Shia LaBeouf Talks About Padre Pio — and How the Saint and Catholicism Changed His Life
‘I give all glory to God. I know that Christ is with me, and Pio is with me,’ says actor.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina — more widely known as Padre Pio — was a Capuchin friar from the Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo. Pio’s personal struggles, and his town's struggles at the end of World War I following the first free election in Italy, come together in the new film Padre Pio, co-written and directed by Abel Ferrara.
Shia LaBeouf plays Padre Pio in the R-rated film, and the film’s spiritual adviser was Capuchin Brother Alex Rodriguez. LaBoeuf, who has starred in numerous action films and thrillers during his movie career, found himself attracted to the Catholic Church as he read about Padre Pio in preparation for the role.
The actor, whose personal life has been punctuated by drug abuse and even arrests and who has faced criticism for his personal failings, explained to the Register ahead of the June 2 film debut:
“I can identify with Pio. He’s a man who suffered in silence and with patience. When you feel like you’re being accused of things that aren’t real, you have multiple options: You can get on social media and start explaining, showing receipts. But as I learned about Padre Pio, I found that excusing certain behaviors, getting loud ... all that started to fall away. The deeper I got into Pio, the more he gave me a very productive, instructive way of moving in the world, coming out of the ‘shame cage.’”
The thespian went on to reveal how deeply he had been affected by what he learned about the saint, to the point that his own personality had been transformed.
“I found,” he said, “... that through Pio, this idea of ‘myself’ had died; that the ‘me’ had died. That change — the ‘mine,’ ‘I,’ ‘me’ — had all died; and, instead, the Lord was working in my life. It wasn’t for naught! The ego death that I had experienced when I started this project, when looked through a different lens, started to feel like a gift. So what Pio, and Catholicism in general, has done for me is to give me a hack to my suffering, a hack to my pain; I’ve found a way of looking at the death of self, the death of ego, as the supreme gift from on high.”
LaBeouf characterized his new way of looking at the world as having less fear and more prayer. “I know that I'm being guided,” he said.
“I pray before work; I pray before jobs; I pray before selections. I have given up [feeling that I must be] the master-creator of the universe, the supreme artist-creator. I know now that there is no such thing as a ‘creator’ — we’re all making mix tapes. There’s only one Creator, and we’re all curators of his creation. I give all glory to God. I know that Christ is with me, and Pio is with me. I move with much less fear, and I think I’m a better artist because of it.”
LaBeouf has passed through many faith traditions during his lifetime, and only as he learned about Padre Pio, did he find himself drawn to Catholicism. In childhood, his mother was Jewish, and his father was a Christian. In 2004, he contributed an essay to a book titled I Am Jewish, explaining that he has “a personal relationship with God that happens to work within the confines of Judaism.” Just three years later, he said that religion “had never made sense” to him. In 2014, after playing the role of Boyd “Bible” Swan in the award-winning World War II action film Fury, LaBeouf told Interview magazine, “I found God doing Fury. I became a Christian man. ... [Brad Pitt] was really instrumental in guiding my head through this.”
But LaBeouf continued his quest toward faith and truth; and in an August 2022 interview with Bishop Robert Barron, he revealed that he had fallen in love with the Catholic faith while studying for his role as the Capuchin friar and staying in a Capuchin monastery in Italy.
Asked what specifically had drawn him toward the Catholic faith, LaBeouf explained that he liked the idea that Catholicism wasn’t, in his words, “moralistic.”
“Catholicism,” he told the Register, “... condemns the rigid moralism that comes from strict Judaism or even Protestant Christianity. It’s the religion of the second chance! For the new opportunity. For the great adventure. It’s very nuts and bolts. It's not ‘crystal-healing,’ hippie-dippie.”
LaBeouf described the religion in which he was raised as “a very beige version of spirituality, which turned me off to the whole thing.” In contrast, he believed, “The Catholicism that I found myself in was very direct and very simple, and quite obvious. I didn’t have to be brilliant. I had to actually run out of ideas. It gave me relief in a way that I have not experienced since I was a drunk!”
Through religion, LaBeouf had sought to find relief from a constant tension and lack of fulfillment. Before finding his way to the Catholic faith, he said, “I had no purpose to my life; I was just living my life each day. I thought that excitement was joy; I thought boredom was depression. I had no idea about the meaning of life, actually. I was lost.
“Christianity redefined my words. It wasn’t until I had purpose that I had any sense of true happiness. I didn’t even know what love was. These things all came to me in my faith journey.”
One thing that changed radically once LaBeouf embraced the Catholic faith — he is now in OCIA/RCIA, according to ChurchPop — was his understanding of guilt. “A lot of people talk about the ‘guilt’ that comes to us in Catholicism,” he said. “... But I experienced the absolute opposite. I walked in with guilt; Catholicism alleviated my guilt and activated my purpose. It gave me a purpose that was truly useful.”
Padre Pio will open in limited release in 25 theaters on June 2; it will also be available to view on demand. Viewer caveat: Rated R, there is disturbing content and dialogue throughout this film, including nudity and language; view with care, given frequent use of the “F” word; a nude woman is shown disrespecting an image of the Blessed Mother in one of Pio’s demonic temptations. There is also graphic violence — shootings of the townspeople; the devil beating Pio.