A group of parishioners in South Florida want to make sure that as many Catholic Americans as possible are familiar with words Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2007 — which they find to be very relevant today.

Thanks to this handful of people, nearly 2 million more Americans are.

The group, which calls itself Catholics Called to Witness, produced a three-minute video in March called “Test of Fire.” It has racked up more than 1.7 million views on YouTube, as it stirringly asks: “Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?”

It all started last November, when a handful of people met for pizza in the living room of Dr. Manual and Adriana Gonzalez. With “a realization of what’s going on in our country and in the world, we wanted to get involved and do something to turn back the tide,” said Adriana Gonzalez. “We wanted to do something especially for the Catholic community.”

Catholics Called to Witness formed when attention and debate on the Health and Human Services contraception mandate unfolded in January. It set out to uphold and promote three non-negotiable principles, as stressed by Pope Benedict XVI, and encourage the Catholic community to participate in the public arena to uphold those principles come the November elections.

The three non-negotiables are life, marriage and parental rights. Adriana Gonzales points out the inspiration from the Holy Father in naming these non-negotiables. Catholics Called to Witness took a page right from his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission).

Benedict stated: “t is especially incumbent upon those who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable.”

As a consequence, “Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature,” he concluded.

Adriana Gonzalez affirmed, “This is the message we want to communicate.” She was already involved with one non-negotiable as a home-schooling mother — the Gonzalezes have seven children — and a defender of parental rights by acting as the Florida state coordinator for ParentalRights.org.


3-Minute Packages

Catholics Called to Witness began explaining the three non-negotiables on its website. But after a friend suggested that Adriana package the message into three to five minutes sound bites and get it into parishes, “that’s when the idea of the video came out,” she said. “We seized on the freedom of religion” — which is a non-negotiable.

The board produced “Test of Fire” although “we had never done anything like that before,” she added.

Jeremy and Tiana Wiles from Creative Lab and the board members worked together on writing the script.

“Our marketing was simple,” Gonzalez explained. “It was to put the video on YouTube and send it off with a prayer.” What happened next surprised everyone.

By Easter, the video was receiving thousands of viewings a day. Television stations, including major networks like Fox News, picked it up. Catholics Called to Witness never expected the national attention nor the international responses from places like Africa, India and France, where it was aired on TV.

“It was pretty incredible,” said Al Silva, an engineer and businessman who serves as vice president of the group. He was attending a baseball game with his 11-year-old son when he got a text message from a friend who had just seen the video on Fox News.

“It got people’s attention,” he noted. “It really touched the nerve of people, both positively and negatively.”


Having an Effect

Father Manny Alvarez of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Plantation, Fla., has seen the importance of Catholics Called to Witness in educating people on the non-negotiable issues in the public square. And it has done its job with people like James Castello. When he first saw the video, he was immediately inspired as a Catholic and impressed as a professional.

“This film is the best advertising I’ve ever seen in my life. It was so inspirational I ran it again and again,” said Castello, who was in advertising for more than 35 years as a senior marketing executive for two global manufacturers with sales totaling $6 billion. A lifelong Catholic, he also founded Entheos Inc., a strategic planning/consulting business focused on teaching religious organizations how to better plan and run their organizations.

“I was amazed (by) how good it is,” Castello said. “It was exceptionally well produced and written — and really dramatic. The quality of that film, in terms of drama and the clarity of the message, the quote from the Pope, the solid Catholic theology, all brings home the point that we need to get out and vote the values of our faith.”

Describing himself as awestruck that this could happen without a big plan or really any money, he believes “Catholics Called to Witness is a tool of the Holy Spirit.”

Castello looks at it from another perspective, too. A member of the board of directors of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, he retired from advertising to work as a chaplain and chaplain supervisor several years ago at hospitals in New York, New Jersey and now in Delaware.

He believes the video needs to be shown in every Catholic church in the United States. “Somehow we’ve got to get people to see that and the priests to preach on it,” he said. “It’s the perfect platform to get across three core values of the Church and ask: What are you going to do about it? Vote your values; vote your faith.”

He credits the bishops and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York — who is quoted in the video — for not taking any baloney on the challenge to the non-negotiables of life, marriage and freedom of religion. “This is about waking up the sleeping giant, and finally the giant is starting to come out of its slumber.”

As “Test of Fire” heads to the two-million mark, Adriana Gonzalez can only give all the credit to one source.

“It’s been amazing watching God move: to take a little thing and do with it what he wants to do,” she said. “We have seen God open doors that no way we could have opened. All glory goes to him.”

Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.