Fr. Barron “shows off” Catholic faith in 10-part documentary

By: By Tom Dermody

Catholicism is a beautiful religion “meant to be shown off,” says Father Robert Barron.

This fall, the Chicago priest’s new 10-part video documentary called “Catholicism” will offer a new way for parishes and individuals to not only show off their faith, but to better learn and share it.

Clergy and religious educators in the Diocese of Peoria had opportunities to preview several episodes of the series when Father Barron visited as a keynote speaker for this month’s Summer Institute. (See story below.)

“I hope (viewers) get a sense of the tip of the iceberg of the wealth of Catholic tradition,” said Father Barron — writer and host of the documentary — to a group of priests, deacons, and seminarians who gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center on June 9, the eve of the two-day institute.

Participants at the institute were encouraged to consider using “Catholicism,” and its accompanying study guide, in their parish’s religious education efforts.

“We’re excited about the ways this can be used in adult faith formation, RCIA, and CCD,” said Vincent McClean, diocesan director of catechetics. Filmed in 15 countries with a budget of more than $3 million, “Catholicism” features 10 episodes, each 50 minutes in length, on elements of the faith including the teachings of Jesus; the mystery of church’s sacraments and worship; Mary, the Mother of God; the communion of saints; prayer; and more.

McClean introduced Father Barron as an outspoken voice for the Catholic Church in America, comparing his use of modern media to engage the culture to that of the Diocese of Peoria’s sainthood candidate, Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

“This is where the church needs to be,” said McClean, describing Father Barron’s evangelization efforts that range from radio and television to YouTube and the Internet through his ministry, Word on Fire.

The “Catholicism” series, set for release this fall, is the most ambitious of a decade’s worth of media outreach by Father Barron, an author who has taught theology at St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary since 1992.

While shrugging off the Sheen comparison — “That’s like putting a target on my back,” said Father Barron — he told the clergy that “we Catholics aren’t very good with media” and that after Archbishop Sheen’s popularity in the early days of radio and television “we dropped the ball.”

Father Barron said that five years ago he was challenged by Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago to “jump start” the evangelization of culture. He began by giving lectures to business leaders in downtown Chicago, but realized “there is so much more we can do in the area of new media” — technology which he said “Fulton Sheen would have given his right arm for.”

He began placing video commentaries and movie reviews on YouTube as a way to engage “20-somethings who wouldn’t otherwise darken the door of a church.” When comments, even negative ones, are made on the site “I answer back and engage them,” he said, and has witnessed the “great power” of the digital outreach.

“Catholicism” is his dream project. When Father Barron told his board of directors “I want to go around the world and show Catholicism in all its splendor,” they responded “You should do this.”

“Now all I had to do was raise $3 million,” said Father Barron. Support was found and he and a film crew — including Mike Leonard, longtime NBC Today Show correspondent who is executive producer — were off to 50 locations including Rome, Jersusalem, Lourdes, Guadalupe, Auschwitz, Philadelphia, and Calcutta.

As the series wraps up and enters the promotion stage, “we’re collapsing across the finish line,” said Father Barron. Chicago public television station WTTW has already committed to broadcasting four parts of the series beginning Oct 13, and discussions are taking place with networks including the BBC, PBS, History Channel, and EWTN.

More on the “Catholicism” series and Father Barron’s ministry can be found online at Word on Fire.



Those who teach the Catholic faith are in the “privileged position” of being key players in world history, a Chicago priest active in evangelizing the culture said in Peoria last week.

“The church has as its job to tell the world its true story,” said Father Robert Barron, founder of the Word on Fire internet/media outreach and host of “Catholicism,” a 10-part video documentary and study program to be released this fall. (See story above.)

Father Barron was the opening-day presenter at the Diocese of Peoria’s Summer Institute. Held June 10 to 11 this year at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria, the annual gathering draws catechists and others interested in learning more about the Catholic faith.

The institute’s second day focused entirely on the Mass, including preparations to introduce new translations set to take effect in November.

In two hours on Friday, Father Barron took his listeners throughout creation history, which he compared to a five-part play consisting of Creation, The Fall, The Formation of Israel, The Coming of the Messiah, and The Age of the Church.

“The whole world is part of a story that God has been telling,” explained Father Barron, an author and theologian at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago who teaches on faith and culture not only in the classroom but on radio, television, and the Internet.

“We are in Act V,” said Father Barron, but our role and responsibilities in the story can only be understood by knowing what has come before, including the Old Testament.

“The biblical illiteracy in our society is ridiculous,” he lamented at one point. Many of the brightest students even in Catholic universities are often unfamiliar with Bible basics.

“If we don’t tell the story, it won’t be told,” he repeated throughout his presentation.

Unfortunately, modern culture often promotes opposing stories, emphasizing violence as a solution to problems and self-centered goals as a way to happiness through phrases such as “Follow your thirst,” “Follow your dream,” and “Just do it.”

“The point of life isn’t following our own ambitions,” said Father Barron. “It’s following what God wants us to do. It’s a much more interesting adventure. Sin is so boring. It’s always a function of a closed-in self.”

In describing The Fall, Father Barron asked those attending the institute what is of highest value to them.

“Everything else will follow from the way you answer that question,” he said. “If your answer is anything but the true, living God, your life will disintegrate. You may achieve much, but you’ll be unhappy.”

The church, he said, exists to teach the world a “right order” of life with God at the center. And its mission in Act V is to battle hatred, violence, division, and sin in the world by publicly proclaiming the resurrected Jesus.

Saying we are “built for God” and repeating that “when we’re not centered on Christ, we fall apart,” Father Barron said it is during the Mass that the right order is reestablished. He called it a “tragedy” that so many Catholics are not regularly attending Mass.

Finally, while American culture tries to privatize religion, as Catholics we should be “on the march,” said Father Barron.

“We come out in love, in nonviolence, but by God we come out publicly,”
he said. “That’s the privileged position we’re in.”

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