Today was the day Georgina Vaca said goodbye to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. For the last several years she's been the coordinator of Hispanic young adults and youths and worked with archdiocese's overall young adult community.
When I first showed to work for the Catholic Review back in 2008, Georgina immediately welcomed me. When I went out on assignments as youth and young adults beat writer that involved the Hispanic community, she was my go-between. More succinctly, she was my bridge.
That sounds odd, but as a young white guy wearing button-downs, khakis and carrying a notebook when showing up at events with largely Spanish-speaking audiences, it was not always easy. My three-years of Spanish were left back in the 1990s. For some of the Hispanic community, white guys, rightly or wrongly, were kept at arm's length. Some young men were new to the country and they didn't know who to trust and some guys that looked like me didn't always give them a reason to let their guard down.
The face they connected with most was Georgina. She saw no barriers. She only saw possibilities - mainly the opportunity to tell the stories of Catholic Hispanic young people in the U.S. When I would show up to cover something and wanted to talk to someone, Georgina would often go over to people and explain who i was, where I was from and what I wanted to do. They would nod. You could see the reluctance vanish. If she said I was OK, I was.
Almost uniformly, I got the interview. It was Georgina. She was my bridge to them. We connected because she cared. The Hispanic community knew that and always will. So will I.
Georgina is leaving the archdiocese for Catholic Relief Services to be a materials development specialist, where she will put together materials for the U.S. Catholic Church when emergencies happen abroad. The materials include prayer services, petitions and lesson plans.
When I found out she was leaving, Georgina told me the work under her would continue and she let all the young adult councils know that. As always, when she said something was OK, people knew it to be true.
Georgina has an extraordinary heart and it'll put to great use at Catholic Relief Services. I know she'll be close, still, but she will be missed.
June 21, 2012 08:40
By Matt Palmer
As Nik Wallenda walked a small tightrope above Niagara Falls June 15, the ABC microphones picked up the daredevil talking to someone who wasn't visible - Jesus Christ.
"Thank you, Jesus, my righteous king," the heir to the tight rope-walking family said. I thought about how often that's said on national and international television. Usually it's an athlete after he's done something pretty dramatic. This was a guy walking above one of the most impressive- and ominous - visuals on earth and all he could do was talk to Jesus.
It made me think of the footsteps poem so many children read:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints.
Other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life
When I was suffering from anguish, sorrow, or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord, "You promised me, Lord,
That if I followed you, you would walk with me always.
But I noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
There have only been one set of prints in the sand.
Why, When I have needed you most, you have not been there for me?"
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have seen only one set of footprints
Is when I carried you."
Nik Wallenda might have seemed to have been walking by himself, but he realized he was being carried across those falls and into history.
June 16, 2012 01:19
By Matt Palmer
About a year ago, I wrote a story for the Catholic Review about Mark Viviano and his brother, Tony, who was was on a path to becoming a priest. You can read that story here
For those of you who don't know, Mark is the sports director and anchor of WJZ-13, the CBS affiliate in Baltimore. Viviano also does occasional on-air work for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and formerly had a show on 105.7 The Fan. He's a down-to-earth guy committed to his faith in quiet and big ways. Most people don't know that about him.
I checked in with Mark June 11, two days after his brother was ordained a priest for the Jefferson City Diocese to see how everything went.
Matt: What was it like seeing your brother ordained Saturday?
Mark: The ordination was a beautiful ceremony. Among the many sights that struck me was the power of the priestly fraternity. Every priest from the Jefferson City, MO diocese was present (about 40 of them) to welcome the four newly ordained- each laying their hands on the new priests in welcome and encouragement. Funny that I didn't find the ceremony itself too overwhelming as I took Tony's cue that it was his destiny- the culmination of a commitment that's been in the works for years. More of a formality at that point- but no doubt a meaningful and beautiful one.
Matt: Did you ever think, even after all his seminary work and when he became a transitional deacon, that this would actually happen?
Mark: Absolutely and never in doubt. I mentioned it in the previous answer- the ordination was the formal culmination of a commitment that Tony has diligently pursued for years. I never doubted his commitment to the goal. It's been hard for him at times to remain patient as he's been so anxious to be ordained and begin his work as a priest.
Matt: For you, what was the most moving moment?
Mark: The most moving moment for me actually occurred after the ordination ceremony, after everyone had left. Tony (now Father Tony) went next door to St. Joseph's Cathedral (where he was ordained) to the home of the Carmelite nuns. He has been working with the nuns over the years and they requested that after he was ordained that he come to their convent and offer them his first priestly blessings. Tony invited me to come with him before I drove him back home to St. Louis. One by one the nuns knelt before him and he offered his blessing. Seeing him for the first time working as a priest, just hours after his ordination, it struck me fully then that my brother is a Catholic priest. A very, very powerful sight to see.
Matt: Did you get to go to your brother's first Mass celebrated as a priest? How did he do?
Mark: His first Mass was the next day at my Dad's church, the parish of the Ascension in Chesterfield, MO. Father Tony was incredible! As I told him afterward, it was clear that God was speaking through him and Tony delivered impeccably. His homily on the significance of the eucharist was so powerfully delivered. Most emotional was in the wrap-up of the Mass and Tony sharing his thoughts about our late mother who passed away 30 years ago. It was hard to hold back the tears at that time. A wonderful first Mass.
Matt: What kind of priest do you think your brother will be? What can people look forward to with him?
Mark: Father Tony is dedicated to the solemn duty of upholding the Catholic church. He believes fully in the privilege and power of being Catholic, it's tenets and traditions. He is a devoted caretaker of the lineage that extends more than two thousand years and he is proud to follow in the footsteps of the many who have come before him. He is caring, loving and encouraging by nature and will be someone people will feel comfortable turning to for help, advice and blessings. I consider him a true leader who is well suited for the role of priest.
Matt: Is there anything about your brother's life that people can learn from?
Mark: Tony's life offers many lessons for all of us. Foremost is his example of keeping one's heart open to God. Tony fathered his daughter Melanie 23 years ago and though he did not marry Melanie's mother, he stayed close to the mother and child and was integral in raising Melanie, something he prayed about often. He was running a successful business when he felt the calling to become a priest and after much discernment he answered that call. He's lived what many would already describe as a full life, yet he begins a new chapter as he's soon to turn 50 years old, his heart open to our Lord all along.
Matt: Were there many tears in your family this weekend?
Mark: Many tears of joy amongst us all. Tony has often referred our Dad as his guiding light and the weekend was most emotional for our dad, Joseph. At the end of the his first Mass he presented Dad with his first confessional vestment (I believe it's tradition for a newly ordained priest to do so). We all cried, especially Dad! And remembering our late Mom and her guiding influence was also a reason for many emotions. All of them good emotions, all of them shared by so many family members gathered in a celebration unlike any other. One that we'll never forget.
June 11, 2012 09:05
By Matt Palmer
If you've ever met Pat Sprankle and Sean Comber, you know they are both creative and innovative. Pat's the youth minister at St. Louis in Clarksville and recently was honored with the Cardinal Shehan Award for his service. Sean is a college-aged young adult who has been a major contributor in recent years with Archdiocese of Baltimore youth and young adult multimedia presentations.
Recently, the two got together to create a really cool video for St. Louis youth ministry in the form of an late-night informercial. It's both funny and informative. And, it comes at the low, low price of free. Sean was kind enough to answer some questions about how the video came together. Check out his answers below and watch the video.
Matt: How did you come aboard the project?
Sean: Pat Sprankle and I were talking around Christmas time about doing a new video for the St Louis CYM program because their old one was nearing the end of its life cycle and it was time to make some changes. To answer this question, it was simply being at the right place at the right time and having a conversation.
Matt: Where did the idea come from?
Sean: We wanted something that would be fun to watch and grab attention, while still getting across important information. In my mind this could only lead to a cheesy informercial where the product being sold was the program.
Matt: What got you pumped about doing something like this?
Sean: I really loved the concept of this video. Everything about this video was fun for me. It's fun to write something so crazy and it's fun to go into editing with the thought, "How can I make this absolutely insane?" The idea that I can get away with cheesy 50s music and kids cheering when the offer is doubled, was incredibly fun for me.
Matt: How long was the shoot and at what locations?
Sean: The shoot was back in March and took place at St. Louis Parish in a classroom that is used as a multipurpose room. My crew arrived at around 2:30 p.m. and left around 10:30 p.m.. We also visited a few CYM activities and shot interviews.
Matt: How did you guys get everyone in it to go along with it?
Sean: This was pretty easy. For the interviews we can simply tell people that we are shooting a promotional video and the general reaction is excitement. For the main characters, however, after talking about the idea and script, everyone seemed to be very interested in what we could pull off.
Matt: How did you pull off the informercial look?
Sean: A lot of the informercial look came from the writing of the script. There are certain catch phrases that need to be a part of the video to make it look like a informercial such as: "But wait, we'll double the offer," "That's not all" and "Money back guarantee." All this combined with good acting, cheesy music and backdrop and the before and after shots make it really seem like an infomercial.
Matt: What program did you use to do the editing and sound?
Sean: All the video editing is done in Adobe After Effects and Premiere. All sound is edited in Pro Tools.
Matt: Did you use any green screen?
Sean: This video is almost entirely green screen. With the exception of the interviews and the before and after shot, everything was shot on a green screen.
Matt: Did you have to do a lot of takes with the cast?
Sean: Yes. We did a total of three runs of the script getting close shots, mid shots and full shots. Additionally, within each run we did at least four or five takes for each scene.
Matt: How happy are you with the finished product?
Sean: I was very happy with how the finished product ended up. I was very pleased to see that all the jokes landed and the concept worked. Additionally I am pleased to see that the general consensus for the video is positive and everyone involved seems to be very happy with it.
Matt: What's your favorite moment in there?
Sean: I love that we were able to do the obvious before and after shots with shaky footage and desaturated video turning into smooth vibrant footage. This was especially fun for me and really makes it into the stereotypical informercial.
Matt: Why is being involved in youth ministry, including as a young adult, so important to you?
Sean: I have learned a ton from being involved with youth ministry and I have been given a lot more opportunities to make myself known and be of use in the archdiocese because of youth ministry. I would not have been given the chance to make this video if I had not already know Pat Sprankle through other youth ministry related events. Youth ministry has opened more doors that I could have ever hoped for.
May 30, 2012 11:40
By Matt Palmer
Is Archbishop William E. Lori the new Roger Ebert? While he's just a day away from being installed as the 16th archbishop of Baltimore, the archbishop's new job might be film critic.
According to a news release from The Maximus Group
, Archbishop Lori, who is the chairman of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, endorsed an upcoming movie, "For Greater Glory." The movie stars Oscar-nominee Andy Garcia, Oscar-winner Peter O'Toole and Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria.
“For Greater Glory is an excellent film that has the courage to tell a story that has been all but forgotten,” Archbishop Lori said. “The sacrifices and hardships endured by those who would not renounce Christ helped preserve the religious liberty of millions, and this film honors their memory in a remarkable way. For Greater Glory also reminds us of how much has been done to pass this liberty on to our generation by those who came before us, and it makes clear the truth that Christ taught us - that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend.”
For Greater Glory opens in theaters June 1, the same day as another epic, Snow White and the Huntsman, is expected to have one of the biggest box office weekends of the year. For Greater Glory details a fight against a Mexican dictator who banned religion in the country.
Andy Garcia told CNSNews recently
, "“It’s a fight for religious freedom, but really a greater umbrella it sits under is the concept of absolute freedom. There are countries all over the world right now that are still fighting, in the middle of a fight for those rights, and people have been deprived of those rights."
Watch the movie's trailer now:
Read more on my takes on pop culture and religion:
Snow White: The Ultimate Feminist
Is Batman acting like Jesus?
Christians should be like the Avengers
The pope and The Lorax
Bully movie is a must watch
Bully movie can make a difference
The Hunger Games is real
October Baby is about an abortion survivor
Hunger Games violence controversy
May 15, 2012 04:46
By Matt Palmer
Ever since Batman Begins came out seven years ago, there has been a theme running through the series-- Bruce Wayne is seeking to become more than a man. As Batman, he becomes a symbol for hope, a legend and, hopefully, an inspiration for Gotham City's people to do good and not accept the evil around them.
The latest trailer for The Dark Knight has something interesting going on - it focuses on sacrifice. At one point, Batman is talking to Catwoman and she says, "You don't owe these people any more. You've given them everything."
Calmly, Batman responds, "Not everything. Not yet."
Bruce Wayne/Batman, it is inferred in the trailer, is willing to take his life's calling to the end and sacrifice his life for the good of Gotham, the town his parents loved so dearly and worked so hard to build. When they died, he inherited a town that became hopeless, defeated, rife with sin and violence. He commits himself, as Batman, to fight back against the darkness and use his resources for something good.
When we last saw Batman in "The Dark Knight," he was running from the police and has accepted, in a deal with Commissioner Gordon, responsibility for the deaths of the people Harvey "Two Face" Dent killed. Gordon knew he didn't do it, but the pair knew how much Dent meant to the city. He was the white knight, while Batman was the faceless enforcer in the night.
Dent's fall from grace was devastating to everyone and would have crippled the good people of Gotham. Batman shoulders the burden and runs. Gordon accepts the lie in order to preserve peace. He puts the call in and the hunt for Batman begins.
Gordon's son looks at the commissioner and says, "He didn't do anything wrong."
The father responds, "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight."
Now, years later in The Dark Knight Rises we see Bruce Wayne bruised and battered. He's pushed his body to the brink. If Wayne dies, but inspires someone pure to pick up his mantle, it will have all been worth it.
In comparison, Jesus became man, inheriting his father's creation. In order to redeem earth's people, he sustained the taunts, the beatings and accepted death. In death and through his resurrection, Christ was recognized as so much more than the simple son of a carpenter and really as God incarnate. He ignited people all over the world to follow his example of peace, love, charity and sacrifice.
Director Christopher Nolan has said The Dark Knight rises will complete his Batman trilogy. If this particular story of Batman is to end, Bruce Wayne and Batman will need some finality. He can't fight this battle forever. Someone, after he is gone, will need to spread the message of hope through words and action.
There's even a scene in The Dark Knight trailer where people are almost waiting in vigil, wondering if Batman is dead and never coming back. They almost seem directionless without him.
Batman isn't Jesus. But, we see him in the trailer almost emerging from his grave and rising. When he comes back, the people of Gotham will know what to do and together, they can accomplish anything.
May 05, 2012 01:38
By Matt Palmer
There's something different about Church of the Nativity in Timonium. It's a community that inspires its laity and, in turn, is inspired by its laity. It's a movement that's changing York Road and beyond. I'm working on a story for CatholicReview.org about ServeFest, which Nativity played a major role in this past weekend.
One of my favorite things about my job is getting to talk to young people involved in their faith and sharing their stories with people in Baltimore and across the world. Teens hit the reset button for me and make me want to re-discover my faith again because of their enthusiasm.
At ServeFest, I talked with four high school students - Katie Leslie, Lauren Becker, Brooke Wareheim and Caitlin O'Connor - who are living proof that young people are making a difference in the church, the community and the world. They're part of a small group at Nativity led by Kristin Costanza. If you watch this video, you'll see how much impact lay ministers can have on young people thanks to authentic leadership.
Witness their testimony in this spotlight video:
April 29, 2012 05:11
By Matt Palmer
How's that for a convoluted blog title?
Last week I saw the movie "Dr. Suess' The Lorax," which had all sorts of ridiculous buzz in the run-up to its March release. Of course, in this day and age, you can't have a big movie without people debating about its agenda. There is no hidden agenda with this movie, which is based on Dr. Suess' classic children's book.
It's right up front with what it's trying to accomplish.
Trees are good. Protect them and nature. Sing some catchy tunes along the way. The end.
We see a would-be businessman named the Once-ler possessed by greed and what happens when he puts greed above nature. He cuts down all the trees to make his latest invention. When the last tree is cut down, he's left alone in a tower for decades until a boy comes knocking and looking for a tree.
Ted wants to bring about change and restore environmental care. The movie adds of a layer of corporate greed in a subplot about air control to show how hard it can be to be an environmentalist.
Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been outspoken advocates for environmental protection in various ways.
Our Sunday Visitor has released a book compiling Pope Benedict's comments on the environment over the years called, well, "The Environment."
Back in 2009, he said: "I willingly join in spirit all who are grateful to the Lord for the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands, renewing the pressing invitation to respect the natural environment, a precious resource entrusted to our stewardship"
Pope John Paul II said the humanity's future is tied with its current actions back in 1999.
"The world's present and future depend on the safeguarding of creation, because of the endless interdependence between human beings and their environment."
As Earth Day is marked April 22, people will undoubtedly debate about things such as the cause of global warming. But, let's remember that as stewards of the earth, it is our calling to protect God's gifts today and not be the Once-lers. Let's be Ted.
As Seuss writes: “Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better.”
April 21, 2012 09:27
By Matt Palmer
Alex Libby is picked on relentlessly in "Bully." (Courtesy The Weinstein Company)
Near the end of the documentary“Bully,” a school principal sits down with the parents of a constantly picked on pre-teen. The mother implores the principal to stop the bullies from attacking her son, Alex Libby, on the bus
“I’ve been on those buses,” the principal says in return. “They’re just as good as gold.”
By the time the scene rolls around in the 72-minute movie, you’ll want to yell at the screen, “Wake up!”That’s undoubtedly director Lee Hirsch’s point with “Bully.” Inaction perpetuates the problem of bullying.
In a montage of violence against Alex leading up the parent-principal meeting, we see the boy known as “Fish Face,” punched, slapped, cursed at and stabbed with pencils. His head bounces off the back of a bus seat and it stings for him and us.
Alex, earlier in the movie, is confronted by his mother. Alex has played down the bullying he’s incurred. She tries to tell him that the bullies are not his friends.
Alex responds: “If you say these people aren't my friends, then what friends do I have?" It’s the kind of sad response that will bring you to tears. It’s not the first or last time during the film when that will happen.
Some adults remember their school days more fondly than others. Some who don’t were the objects of scorn, exclusion, taunts and violence. Schools can be a cruel place for the awkward or different. “Bully” shows how bad it can for those who don’t have anyone to fight for them.
The principal in that scene with Alex’s parents is well-meaning. You see her throughout the film try to defend those who can’t do it for themselves. But, she also buries her head in the sand several times, making the bullied feel as responsible as the bullies. She tries to mend fences and not get to the root of the problem.
While Alex’s story tends to get the most attention, there are other teens who get time to talk about their experiences. While it’s hard not to feel bad for them as they struggle with the pain, you never really see their encounters. You follow the crusade of a husband and wife mourning the suicide of their son, Tyler Long. His tragic decision will be the catalyst for their calls to end bullying locally and nationally.
In the case of one teen who has come out as a lesbian, we just see her wander the town with her friends, but never see much else. Perhaps the filmmakers weren’t allowed the access to her surroundings the way they are with Libby. She's clearly troubled and out of place in her rural settings.
Libby’s encounters are so painful that perhaps that’s enough teen-on-teen violence for one film. We see what happens when other teens bullied snap into action. The ramifications of one girl’s decisions are awful to sit through, if only because you realize how young she is to be in such a mess. When you see a girl wave a gun on a bus, threatening her bullies, you wonder how it ever came to this in the first place.
De-humanizing bullying happens every day and if we turn a blind eye to the reality of the situation, as the principal does, real cultural change is not going to happen. "Bully" takes us places we don't want to go, but that's the mark of a truly great documentary.
Children and teens should be able to handle "Bully" in the theaters. Many see and experience what happens in the film every day. Now, they can know they're not alone and that someone's on their side. "Bully" shows it's time to fight back.
April 11, 2012 09:29
By Matt Palmer
Although I saw the controversial new documentary "Bully" last week in Baltimore, I can't review it until Wednesday. But, as someone who covers youths and young adults for CatholicReview.org, I can tell you that I was left with several questions, including the subject line: Will "Bully" make a difference in our society?
As the title of the film suggests, it's meant to explore the impact bullying has on our country's children. Schools all over the country - public, private and Catholic - have some form of bullying happening in classrooms, recess lots, cafeterias, gyms, bleachers, in lines, buses and by the flag pole.
During the last few years, we've heard about young people committing suicide or acts of incredible violence toward others because they were bullied. The mental damage was too great and they couldn't take it anymore. It's prompted celebrities to speak out in various campaigns to stop bullying.
Watching "Bully," I was flooded with memories of my own childhood in Hyattsville. I remember several classmates of mine who were verbally picked on by others. There were the kids with lice, that smelled, that were poor, were 'psycho,' and the "weirdo" who couldn't escape scorn.
I was the short kid and while I got teased from time to time, I never felt physically in danger. I handled myself well enough despite always being the kid put at the front of the line.
But, I remember the hurt in the faces of those who were on the end of far more intense taunts.
As we got older, kids at our school got in fights and that led to our principal, Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Joyce Volpini, to start playing "That's What Friends Are For" over the loud speaker every day until we changed. I'd imagine Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight are owed some royalties for the amount of times that was played at St. Jerome back in the 1980s. While she was well-intentioned, she was kind of inadvertently training us to despise that song for decades to come. We heard it... a lot.
When you're in elementary school, you think your classmates will be with you forever. You don't realize how, at least in Catholic schools, you'll go your separate ways. You don't think that someone else will spend the rest of their lives hating the mere mention of your name.
Thanks to Facebook, I've been able to connect with many of my classmates. But, there are some that are not there. Thanks to "Bully," I find myself wondering about the "pyscho," "weirdo," and the lice kid. The things said to them 20-plus years ago kind of haunt me now. Maybe it's because I was recently married and think about the children my wife and I will have down the road.
Watching "Bully," I was reminded that for all the bullying PSAs and celebrity causes, school hallways and classrooms still have the problems of decades ago. It made me sad. Is this what awaits my children?
I'm now back to the start of this blog. Will bullies, the ones who should be changing, see it? Will parents? Will this movie simply be preaching to the concerned choir?
Can "Bully" make a difference?
April 09, 2012 04:10
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By Matt Palmer