Christian Peschken refers to himself not as a Catholic filmmaker, but as “a filmmaker who is Catholic.” But he wasn’t always Catholic.
In his native Germany, he was a professional cameraman and producer in film, television (including his own weekly TV talk show) and radio. Moving to Hollywood in the early 1990s, he became an executive producer, working with actors like Rod Steiger, Martin Sheen and Scott Glenn.
In 1994, something changed. Unable to sleep one night, Peschken turned on the TV and saw a lady with pink hair waving a Bible and talking about Jesus.
“That was my first real, conscious contact with Christianity,” he remembered. “Before I became Christian, I only prayed to God when I needed money to buy my new Corvette or pay the rent for the expensive place in Burbank.”
For the next six years, he watched evangelical preachers on Trinity Broadcasting Network. In 1999, as chairman of the Social Awareness Committee of the Producers Guild of America, he focused on the impact films were having in society — an impact that Hollywood often denies.
Challenged by a televangelist one day, Peschken put faith in action.
“I got on my knees in front of my TV set and prayed that prayer to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior,” he recalled.
Later, he started a ministry in Los Angeles, “Mercenaries of the Lord,” to help homeless people on Skid Row overcome their homelessness. He also filmed television programs about his work in the streets.
“During that time, I tried to join nondenominational churches, but never felt comfortable with anything there — the loud music, the emotional stuff,” he said. “I didn’t feel at home there.”
Then two events changed Peschken’s life. In 2005, when Blessed John Paul II was dying, Peschken learned that the Pope had asked for certain Scripture verses about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to be read.
“That was the first time I made a link between the Catholic Church and Jesus,” he noted.
The second event happened in 2007. Flipping though television channels while working on a German Christian television channel (Peschken is the first TV producer who was granted a license by the state to broadcast Christian television programs in Germany), he stopped at a program that drew him in.
“It looked so very different than the evangelical programs,” Peschken explained. “People were talking about their conversion to Catholicism. It was Marcus Grodi in (EWTN’s) The Journey Home. That was the first time I was challenged about my Christian faith.”
“I became very confused. If the Catholic Church is the true Church established by Jesus, as they claim, what to do now?”
“I talked to my wife, Patricia, and we said, ‘Why don’t we start praying the Rosary?’ From the first two or three times we prayed the Rosary in the morning, I saw different things happen. I can’t say miracles, but little things. We watched exclusively and only EWTN.”
They watched The Journey Home, which was their favorite program, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and sometimes the Mass.
“What was so convincing to me was that these Catholics on TV seemed to be extremely educated about their religion’s history, and they didn’t ask for money every other word.”
He and his wife tried to live the Catholic lifestyle. They prayed the Rosary, watched the Mass, and made the Sign of the Cross.
When a long-term production assignment in early 2009 brought Peschken to Milwaukee, he met Father Charles Irvin and filmed a series with him at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wis., about the Our Father prayer.
Terry Kopp of EWTN helped Peschken make his way to Alabama in order to show EWTN’s executive vice president, Doug Keck, the series. Soon it was being broadcast on EWTN.
Peschken went on to do several 10-15 minute series on Catholicism, like God’s Magnificent Seven on the sacraments and Mission: Priest of God for the Year for Priests. Some of those also aired on other Catholic TV stations.
So, TV — particularly Catholic TV — brought him into the Church.
On Feb. 11, 2011, Peschken and his wife were officially received into the Catholic Church at St. Stanislaus Parish in Milwaukee.
Peschken is committed to his Catholic media endeavors. Lately, he has been doing a lot of German-language adaptations of programs for EWTN’s 24-7 German channel, such as The Friar series and several Journey Home programs.
With Peschken’s other talents — he’s a trained actor and voice-over artist — Word on Fire Ministries hired him to adapt and dub Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism series into German.
He is also determined to put his faith to work in the secular film and TV market. He describes how the many definite projects he has “will appear secular but have Catholicism inside it. We need to remove the ‘label’ and make Catholicism mainstream. We have to cause a Catholic impact.”
“Media remains the battlefield for the faith more today than ever,” he stressed. “The media changes people’s perception of life and organized religion.”
Peschken views all of his work as part of the New Evangelization.
And in the wonderful smile of divine Providence, for the German adaptation of The Journey Home, Peschken provides the voice of Marcus Grodi.
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.