|This scene from “Where’s the Body,” a project of the Video Catechism for Teens, is part of a series on the Nicene Creed. This installment focused on the Resurrection. Courtesy of VCat.org
Catholic churches have been immersed in “multimedia” for a long time. Beautiful sanctuaries are catechisms in the different content formats of glass, paint, stone and metal, and these mediums complement words and music in order to teach and uplift. Now, in the 21st century, tools of a new technological age play their own role in ministry.
Father Robert Barron showed the way with his Word on Fire ministry. What began as a priest with a single camera posting faith-based commentaries about movies to YouTube culminated in the epic 10-part, high-definition PBS series “Catholicism.” Word on Fire now is moving forward with a follow-up project called Catholicism: The New Evangelization, and others in the Church are treading a similar path.
Films on Catechism
One such effort is the Video Catechism for Teens (VCat): an ambitious project that produces and releases one video on the Catechism of the Catholic Church each month for four years. Begun in October 2012 at the request of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., the series covers the main issues of all four sections of the Catechism: creed, sacraments, morality and prayer. The short films will be released on a regular schedule from October to September each year, culminating in 2016. The project already is under way with nine shorts on The Creed posted on VCat.org.
|Share the Story
The Share the Story contest, which was held for both the 2011 and 2013 World Youth Days, challenges young people to make a short film (under seven minutes) on some subject from You-cat or the Catechism. The topic can be anything from “the sacraments or the Bible to social justice issues or prayer. From the life of Jesus Christ or liturgy to saints or moral teachings.” The prizes are a choice of either $8,000 in video equipment or an all-expenses paid trip for four to World Youth Day.
VCat is the product of two companies committed to using visual arts to spread the Faith. Outside da Box is a nonprofit founded in 2005 by youth minister Eric Groth to create video resources for Catholic teen education and ministry. Likable Art is a visual design company founded by Franciscan University graduate Cory Heimann to bring quality graphical art to Catholic ministries.
The videos use a variety of approaches to get the lessons across, including text, visuals and music; humorous skits; interviews with youth and clergy; film parody; and even a send-up of vintage educational films, complete with jittery frames.
With its short videos and strong production values, the series is poised to capture a Catholic youth audience that’s become accustomed to getting its information delivered in consise, appealing packages.
Passing on beauty
One major challenge for those immersed in new media evangelization and catechesis is to determine how to inject the flat and stodgy style so prevalent in many available materials with better production and design. Doing this in a Church deeply rooted in history can leave some catechetical materials with a forced and inappropriate sense of the “relevant” that holds little appeal for teens.
As Heimann said: “We never want to become a ‘parody of the parody.’ The Church has the original beauty. It is the truest and most wonderful story. Every thing in the secular world is just a good or bad reflection of that beauty. We’ve created this thing we call ‘Catholic Art’ that usually ends up being a really bad rip-off of what we can find in the secular society. If we can go back to the source, Christ, we can view modern design and art with the widest lens, which is the Catholic worldview. Once we’ve done that, we can then discern what is good and beautiful, and where to draw our inspirations.”
The films are posted on the Web and YouTube and average anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000 views, with a variety of comments from Catholics (both practicing and lapsed) as well as non-Catholics.
“We’ve gotten different kinds of feedback,” said Groth, “and many of those seeing them are what we’d call ‘unchurched’ kids who say ‘Wow, I never thought of it that way,’ or ‘I should be more involved.’ We do know it is making a difference already.”
Making videos that pop
Goodness Reigns, a ministry founded by Suzanne Haugh, also is seeking to use effective new media techniques to spread the Church’s message. Haugh started seeing the importance of YouTube among the young.
“That’s where they get their entertainment and where they’re most engaged,” she said. “I thought it was essential that there was good, faithful Catholic material in that space.”
Inspired by the late Cardinal John Foley’s observation that the “Catholic Church is built for media,” Haugh founded Goodness Reigns to create faith-based media and art. At the same time, she realized that YouTube had revealed a great well of young talent waiting to be encouraged to explore and explain the Faith. In response, she created the Share the Story contest in anticipation of the 2011 World Youth Day, which encourages young filmmakers to make films about the Catechism. It was held again for July’s World Youth Day.
Making a short video look and sound good is an important part of making the technology useful. After seeing some of the mistakes being made in their Share the Story submissions, Goodness Reigns, in collaboration with filmmaker Gabriel Castillo, created the Goodness Reigns Film School.
“People had really good ideas,” said Castillo, “but their content wasn’t delivered in the best way possible thanks to things like poor lighting or sound.” In the course of more than two dozen short videos, Castillo walks users through everything from lighting to shooting to editing. The goal is to get Catholic new media looking as good as it possibly can.
Training altar servers
Castillo got more deeply involved with making Catholic films after winning Share the Story. He made a video called “The Altar Server” that went viral among Catholic blogs and Facebook users, earning almost 40,000 views in the span of a few months. The video was born out of a simple need.
“We were seeing sloppy altar servers at our church,” said Castillo, “so it was directed at helping them appreciate what they’re doing. Our pastor was trying to inspire, and we thought if people could see the beauty and reverence of the liturgy, then they’d want to do that on their own.”
Catechetical and youth programs are now using Castillo’s videos, mostly in large group settings to help Catholics grow in their faith. One surprising phenomenon, however, was that 50 percent of all views came through Facebook shares, where it was seen by many fallen-away Catholics.
“They watched it and were drawn to the truth and beauty of the liturgy, and that’s what we need to focus on,” Castillo said. “We have to be spreading information with love. What we have to offer is true, and the truth is always going to be attractive.”
Thomas L. McDonald can be contacted on Twitter: @ThomasLMcDonald.