10 episodes have been filmed and edited so far, with several more on their way to be released. Upcoming planned episodes include influencers like St. Iraneus, Flannery O’Connor, Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, St. Augustine, and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
“Bishop Barron has a unique sense and understanding of the human heart,” said Laura Corza, who attended the taping from Holy Family Cathedral in Orange. “He understands that we the people are truly are captivated by beauty, and by taking us back to the places where it started–for Francis of Assisi, he became incredibly transparently human. He and Word on Fire were able to make Francis and the rest of the ‘pivotal players’ incredibly tangible. They aren’t just statues; they have words and stories and struggles. I feel like the series will encourage people to dig into the richness of the stories of those who walked before us.”
Agreed Samantha Leveugle, from St. John Neumann in Irvine, “The way Bishop Barron explains the Catholic faith draws my heart to the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of our Church and encourages me to go deeper in my own Catholic journey- in my own relationship with God.
“I really liked how much [Pivotal Players] enveloped us into what life was like for St. Francis. He showed us what a young person can become by devoting their life to God,” commented Mike Fernandez, from St. Paul the Apostle parish in Chino Hills. “We as young adults can learn a lot about humility, humbleness and charity from St. Francis—he was and is a Saint whom we can learn to be better Catholics, better men and women of God.”
“Catholicism: The Pivotal Players” has been picked up by PBS, and will air on television as soon as this November. The “St. Francis” episode can already be viewed online at Word on Fire.
“I’m very encouraged by a lot of the responses to allow the work that we do…the Catholicism series has had a big impact on a lot of people, because of the beauty of it intrigues them enough to take another look,” Bishop Barron finished. “St. Augustine was right. Everybody is hungry for God. Everyone’s got a heart that’s hungry for God… and so, that we should take as fundamental. And you see everybody of that everywhere.”