Catholic bishops from all around the world have convened this month at the Vatican to answer one fundamental question: Where are the young people of today, and how can the Church reach them?
The answer may not be too far away - more precisely, it may be just about a one-hour drive from Rome, where the Focolare movement is hosting a film festival Oct. 18-21 honoring the 400th anniversary of the charism of St. Vincent de Paul, the Catholic Church’s legendary apostle of charity.
The town of Castel Gandolfo, long a summer destination of popes, is once again full of directors, actors, activists and both religious and lay groups eager to take part in the International Film Festival “Finding Vince 400,” which focuses on bringing forward a “globalization of charity.”
“Cinema, mobile devices, what [young people] choose to see and how they binge on television shows has so much importance compared to our generation,” said Clarence Gilyard, a U.S. actor best known for his roles in “Top Gun,” “Die Hard” and “Walker Texas Ranger,” during a press conference inaugurating the event Oct. 16.
“This charism that artists have to tell stories affects [young people’s] lives almost at a cellular level,” he said.
Gilyard, who converted to Catholicism in the 1990s, first became interested in the “crazy idea” of organizing the film festival after a meeting with Pope Francis in Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day. He joined the Focolare to have artists from all over the world submit shorts, films, animated features and paintings, with the purpose of shining a light on poverty and bringing hope all over the world.
Once Gilyard found out bishops were meeting for a summit Oct. 3-28 for a Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, it seemed to him like a no-brainer to let them in on the work they were doing and demonstrate the power of art to reach youth all over the world.
“We had an opportunity to talk to the Vatican and get on their schedule, to let them know they need to be aware of the consumption of the media and entertainment,” he said.
The American actor explained that his goal in getting the bishops at the synod involved is for them to realize “that one of the major influences on the lives [of young people] is art, whether they want to acknowledge it or even understand it.”
He described the event as a “moving experience” and a “humble festival,” which will feature about 25 short films, several shorts, three art exhibits and panel speakers such as Jim Caviezel, know for his role as Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” directed by Mel Gibson, and Sheree Julienne Wilson from the television series “Dallas.” Actor Martin Sheen is also credited with being among the supporters of the event.
Caviezel will share his testimony at the Auditorium Conciliazione at the Vatican on Saturday, when the festival will join forces with the Synod of Bishops under the title “When Charity Calls,” taking the life of St. Vincent de Paul as an example to address poverty and those living on the margins.
No feature will be awarded as the winner. Instead, all members will be selected in a competition that speakers at the press conference described as having “no winners and no losers.” Organizers said that the hope is that the festival will take place again next year and not be limited to a one-time event.
“We wish to dare to enter the world of cinema, the world of communication, to evangelize and globalize charity,” said Father Toma≈æ Mavriƒç, superior general to the Congregation of the Mission, during the press conference.
“Young people are there,” he said, “cinema and social networks are there, and they listen to the various actors, directors, producers and people who have influence because they are enveloped into the world of cinema.”
It’s impossible to underestimate the influence that films and TV shows have on young people and children today, with streaming devices bringing entertainment directly to your home and through cellphones right to your pocket. Organizers of the film festival know this all too well, with the story of the creation of the event being profoundly entrenched in young people from world youth day to this month’s summit of bishops.
“Our dream is to globalize charity using the instruments of cinema,” Mavriƒç said, “It’s an invitation to dream together, because when we dream together the dream becomes reality.”
Over 4,000 people from all over the world submitted their work to the festival, and organizers said it’s difficult to establish which features to show. One in particular, organizers said, stood out because of its compelling theme.
The film “Mare Nostrum,” which will be shown at the festival, highlights the plight of immigrant parents making the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea carrying the hopes and woes of their children.
The mayor of Castel Gandolfo, Milvia Monachesi, congratulated organizers of the event for using an effective tool to strike a very different tone compared to that which is prevalent in many parts of society today.
“The values that you carry and the way you bring them to fruition is something particularly important and capable of sending a universal message to the world,” she said.
“Today there is a great need for a message of fraternity and charity, facing the violence and negativity evident today.”