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The little-known Catholicism of a 'Walker, Texas Ranger' star

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Clarence Gilyard (top left) as deputy James Trivette on 'Walker, Texas Ranger.' Credit: CBS Paramount.

Krakow, Poland, Aug 10, 2016 / 04:03 am (CNA).- Clarence Gilyard is the seasoned Hollywood actor who kicked major bad-guy posterior as Chuck Norris' gun-slinging, karate-kicking deputy James Trivette on the hit 1993-2001 CBS series. The man is legitimate – especially after working alongside Chuck Norris and his impressive slow-mo high kicks for an entire eight seasons on Walker, among other roles.

But what many fans may not know is how Gilyard's high-octane life led to a breaking point and eventual conversion to Catholicism, or how his faith profoundly shapes his life today. In a sit-down interview with CNA July 29 during World Youth Day in Krakow, Gilyard in a nutshell recounted his former wild lifestyle and his decision to convert, which eventually led him to get involved in the global youth event.

He also gave his advice to parents on how to help their kids authentically live the faith. “I hit bottom, I hit bottom…I was pretty much sex, drugs and rock and roll, ya know what I mean?” Gilyard said. He said that while he was going through his process of recovery, which included “therapists (and) 12-step programs,” he met a man who invited him to go to Mass. Gilyard agreed, and joined the man for Mass the following Sunday.

It was during the consecration of the Eucharist “when everybody hit their knees,” he said, that he felt something that changed his life. “Man, it rocked my world, it rocked me. So I went to the priest on the way out and I said hey, can I come see you this week? And the rest is history,” he said. After speaking to the priest, he joined RCIA and entered the Church. That was 21 years ago.

Several years after his conversion, while working as a consultant for his local bishops’ conference, Gilyard went on vacation to Martha’s Vineyard with his wife and five kids. It was there that he met a priest who, given Gilyard’s background in film, told him to visit the production house of Holy Cross Family Ministries when he got back to Hollywood. Holy Cross Ministries is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Sisters of the Holy Cross. It was founded by “the Rosary priest” Fr. Patrick Peyton, who coined the phrase “the family that prays together, stays together.” Through various projects the organization serves low-income and at-risk families by providing critical health, education and legal immigration representation.

After meeting the organization’s president Fr. Willy Raymond, Gilyard was eventually asked to be on the board, and one of the services this role includes is to help organize and facilitate the English speaking venues for the global WYD encounters every 3-4 years. Gilyard, who attends every WYD, said while he’s at the event “I wear my cowboy hat and I say, hey, there is a Catholic who’s a Hollywood actor that you’ll recognize and he’s got a family, he’s open to life, he’s striving just like everybody else.”

The actor admitted that he has his own issues to work on “just like everybody else,” but stressed that there is a big-name star who “loves Jesus, he loves Mother Church and prays the rosary.” On the topic of mercy, which was the heart of WYD Krakow’s theme, Gilyard said that the concept isn’t necessarily well-understood by the secular world, but is something he felt during his first Mass “when we were at the consecration where we hit our knees.”

“I don’t get those people standing up – because the geography is God is God, and I need you so much God that I can’t even articulate,” he said, explaining that every day “we’re on our knees not necessarily physically but metaphorically,” begging God for his intercession in our lives.

Gilyard got teary-eyed as he spoke about the day he came into the Church, explaining that his birthday is Dec. 24, and he entered the Church on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. “I asked to come in on my birthday, and Mother Church accepted me on Christ’s birthday. That’s mercy,” he said. “How do you explain mercy? Five kids, gorgeous wife, fantastic faith community, opportunities to serve all over the world. I say ‘thank-you’ daily.”

He said when it comes to living mercy concretely, Pope Francis is a key example. “This cat’s walking the walk, isn’t he?” Gilyard said, adding that while the Pope has “a lot of energy,” he can’t do it by himself, so “you better get off your butt and help him.” The actor, who currently teaches film as an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offered some tips for parents in terms of helping their kids live their faith, based on personal experience.

First of all, he said, adults “need to stop being youth…the youth are being authentic. It’s those people who have gone through those years and are trying to hang out in the space where the youth are supposed to be” that need advice. The role of a parent is to “to support and mentor and pray” for their kids and the youth, which includes supporting them spiritually. “We need to be available to youth when they need an answer, when they need a resource, when they need an example,” he said, suggesting that too much time on the cell phone, TV or computer are unnecessary distractions which diminish the role of parents.

Speaking of his own children, Gilyard said he has a 13-year-old who is “rebelling and questioning (and) shooting hormones.” “He’s only got two hands, but he’s shooting 12 guns, it’s crazy,” Gilyard said, but stressed that his son is “being appropriate.” The actor said the questions he should be asking himself as a father, then, are: “Am I there for him? Am I being steadfast for him? Am I praying for him? Am I going to daily Mass for him? Am I acknowledging that I need to work on myself because he’s watching me, he’s listening to me, he’s checking me out?”

Pope Francis, he said, is a strong example for him in this area. While he hears many people who say they like what Francis is doing, Gilyard said the Pope “scares me. He scares me because he’s calling me by his example to be a Christian, to be a Catholic, not to say I am.” Gilyard also emphasized the importance of prayer, noting that while it’s not easy “to be the man of the house, and say okay, let’s pray,” saying a rosary after dinner is a good way his family has been able to incorporate prayer into their daily lives.

Events like WYD, he said, are needed for youth, who often experience a sort of “anxiety” in their search for God. What WYD does, then, is offer them fellowship and the opportunity to join their peers in waving flags, screaming, “blowing horns and beating drums” because they’re excited to see the Pope. Youth, he said, “want to pray with the Pope, they want to hear what the Pope has to say, they’re not alone. What’s happening inside of you is human, it’s real, and it’s happening to all the youth around the world.”

The amount of resources the Catholic Church provides in order to help persevere in the faith is “ridiculous,” Gilyard said, and pointed to the sacraments and the lives of the Saints as an example of how to imitate Jesus. The saints, he said, were all “just trying to articulate what Jesus is doing in their lives at the time.” When we turn to them, grace “just keeps pouring out, it just keeps coming,” he said, adding that when it comes to the perfect example of living the Christian life, Jesus is the “one person” we can look to.

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