When film and television producer Christian Peschken met Father Ron Moses Camarda at Eternal Word Television Network, he knew he wanted to make a film about the priest’s story.
Father Camarda was on EWTN’s “Life on the Rock” to discuss his experiences as a military chaplain in Fallujah, Iraq, which he had detailed in his book Tear in the Desert. In 2004, he was pastor of an inner-city parish in Jacksonville, Fla., and two weeks from retiring as a military chaplain with the Navy reserves when he was called to active duty.
He accepted the assignment as God’s will and quickly found himself in Iraq with the Marines at Bravo Surgical Co. during the Battle for Fallujah. In less than four months he received more than 1,500 casualties and 81 deaths. Once back home, Chaplain Camarda helped the widows and families of those who died.
In the events that Father Camarda recounted, Peschken saw a story that needed to be told, so he obtained the movie rights from the retired chaplain.
German-born Peschken knows the power of a strong story when he sees one. He was an executive producer in Hollywood for more than 12 years, is also a professional cameraman, and founded Peschken Media and Pax Media. In 2000, after watching Christian TV for many years, he became an evangelical Christian.
“In my case, the power of television as a tool to evangelize people worked,” he said. Watching Marcus Grodi on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” and researching the early Church Fathers and the history of the Church led him and his wife, Patricia, to convert to the Catholic Church in 2006.
In early 2009 the Peschkens moved from Los Angeles to Wisconsin, where he started producing short-form television programs that were shown on EWTN, CatholicTV in Boston and Telecare TV, a Catholic station in Long Island, N.Y.
For Veteran’s Day last November, one of those programs happened to be a 30-minute EWTN special with Father Camarda reading from his book; the show was filmed at Fort McCoy, Wis.
Neither the book nor this TV special, both titled Tear in the Desert, should be confused with the upcoming film re-titled A Tear in the Desert.
Peschken has many reasons for making the film. “There are so many aspects, elements and messages in there,” he says.
“Here’s firsthand experience of a spiritual man confronted with death on a daily basis, and what Christ and his faith mean to this flesh-and-blood priest, a representative of Christ ministering to Jews, atheists, Muslims and Catholics.”
Peschken makes another point: “I want to change the perception of the priesthood in general. Here we have the story of a chaplain: God called him to go into the war, survive the war, and report about what he saw there. To get the story out is a great chance to implant Catholicism in a commercial movie, which also changes the perception of what a Catholic priest in general is. Mainstream media is trying to paint that picture about what priests are and how bad the Catholic Church is.”
“In a way, you can put Father Ron on the same level as these soldiers: He’s a soldier for Christ,” explains Peschken. “There’s much more behind it. The importance of the priest shines through. He’s the next closest thing to Jesus. It’s a spiritual film, in that sense.”
But Peschken says it’s not just another Catholic movie about a Catholic priest. “Here’s a story of a chaplain, a priest, a man of God, someone who sees the power of prayer and power of Jesus at work. But it’s wrapped into a very appealing commercial and mass [appeal]-oriented type of shape and form. A Tear in the Desert tells the story of a priest thrown into a war and the question is: How well does his faith help him to get through all that, and how does he help others?”
Filming will begin next summer. The film is included in a package of other movie projects with a distribution and production company that deals with the likes of Paramount, among others.
To direct, Peschken has signed Rafal Wieczynski, who made 2009’s Freedom Is Within Us: Popieluszko, Poland’s largest film production to date about modern martyr Father Jerzy Popieluszko who was beatified in June 2010.
“I’m interested in anything related to Catholicism; keep Catholicism in them [movies], but not label them as Catholic to make them accessible to anyone who has no access to our faith,” Peschken says. “That’s my mission with this and future movies.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.