Friday, March 30, 2007

The Pool of Siloam

"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. And his disciples asked him saying, 'Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be manifest in him.'...And he said to the blind man, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam..."

They just found this pool a few years ago. We met with the man who found it, whose father has also been digging at the site for decades.

The cool thing is that the pool looks out over what was the King's Garden of David's Palace. Makes sense that the King would have a pool near his garden, Here is the garden adjacent to the pool of Siloam.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Garden at Gethsemane

This is my favorite place in Jerusalem. First of all, it is outside the Old City walls and across the Kidron valley, so it is away from a lot of the craziness. But it has also been made into a sacred place. Walled and fenced off, there is room to breathe there around the two churches that commemorate what happened there.

My Hebrew speaking friends here tell me that the word Gethsemane literally means "Olive Press." It is after all a spot on the Mount of Olives, so that makes sense. But it is profound symbolism too, in light of the fact that the Son of God was pressed down by the weight of our sins in the Garden to the point of shedding blood.

There is still a small grove of olive trees on the mountain, just below the two churches.

Now, here was a cheeky guy I saw standing around outside the Garden of Gethsemane. I'm sorry, but you just can't look like that and expect to walk around Jerusalem unphotographed.

A sign just inside the grounds of the Russian Orthodox monastery at Gethsemane.

A beautiful image from the side of the Church at Gethsemane. I almost missed it because it faces the garden and isn't seen from the front. But it stopped me when I saw it.

A rock in the garden...

One thing I never realized about Jerusalem until visiting there, is how very small the main area of significance is. The events about which we have prayed and meditated and written libraries full of books, all transpired in an area just a little bigger than the Santa Monica Promenade.

This is a shot of the Temple mount - the Beautiful Gate, I believe - from the Garden of Gethsemane. I zoomed in a bit, but you can still get the sense of how close Jesus was to the Temple when he was going through his agony. The significance of that - him, anticipating the New Sacrifice in His blood, while overlooking the site of the sacrifices that were about to become obsolete - has added a whole new dimension to my reflections on the Agony in the Garden.

Here is the shot of the Temple unzoomed so you can see actually how close it is to Gethsemane.

There is some kind of Russian Orthodox convent on the grounds of Gethsemane. They have relics from their foundress and lots of ornate icons there.

But the best part of the Orthodox presence is the beautiful kept garden path that leads up the hill. So, here is literally the garden at Gethsemane.

It's complicated.

The first day we were in Jerusalem, some Evangelical Christians told us tales of the tension in the city that comes from the Muslim intolerance for anybody who is not one of them.

The next day, we met with an Armenian Catholic lady who explained that her life has been made hellish by the Jews building the security wall right near her mother's house. And also that life in the city is made crazy by the Greek Orthodox who are insisting that their patriarch gets to be the first and only prelate to emerge from the tomb of the holy sepulchre on Easter morning.

We heard from an Arab businessman that he can't get a visa from Israel to travel back to the States for his business because the Israelis are prejudiced against all Arabs.

Then, we met with a politician from the Knesset who explained that the problem is a combination of Muslim intolerance, and also American and European liberal elites who keep insisting on a failed policy of appeasement toward Islam.

Yesterday, an Arab Christian detailed the terrible persecution that his family and friends suffer at the hands of the ultra Orthodox Jews who even went so far recently as to burn and desecrate part of the Church of the Annunciation. He wanted to know why they would do that to a community which has long been supportive of Israel.

We have heard from another fellow that a great problem is the new Eastern European Jews who have been recently brought into Israel, because apparently they have imported the Eastern European mafia with them.

You see, it's all everybody's fault. And nobody's fault. And probably impossible to fix from a human perspective.

Things That Have Surprised Me About Israel, Pt. I

Oh yeah, FERTILE crescent! I had no idea how lush this place was. I always imagined it as a kind of desert with a few olive trees and grape vines growing through the cracks. Wrong. The whole Jordan valley up to and around the Sea of Galilee is one huge victory garden.

They grow everything here and it is all beautiful and healthy looking and delicious. One of my dinner companions the other night laughed when I commented on how huge the strawberries are here. She has lived in Jerusalem for twelve years. She nodded, "Yeah, they don't worry about any of that genetic breeding of agriculture here like you all do back in the States. Just keep making stuff bigger and better!" Anyway, I keep thinking of that story in the Bible when Joshua sent the spies into the promised land and they came back with fruits as big as wagon wheels. Not too far off from what I have seen.

Here, for example, was a row of gorgeous oranges stacked along the wall at Qumran.

And these were only a handful of the oranges that were sitting around there for no reason I could see, except that they were making fresh squeezed orange juice for the tourists. Every morning you get three or four oranges squeezed in a little machine right in front of you making for a wonderful experience of what orange juice is supposed to be. I'll never go back to frozen from concentrate.

There are miles and miles of banana trees. And the air around here is filled with the smell of orange blossoms. Oh, and then there are the date orchards...

...and those heavenly yellow trees....

...and the bright purple ones....

...and can't forget the pink trees...

...and those patches of lavender flowers...

Land of milk and honey, indeed.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem..."

The first day we were in Jerusalem, we had a long tour of the Temple Mount with one of the leading Christian Biblical archeologist professors in the city. He was amazing and had that "rendered gentle by the Gospel" quality that you find in people who have taken the Jesus thing really seriously for decades. At lunch I asked him, "So, what is it going to take to bring peace to Jerusalem? What needs to happen to change the tension here?" And he said, "Well, I think the only thing that can happen to fix this place will be in the Second Coming of Christ."

I laughed, "Well, that's kind of a tall order. Not a lot of urban strategizing emerges from that."

And he said, "No, it doesn't."

A week later, it seems to me that he was so right. This place is really, really complicated. (And I can't believe I just said that. More about why further on.)


I love Galilee. I really, really get why Jesus picked this place. And we'll get back to Galilee.

And I feel guilty to ask the question, but, am I allowed to not like Jerusalem? Because I really didn't like it. I was angry a lot there. And definitely a bit revolted. My Christian friends there keep telling me that the city grows on you and that you begin to love it. But that would be a big stretch for me where I'm sitting now beside the lovely, restful waters of the Sea of Galilee.

What about Jerusalem made me angry? Well, you have to be there to really understand. Because no matter how artful my language, nothing will convey to you the gross incivility, inappropriateness, and intrusiveness of what seems like a gazillion Arab mosques all projecting their whining call to "prayer" on loudspeakers every few hours. It is jolting and HORRIFIC. Like cats screaming in alleys in stereophonic sound. It's the kind of thing I'm sure they do with sound in concentration camps to break the will of the prisoners. And it made me mad.

The minarets screaming everywhere discordantly in Jerusalem are way more than Moslem acts of loving devotion to God. They are clearly provocation in a city which is already tense as the center of focus for several major religions. It is the Muslim version of "We're here and we're queer!"

My first view of Jerusalem was on Thursday night, from the Mount of Olives. I was trying to block out the squalor of the Muslim houses on the mount overlooking the Old City and the scariness of the dirty Muslim children relentlessly harrassing us for money. (Gotta say, there are lots of poor Jewish families in Jerusalem, buit their kids are always well cared for, and mannerly, and they don't beg.) Looking over the Kidron valley to the Old City, at night, one is immediately struck by the "what's wrong with this pictureness" of the Muslim towers with their garrish neon green lights scattered all over the landscape. We've been up and down Israel this week, and nowhere have I seen as many of these things as in the Old City. Even in Jericho, which is entirely Muslim, we only saw one minaret. And we never heard the screaming on loud speakers there.

(Here's a shot of the Mount of Olives during the day looking across the Kidron Valley from the City of David. I think the point of this photo was to show how the Muslims built their houses over old tombs. See the holes in the hills under the houses?)

Some of the Christians in Jerusalem told me they don't even hear the minarets anymore. I suppose you can get used to anything. But I found it teeth-on-edge jarring.

At dinner one night, I asked our guest, a politician from the Knesset, "Look, why don't you sit down the Islamic leaders of the mosques and ask them to please respect the other people in the city? They don't live here alone, and it is completely uncivil for them to dominate this whole environment with their screaming over loudspeakers. They can certainly have their call to prayer in normal voices, but doing over electronic loudspeakers is intrusive for the rest of us who aren't Muslim."

The Knesset guy responded, "It is complicated."

Now, since coming to Israel last week, this is definitely the most oft-repeated line that I have heard from everybody. From the grand to the humble. From scholars to handy men. From folks of every faith. Eventually, in every conversation, someone shrugs with pain and emits, "It is complicated."

I said to Knesset guy, "It isn't complicated at all. Why should one group be allowed to dominate the city with their noise?"

He replied, "You cannot sit the Muslims down and deliberate with them. They only know how to dominate. They don't compromise. We have elected to give in to them, over and over, to appease them, because there is no other way."

I continued, "If they won't be reasonable, then why don't you tell them, "Look, if you don't turn off the electronic screaming, then we are going to mike up all the Jewish folks who are praying by the wailing wall. And we are going to mike up every Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic and Christian service in the whole city and play all their services loudly around the clock. Every damn prayer that goes up from Jerusalem will be broadcast in one devout sonic boom."

And he said, "Well, if we did that, we would be just as bad as them."

Me again, "So, what do you do?"

Him: "We back down...and I suppose we hope eventually something will happen to change the dynamic."

Ah, the geopolitics of audacious hope. Good luck with that.

And why was I revolted?

Well, until you have seen the Via Dolorosa you can't understand. Christianity in Jerusalem is really mostly irrelevant from the standpoint of the Jews and Muslims who run the joint. With the notable exception of the Garden of Gethsemane, the sites where the redemption of the world was accomplished are obscured and underemphasized. The Orthodox Jews who run the city consider Jesus anathema. He is a scandal and a horror to them. So, on the main Biblical sites - like the Temple Mount or the Pool of Siloam or the various city gates mentioned in the New Testment - there is no mention of the fact that Jesus Christ walked or stood there. The place where the Son of Man shed his blood on the Via Dolorosa is completely overrun with lines of garrish shops selling every kind of kitsch. The place where Jesus carried his cross is the main shopping alley in the Old City, jammed with hawking and pushy vendors. It's fetid and dirty and beyond weird to see a dirty plaque on the wall reading "Eighth Station" in between a t-shirt stall and a smoking gyro grill.

In the end, I started to see a spiritual significance to the horrible banality of the Via Dolorosa. God walked by and did the incredible, and most of the folks then missed it. And we today still miss it. But I can't believe that 2000 years of Christians haven't managed to turn the whole passage into a quarter of a mile long meditation garden. Or paved it in gold or something. Honestly, it has all the holiness feeling of some filthy side street off Times Square.

So, I really didn't like Jerusalem. But we are going back for four days next week, so maybe I'll see it with different eyes. (Or maybe my ears will become accustomed to the minarets?)

Here's a shot of the Old City wall which is just over the City of David (site of David's Palace). You can see a corner of the mosque built on the Temple mount and one of the ubiquitous minarets in the center.)

And here is a shot looking towards the Mount of Olives. The green part on the left is the site of the Garden of Gethsemane. The Garden of Gethsemane is the best Christian thing in Jersualem IMHO. It is reverent and prayerful.

Catholic TV Mass for Houston

I interrupt this report from Israel to share a press release from a non-profit on whose Board I serve, Santa Fe Communications. We are just expanding our TV Mass ministry to Houston (currently air the Mass here in Southern CA). Here is the press release to help get the word out:




Milwaukee, WI, March 2, 2007: On Palm Sunday, April 1, Heart of the Nation will begin broadcasting the Catholic TV Mass in Houston, Texas on KNWS-TV Channel 51 Sunday mornings at 9:00 a.m. Channel 51, a full-power broadcast station, is available free over-the-air on regular TV as well as on local cable systems and satellite TV services. Viewers can check cable and satellite listings to find the correct channel number for “KNWS”.
Heart of the Nation, a Catholic television ministry serving more than 150,000 viewers each week, began broadcasting its Sunday TV Mass on Palm Sunday back in 1984. Bruno John, the Executive Director and son of Harry John, the organization’s founder, stated, “We are so blessed to finally be able to bring the TV Mass to homebound Catholics in Houston, and to premiere it on Palm Sunday, exactly 23 years after my father first launched this Catholic television ministry, is quite exciting!” The need for locally broadcast TV Masses is growing across the country as Dioceses have been cutting back on their television outreach ministries. Heart of the Nation’s mission is to partner with local churches to help serve the sick and elderly who are no longer able to actively participate in parish life.
Joe Maddalena, Ministry Director, said, “We receive hundreds of notes, cards and letters from viewers each month telling us how important the TV Mass is to their spiritual and emotional lives. One viewer recently wrote, ‘I am writing to tell you how much I appreciate your Sunday Mass. I am having health problems now and your Mass is such a comfort to me to know I can attend Mass at home.’ It’s touching and humbling to know we are presenting something so cherished to our elder Catholic brothers and sisters.”
Heart of the Nation is a ministry of Santa Fe Communications, Inc., a nonprofit Catholic media organization founded in 1982. Currently, Heart of the Nation presents the Sunday TV Mass to homebound Catholics in Los Angeles, California and is exploring opportunities for bringing this service to other cities that are currently without a broadcast Mass on local television.
For additional information please contact:
Bruno John
Heart of the Nation
1126 S. 70th Street, Suite N601
Milwaukee, WI 53214

Phone: 1(800) 430-0930

Shalom from the Sea of Galilee!

Here is a shot of where I'm posting from on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We're staying in a lovely German Catholic guesthouse - called Pilgerhaus, or something like that - just beneath the Mount of the Beatitudes, and a short walk to the Chapel of Peter's Primacy - "Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?...Feed my lambs.") I took this shot from a fishing boat on the Sea looking towards the shore during a boat ride we had yesterday.

I've been in Israel since last Thursday and have had a lifetime's full of new adventures since then. Been to Jerusalem and many of the holy sites there. Been to Qumran and Masada and En Gedi and Jericho and the Dead Sea. Been to the Negev desert on a camel named Jafar. Been to Capernaum and Tiberias and drove by Migdal (Magdala - but they say there isn't much there to see) and walked a bit through the Wadi that leads from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. And we have met and had great conversations with many of the people of this land - Biblical Archeologists, US ex-pats who have made Israel their home, Armenian Catholics, a French Canadian White Father stationed in Jerusalem, Arab Christians, Messianic Jews, a member of the Knesset, and more. The rest of my small group went up to the Golan Heights today and to Nimrod and Ceserea Philippi, but I opted out. I'm totally on overdrive and need to download some thoughts. I'll try and post some of what I write here. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here's a nice shot of the Mount of the Beatitudes from the Sea.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Church Boomers: "Come to Jesus!"

Still recovering from food poisoning. Now, in DC. On my way to Milan tomorrow.

I had a lovely lunch with Amy “Open Book” Welborn and Greg Erlandson from OSV. It was actually my last good meal before the attack of the cranberry trail mix.

In the course of our conversation, I proposed to them a thought I have been brooding over quite a bit lately, which I guess we could call “An Appeal to the 60’s Generation: Towards Saving Something from the Wreckage.” (I don’t mean every Boomer of course. There have been lots of good ones. But they aren’t the ones who have defined their generation. The ones who have been so problematic have been the ones whose life has been dedicated to tearing down, sneering at the past, ruthlessly being hypocritical and unjust in the pursuit of some large overall good, and then maintaining stunning denial that they have actually done much more harm than the evils they were trying to uproot.)

Now, clearly, there is a tremendous amount of stored up resentment in Gen Xers and the Millenials towards the Boomers. I know I’ve been simmering for years under the intolerant tolerance of the grim socially activist but individual people-despising folks who have dismantled every social and ecclesial framework in the last forty years, not to mention making taboo the idea of anything ever actually being taboo.

I’m just wanting to talk in an ecclesial sense here, though.

I see in the generations now wresting power from the Boomers, the inclination to set back the clock to before all the insanity started. I think this inclination is only going to gather momentum in the next few years. Some of this is fueled by rage at having so many things jammed down our throats – like, for example, the way a boomer pastor at any area church is grimly determined to wreckovate our beautiful church despite the fact that nobody in the parish wants it. He keeps bloviating in the Sunday bulletin and from the altar that “we can no longer do worship according to the current mind of the Church in this worship space.” There has been picketing and people fleeing the parish and parishioner rebellions, but the grey-haired Crusader continues grimly on. He will drag us all into the revolution and rip apart our gorgeous sanctuary whether we want it or not, damnit!

The lesson that the Rebellious Generation has never learned is that, just because people fall silent, does not mean you have won them over. It just means that they are waiting for their moment. Knowing that eventually all tyrants fall.

History tends to move in pendulums swings. I am afraid that when the Boomers pass, the pendulum will swing away from everything they advocated. It will no doubt be enough to win an argument in a few years to be able to say, “Well, that was one of those stupid things they used to say in the 70’s.”

It seems to me that there must be something good that has come from the last forty years in terms of ecclesial development. I am just hard pressed to say what.

Can we say that catechesis is better now being run by the laity as it is in most churches? My experience is to say, “no”, because I have found many people teaching RCIA and catechism to be frighteningly ignorant of the teachings of the Church.

I have had people tell me that lots of folks are still becoming converts. But to what, huh? I can testify that some of the folks I know who have come in to the Church probably couldn’t pass a twenty question quiz on basic knowledge of the faith. And somebody told me recently that something like a third of them fall away again because of the fact that their catechesis was so bad in the first place.

How about priesthood and religious life? Well, considering that the numbers of clergy and religious in the States are well below replacement rates, it’s kind of hard to maintain that we have made great strides there. What good is better understanding if there is nobody left to embody it?

(Greg gave me a copy of the book Sister in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s religious Communities. I surprised myself by reading the whole statistic riddled study filled account over the last two days. I haven’t let myself go back to my convent days too much in the last few years. But I guess it was time. Anyway, I was stunned reading the book to remember the constant, soul-wracking, nightmare inducing upheaval of being a postulant, novice and junior in the 80’s. It is amazing, in retrospect, how incredibly fast and unreflective the changes came down in my own community, the Daughters of St. Paul. And it was even more ridiculous because we had the model of the other failed communities that had already revolted themselves into irrevelance before us. But the Boomers were out of their minds in a way. I remember them being kind of manic in making the changes happen urgently fast. If I could ask them anything today it would be, “What the hell was the rush?!? I’ll tell you what it was. It was their lives that were going by, and they didn’t want one more day of the discomfort of some of the essential elements of religious life. In the name of respecting the sisters freedom and rights, they were deeply unjust and cruel at times. All in the name of doing whatever it was they wanted. There are so many stories I can tell, but what is the point? They don’t ever admit wrong. They don’t ever apologise.)

How about positive developments in Church ministries over the last forty years? Um…Well, most Catholic schools, universities and hospitals seem to have all but lost their distinctly Catholic identity. So that can’t be a net plus.

How about the arts in the Church? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….Oh, sorry. Ahem. Let’s see. We are singing songs at most parishes that would be rejected by Barney. Our priests and bishops have zero aesthetical training and have completely lost the desire to bring “new epiphanies of beauty” (JPII) to the Church.

Anyway….. I know I must be missing some really positive great things that have come from all the Boomer’s innovations in the Church. But I don’t think we are going to be able to save those unless we have a real, real, real serious “Come to Jesus Moment” on the part of the grey-haired revolutionaries. I think, the Baby Boomer Crusaders need to shake off the self-righeous denial and help us out here by admitting where they went wrong. They need to say, “We over-stepped here.” “We lost a value there.” “This was a big mistake. HUGE.”

See, if they do that, they will give subsequent generations permission to forgive them, and perhaps then, a complete resetting of the clock can be averted. And we need their help. Their job now is to be the voices of wisdom in our midst…as startlingly unprepared for that mantle as they may be, that is the job of the elders in any society. The Boomers are the ones with the perspective. They have seen the way things were (before they destroyed things in the guise of reform). They have seen things now. They can tell us what was good that was lost, and what is better now. But will they?

It could be a big moment of grace for the Boomers in the Church to own up, take responsibility and apologise. If they don’t, they will no doubt die in their disappointment and bitterness, which will only exponentially increase as they watch their lives’ works dismantled.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Into Great Long...... Silence

I'm in a hotel room in Ft. Wayne, IN after a long day in airports. No time for a full review, but I wanted to recommend the documentary making its way through art theaters, Into Great Silence.

Or, at least, I wanted to recommend the first two hours of the film. It's really rather too long, and there isn't much added to the point of the film in the additional hour that made it worth having us all sit there. The lady I was with fell asleep somewhere between hour 1.5 and hour 2. (Actually, it is the second hour of the film that needs to be cut. It just basically repeats the things we see in the first hour. Then, the third hour adds some new images and ideas.

Having said that, it is lovely in many respects. Definitely peaceful and ethereal. It doesn't answer any questions, which I am still wondering about, in light of the fact that most people know nothing about the whys and wherefores of religious life. But, clearly, the filmmaker was trying to strictly control his project and keep it from being an intellectual exercise in favor of a more felt experience.

It so well conveys the austerity of the Cistercians, that I found myself eating my popcorn quieter...almost guiltily!

Serious Catholics will feel proud and love it. Other Christians will be in kind of awe of it...and maybe secretly wonder what is with the Catholics anyway?! Pagans will probably go the gamut from being bored to annoyed. Some L.A. pagans will be impressed at how 'almost Buddhist' some of those Catholics are.

I recommend it. But be warned, it's long.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Have I mentioned that I'm a huge professional tennis fan? Well, I finally made it out to Indian Wells this year after eleven years of dreaming about going. Four friends and I just got back from two days in the desert at what I can only think of as "Tennis Woodstock." Thousands of genteel, well-behaved tennis addicts sipping Bloody Mary's instead of smoking pot, and sitting in hushed silence watching young athletes grunt and smack their rackets at neon yellow balls.

It was fabulous.

But most fabulous of all was that I kept getting chances to see my all time favorite tennis player Martina Hingis! Yesterday, we just happened to walk by a practice court on which she was warming up. Then, we got to see her play a good strong second round match, her opponent of sad memory was dispatched nicely. On to round three! Then, we walked in to the grounds today at 12:15 to see a small sign that Martina would be signing autographs. So, I made my way over, and the next thing I knew, I was first in a line that grew hundreds of avid fans deep.

While Martina signed my poster, I thanked her for always working hard, and told her that she was the most fun to watch. She chuckled and smiled. My friend John has it all on his know, just in case my new friend Martina wants a commemorative photo of what I'm sure was an epoch moment for her...

Here is Martina waiting for serves from warm-up partner.

Here is new tennis expert and friend Anamaria, in the foreground, with the great Hingis in the background.

More shots of Martina showing great warm-up form....

Martina, in between sets of her second round smack down.

Martina being interviewed by a fawning announcer after her second round victory.

Martina signing autographs.

Friends of Barb in between sets at a match with the men's world number two, Rafael Nadal.

Somewhere down there in the blue and white is Nadal.

Oh, there he is, serving out of the frame.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Hall's - Singlehandedly Putting the AMDG in Primetime?

My friend and sometime pilgrimage companion, Karen Hall has good news over at her blog about a TV show she has sold to AMC. Tentatively called "Vows" the show is set in a Jesuit house of formation located on a university campus. Go here to read more.

And, then, I had dinner the other night with the other TV writing Hall in town, Karen's sibling Barbara. Barbara, who was the creator and show runner of the much mourned Joan of Arcadia, has another show about God-stuff that is in the works now for CBS. It's called Demons and is about an ex-Jesuit with an inescapable talent at exoricising everybody else's demons. He has no facility for exorcising his own, which I am sure will make for a good character.

Please keep both Halls and their shows in your prayers. It's hard to put yourself out there when you are just writing basic dramas. When you are writing spiritually themed work, you open yourself up to ten times more attacks from humans, and persecution from principalities and powers just to keep it interesting.

Schedule Update

I am off for another long trip starting Sunday. Here is the most current update of where I will be in the next few months...

March 12-13 -- Huntington College, Ft. Wayne, IN -- I am giving a talk open to the general public at 7pm, March 13. Here is the University's press release with all the info regarding the event.

March 14-17 --Washington, DC -- I don't have any official engagements on my calendar, but I still have room for meetings or soirees if anybody wants to get together. For a good time, email me at

March 18-21 -- Milan, Italy -- I am principally going to speak for two days to the Film/Mediua students at the Catholic University of Milan. However, my visit coincides with the release of the Italian version of our book Behind the Screen, so the University is supposed to be planning some kind of event open to the general public to promote the book. For info, I guess you can just contact the University? (Armando, if you are out there, perhaps put the info in the comments here?)

March 22-April 4 -- Israel -- !!!!! -- Just being there and praying.

April 4-9 -- Rome, Italy -- Nothing on the agenda but a Holy Week retreat at this point.

I would be grateful for prayers to accompany my trip. Not sure what God is preparing me for with all this pilgimaging, but (to borrow from Pretty Woman) "God, in case I forget to say it after, 'I had a real great time!'"

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Good Next Step

I was asked by a group of Catholic business leaders recently, to give some ideas as to how the Church could make a more strategic impact on the culture. I think everybody expected me to say that the answer is in writing checks to fund movies. But that's not what I said. I don't think we need to get Catholic millionaires to write big checks to pay for movie budgets. I think we need to get Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony and the like to start financing movies that would have a Catholic worldview.

And how do you do that? It's so damn simple I can't believe it has to be said. Still not getting it? The secret to changing what is on the screen is mysteriously connected to the Church carrying out her perpetual mandate. Which is not to start production companies...

Here's a few notes I put together for the business leaders.


Proposed: Christian Center for the Arts and Media – Hollywood
Submitted by Barbara R. Nicolosi, February 28, 2007

Problem: Pope John Paul II noted with dismay many times, and in particular in his Letter to Artists (2000), that something must be done to “renew the fruitful dialogue that used to exist between the Church and the arts.” There is a great need for the Church to connect to the creative and business communities that are setting the global arts and entertainment agenda. Inspired by the success of The Passion of the Christ, the Lord of the Rings franchise, and the Narnia franchise, many young Catholics are finding their way into Hollywood careers. Programs like Act One, the Angelus Awards, and the Los Angeles Film Study Center exist to help them in their initial steps. There is currently very little to support Christians who are established in the business, who want to stay close to Christ, as well as grow in their professional achievements.

Goal: The Church needs to offer professionals in the entertainment arena:
- ethical guidance
- spiritual formation
- vocational and professional discernment counseling
- state of the art professional and artistic training and mentoring informed by a Catholic worldview
- RCIA geared specifically to media professionals
- A community of peers centered around Christ and the desire to do good

Models: We can look at two different paradigms as a starting point for a way to structure our approach to nurture the presence of the Church amidst the professional entertainment community.

1) The Catholic Information Center, Washington, DC – Located in the heart of the center of government, Opus Dei operates a Catholic bookstore, chapel and center for spiritual direction. The focus of the Center’s activities has been principally to serve the spiritual needs of those who work on Capitol Hill and in the various branches of the Federal government. The Center has an ongoing calendar of spiritual and formational conferences, days of recollections and retreats. The Center has brought in innumerable converts to the Church, including very high-profile converts including Judge Robert Bork and Sen. Sam Brownback.

2) The Church of Scientology – The largest landowner in the Hollywood region, Scientologists operate centers of outreach on every block of Hollywood Blvd from Mann’s Chinese theater to the Pantages Theater. They own screening rooms, conference facilities, celebrity retreat centers, boarding houses, and a myriad of informational centers open to the general public. The Church of Scientology has a monthly calendar of events geared to pull in people in the entertainment industry. Every night of the week they have seminars on subjects like “How to go to an audition,” “Writing a Script that Will Sell,” “Staying Centered in the Frenzied World of Filmmaking,” “Networking for Success;” Their genius is to offer programming that is of professional interest to the Hollywood community, at which they acquire good will and then draw people in more and more.

The Center's Mission: To foster a Christ-centered community in the heart of the entertainment industry in Hollywood to be a source of light and connection for the People of God who are called to be missionary/apostles to the culture.


1) An Artists Chapel that would become a place of pilgrimage for everyone who is setting out on a new entertainment/media/arts project. A place of real artistic beauty, the Chapel would be dedicated to God the Creator, the Holy Spirit as the Author of new Epiphanies of Beauty, and to the Angels who are the Patrons of Communications and of the City of Los Angeles. We would decorate it with all the artist saints of the Church: St. Gregory the Great, Bl. Fra Angelico, Ven. Hildegrard of Bingen, Bl. James Alberione, etc. The Chapel would be geared to minister specifically to people in the arts and media world. It would be staffed by priests and religious who spend their time praying for the media when they are not hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction and teaching RCIA to industry converts.

2) A Think-Tank Center of Study on the Church and the Arts – With state of the art conference facilities, a production library and screening rooms, this center would offer the broader entertainment industry a continuous program of topical conferences and seminars on topics like “Human Development and Entertainment,” “The Nature and Power of Beauty,” “Good Comedy and Bad Comedy,” “Marrying Truth-telling and Creative License,” etc. In addition, the center would be a place for scholars in residence who will come from ecclesiastical and other places of higher learning in the Church, to brood, write and think on the theology, spirituality and ethics of man as a creative being.

This Center would also be a source for the secular media which is looking for informed statements from the Church on cultural topics. This Center would have been the one to be on all the networks discussing The Da Vinci Code, and why James Cameron’s documentary is only significant as a sign of the spiritual bankruptcy of our times.

3) A large Theater/Screening Facility – to rival the coolest ones in the city (ie. The TV Academy, the WGA Theater, the DGA theater). From here, the Church can hold film festivals that look at the intersection of cinema and spirituality. We can give prestigious screenings to secular industry projects that are worthy of praise or discussion.

4) A State of the Art Graduate Level Cinema School. Act One is already doing this, but with rented facilities and without the resources to expand the program to offer training and mentoring to actors, directors, and technical professionals. Act One needs a building. It needs a long term financial structure that will allow it to expand without the insane trying to pay the bills month-to-month.

5) A center of ministry - To give a home to the myriad Christian ministries that operate in Los Angeles that are beggars and renters without a permanent home. Ministries that could be brought together under the Center's roof include, LAFSC, the City of Angels Film Festival, Open Call, Catholics in Media Associates, Inter-Mission, the Hollywood Prayer Network, Hollywood Connect, the Actors Co-op, etc.

6) Community Housing – There is a great need for housing for young Christians just arriving in Hollywood, and those who are already here, but who want to live in an environment of prayer and Christ-like fellowship. We need an apartment building with quiet, orderly places for the students to work on scripts, storyboards, audition prep, etc. It will need a Chapel, and quarters for a chaplain. There should be some common areas and maybe a coffee shop operated by the young people who live there, which would be open to the general public. It could be a first place to land and work for young people just arriving in Hollywood.

Strategic Plan:

- Gather a core team to support this right now. Find somebody who is spiritually mature, philosophically trained, experienced in non-profit management and conencted in Hollywood to run it. (Not me...and not anybody who is a religious or priest either. The religious and priests will work at the place but this is innately a LAY initiative. The media is absolutely the temporal sphere. Besides, we don't want to pin our fortunes here on the weird inner workings of a religious community in which people too often get power because they don't rock the boat.) Write the person a big check, and then trust. Over sight yes, but trust. Because most of us orthodox Catholics have no idea of what beautiful art is. We only know what we like. Not what we are talking about, as a rule.)

- The above visions should be phased in gradually over a period of the next five to ten years. The first step would probably be #5 Community Housing, so that we can continue to build a core community to support and utilize the center. #4 Act One/Cinema School is already in place. It just needs a more solid funding base and campus for the future. The Artist’s Chapel and Conference Center would be extensions off the Cinema School Campus, followed by the Screening room.

Question everybody is wondering: Why does this thing have to be interdenominational? Can't it be just Catholic?

This Center has to be interdenominational, because that is how God is working to renew the entertainment industry. It has been an interdenominational effort for the last twenty years. And it is wonderful and working. So, let's all just get over ourselves and let God be God and send His spirit and inspirations through whom he will.

Question: So why do we need a Chapel and priests and religious? Because the Catholic contribution to the fruitfulness of this Center will be in the sacraments. I have seen Christianity from both sides now. And the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the power of the Eucharist have irreplaceable undeniable power.

Interdenominalationism is not everybody trying to obscure their keynotes in a shakey, temporary alliance. It is a commitment to respect that God is working through whom He will. We all have to be who we are, and then come together in strength. The catholic thing in this Center will be the philosophical and theological depth of the tradition and scholarship, but also, absolutely the sacraments.

Help Act One! Go See The Ultimate Gift

The new film The Ultimate Gift was written by an Act One alumn, Cheryl Mckay, of whom we are very proud. Cheryl sent me the following message about a way people can contribute to Act One when they buy a ticket to the film....


Hey everyone! This is the week! My film comes out Friday. Thanks for all the notes I received when I announced this a couple weeks ago. I can’t thank all of you enough for spreading the word to your friends and family. It sounds like thousands of people have heard about this film just from you guys. I’m overwhelmed by the volume of support everyone’s shown. Fox Faith decided to add 300 more theaters to our release. And the American Family Association’s President sent out their endorsement this week.

I just have one last announcement.

Before you go to the theater on opening weekend (March 9-11), you can check to see if a theater in your area is participating in giving $1 per ticket to charity. (This charity program is only for the opening weekend.) I set up a charity code for Act One, Inc. the non-profit screenwriting organization that has invested a lot in me as a writer. They have a full faculty of Christian writers, directors and producers who teach people like me how to write and produce films like this one. (Family-friendly, or faith based types of stories, movies that reach a mainstream audience yet still contain good messages etc.)

Go to:
Choose The Ultimate Gift and enter your zip code.
If you find a theater in your area, proceed to GET TICKETS NOW.
It will direct you to Fox Faith’s section of Fandago.
Upon check out, you can enter the church/organization code: 500231

To view the new trailer online, visit:
They also put up a new site with behind the scenes footage at:

Thanks for all the support for this film!
Cheryl McKay
Screenwriter “The Ultimate Gift”