In 2009, during a cross-country bicycle trip, Seth DeMoor got the inspiration for OneBillionStories.com, named for the earth’s billion-plus Catholics.
“I was amazed by the gift of the Eucharist and the history of the Church. I met young Catholics and was blown away by how they were serving.”
“I wanted to capture these stories, rooted in transcendent truth, on film,” he told the Register.
And so the media project was born.
One Billion Stories now has “media missionaries” across the United States, in Spain, St. Lucia and the Philippines. They all look for and share stories of faith, hope and love via video storytelling, to support the mission statement: “Our goal at One Billion Stories is to invite people off of their phones, into real-world friendships at the parish level, and ultimately the grace found within the seven sacraments.”
They group recently finished filming new video stories in North and South Dakota and added a direct call and text line for the mission to all videos. It’s a personal invitation to individuals seeking hope and purpose in their lives, by inviting them to reconnect with confession and Mass and the sacraments in their area.
Kenn Cramer had an abusive father. “My mother said God loved me and could heal my wounds. But how could I trust God when he wasn’t protecting me from my earthly father?” he recalls in a video posted at the website. Cramer started drinking and drugging. “Only one option remained — to take my life, and meet this God that supposedly loved me. I tried overdosing. In bed, convulsing, I cried out, ‘Please don’t let me die!’ I heard God: ‘I’m not going to let you die.’ In that moment, God allowed me to actually feel hell. I started searching for truth.”
Returning to the Church, he became a counselor “to help people with their darkness. God is trying to lead each one of us to the best version of ourselves.”
In one of the “Ascent Stories,” Father John Nepil shares years of struggling. “I became someone I never expected to be. The Catholic Church represented suppression to my intellect doctrinally and oppression to my will morally. The alcohol, women, drugs — it’s never enough. The suffering was of a soul who doesn’t even know he’s lost and partly feeling victimized by a culture that said, ‘This is what it means to be a man.’ Suffering is the way to knowledge of God; the cross is glory for the Christian.”
One day, he spoke with a priest. That afternoon, he was at confession and adoration. “He doesn’t know that a year later I entered the seminary, and now I’m a priest. I realized the Church was the instrument by which God gave his love. I experienced it not as an idea or historic figure, but the answer to my existence. I’ve been captured by what happened that night in adoration for the past 10 years.”
Another priest, Msgr. Ken Leone, expressed gratitude for 50 years of priesthood via a video:
“I rise every morning at 4:30 for a Holy Hour. That’s the secret, from Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I’m 40 years into this Holy Hour tradition. A priest is the luckiest person. For example, I was called to anoint a comatose man. When I walked into the hospital room, I recognized him: I’d been to bless his home months prior. He’d insisted I stay for spaghetti. After the hospital anointing, I said, ‘Mickey, when am I going to come over for some more spaghetti?’ Guess what? He came out of the coma, sat up and said, ‘When would you like to come over?’ He’d been in a coma for three days. God is always at work. As a priest, people often come to you at their worst moments. You risk becoming cynical, negative, because you see so much evil. But when I come in front of Jesus, there’s an everlasting love. When you experience that unconditional love, you lead with joy, even after 50 years of priesthood.”
In Northern Ireland, Martin expressed through a video message the blessings through faith in his own family and said that the Real Presence has touched his heart and soul: “God’s love drew me to the Eucharist. John Paul II said, ‘Within the heart of every human being lies the seed of truth.’ We Catholics know the truth in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Edu is a Spanish basketball player who found Jesus in the Host, too. “In adoration, I felt overwhelmingly loved by God. A few months later, a retreat changed my life. Since that encounter with God, I live out my faith in all areas, including basketball. All of us are searching for God; my teammates are no exception. One asked why I’m not sleeping with my girlfriend; another I talked to about prayer.”
And stories of healing are also shared. Mary Jane had polio and was placed in an “iron lung.” She was pronounced dead Aug. 15, 1949, while her parents placed roses at the Blessed Mother’s altar. Her mother kissed her, saying, “Open your blue eyes.” Mary Jane awoke, recalling: “I was filled with God’s love, and I was with Mother Mary.” She and her husband of 64 years have prayed the Rosary every day. “We don’t worry about anything. We say, ‘Dear Lord, it’s in your hands.’”
Those who have visited the One Billion Stories site love what they see.
Erin Stutz of Littleton, Colorado, enjoys the “constant reminders of how beautiful our faith is.”
College student Chelsea Rakszawski of Philadelphia related to the Register how “it has been such a blessing to listen to stories of people all around the country, and even throughout the world, who are fighting for what they believe in! It’s like a ‘safe haven’ for me. … It has helped me not feel like the ‘only one out there’ trying to spread God’s love and trying to live out my Catholic faith.”
Patty Knap writes from Long Island, New York.