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Hollywood Holiness

Catholic Outreach Ministers to Those in the Entertainment Industry

BY Joseph Pronechen, Register Staff Writer

| Posted 6/4/10 at 3:05 PM

Family Theater Productions

Want to hang out with actors Jim Caviezel and Eduardo Verástegui (Bella)?

Drop in for “Prayer and Pasta” nights and other Hollywood Prays events at the Sunset Boulevard headquarters of Family Theater Productions, founded in 1947 by Servant of God and Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton.

Every third Wednesday of the month, “Prayer and Pasta” is held. The evening always begins with prayer and usually includes a Holy Hour. Next comes the pasta. After that, there’s a film or talk where industry professionals share their faith. In addition to Caviezel and Verástegui, Oscar-winning film producer Stephen McEveety (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) has spoken.

“Family Theater Productions provides a spiritual home for all of us Catholics in the film industry,” observes McEveety. “It is an oasis in the middle of what often seems like a spiritual desert in Hollywood. When young people come to Hollywood to pursue film careers, their first stop should be Family Theater Productions and its ‘Prayer and Pasta’ nights and its other spiritual activities. It not only provides food for the body and soul, but also good networking opportunities. Family Theater Productions introduces us established filmmakers to young, emerging talent. It’s an inspirational place for new and experienced filmmakers.”

Hollywood Prays started in 2002 with a small prayer group/Bible study led by Holy Cross Father Willy Raymond, Family Theater’s director. An immediate hit, it became a monthly staple for Catholics in the entertainment industry.

Holy Hours
Actress and singer Maria Vargo is a regular at Hollywood Prays events. A New York transplant, she met Father Raymond at St. Monica’s Church in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lends a hand.

“My faith was deepening,” explains Vargo, who was raised an active Catholic and whose father is a deacon. “Here was an opportunity to go to a Holy Hour every month with my peers and a meal afterwards, and hear someone talking. In the midst of our crazy world, to take time and sit before Jesus in peace, prayer and community is a rare opportunity.” Vargo, who is the artistic director of the G.K. Chesterton Theatre, now leads the music for the Holy Hour.

Aspiring singer/songwriter Patrick Dwyer knew no one when he arrived in Hollywood 10 months ago, but found a home at Hollywood Prays: “It feels like a Catholic family to fall back on and especially has an important sense of community.”

As Jesuit Father Ron Schmidt, a film producer at Hope Media, says, “For young people, Hollywood is a very challenging and soul-numbing experience. Family Theater is able to give them … support from the faith standpoint. Family Theater serves as an anchor for the Catholic community.”

Father Raymond calls “Prayer and Pasta” “one of the best things we do at Family Theater,” because it helps young people who are “trying to live their faith, but in a very challenging environment that challenges them to live that faith with integrity or to compromise.”

But it doesn’t end with pasta. “Going Deeper” sessions are led on Wednesday evenings (except on “Prayer and Pasta” nights) by Leo Severino, an attorney formerly with Fox Entertainment who is now producer and president of Metanoia Films (Bella). Most attendees are Catholic who don’t know their faith or want to deepen their understanding of it.

Severino starts from the no-faith perspective, using Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God as well as signs of him in natural phenomena, then moves to God’s revelation, through Scripture and Tradition, of Jesus Christ and ongoing revelation in the Church guided by the Holy Spirit.

On Tuesday evenings, theology of the body is the topic, with presentations, readings from author Christopher West, speakers, and sometimes film clips.

Bringing in the Flock
In 2002, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program specifically for people in the entertainment industry began. In-depth reading includes St. Augustine’s Confessions and the Catechism. The latest sessions were led by Barbara Nicolosi, co-writer of the upcoming film Mary, Mother of Christ and founder of Act One, which encourages Christians to transform Hollywood through television and cinema and hosts programs to that end. Father Raymond is also a team member.

Up to five participants are baptized or welcomed into full communion with the Church each year, like Josh Radar, Mpower Pictures’ development executive, this Easter.

Because of his work at Mpower Pictures (which was co-founded by McEveety), Radar knew Nicolosi, had heard from friends who went through the RCIA program, and was acquainted with Father Raymond from his visits to Mpower and his St. Monica’s Masses. All this was part of “connecting the dots in my life,” says Radar, who was then attending a Presbyterian church.

A conversation with a friend about the Eucharist was a turning point for Radar.  He thought he was receiving the body and blood of Christ at his Protestant church, but he learned that Presbyterians believe communion is only a symbol not the Real Presence.

Radar began going to Mass at St. Monica’s with a Catholic friend who told him to “sit next to tabernacle and pray, then tell me what it was like,” recalls Radar. “There was this knowing, this very deep, powerful experience that took place. I just know what was there was the truth.”

Staying after Mass to pray one day, he heard the “Ave Maria” but didn’t know what “Ave Maria” meant. “But it was this presence, a motherly love that was so powerful and moving I was literally moved to tears,” he says. “That was what really catapulted me deeper into searching for answers to my faith.”

Through RCIA at Family Theater, everything was clear. At Easter, Radar was received into the Catholic Church, received first Communion and confirmation. He describes it as “one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I’ll never forget that evening. It’s an experience so powerful, you can’t deny it.” 

Daily Mass is also available at Family Theater. “By far, that’s the most important thing we do,” says Father Raymond. “We pray the Rosary before every Mass and every Friday have a Holy Hour to pray for Hollywood.”

Because of the very profound influence entertainment has on popular culture, Hollywood is where the New Evangelization needs to take place. “I can’t think of many places as crucial for the spread of the Gospel in its fullness as here in Hollywood,” Father Raymond says. “I take that very seriously as a mission of Family Theater: to make sure we’re faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ and to the Church in everything we do.”

Vargo sees Father Raymond’s dedication to Family Theater’s mission and his love for Jesus and prayer as “a huge example for the rest of us.”

“Family Theater is a special place where beautiful, godly things are happening in the middle of Hollywood,” she says. “My prayer is that we make an impact on our surroundings as well.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.