Evangelization on the big screen

Catholic cinema, although not the most popular in the country, has the support of many priests and faithful in Puerto Rico.

Alberto Ignacio Gonzalez-February 21, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

(Unsplash / Julien Andrieux)

The year 2022, by the grace of God, was a good year for Catholic cinema in Puerto Rico. The films "Corazón de Padre", "Amanece en Calcuta", "Vivo", "La Divina Misericordia", "Esclavos y Reyes" and "Tengamos la Fiesta en Paz" were an opportunity for us, through the seventh art, with the name of the Holy Catholic Church, Mystical Body of Christ, to have an experience of faith and community through the parishes.

Given the failure of the documentary "Hospitalarios" (Jesús García, 2019) due to the lack of promotion and screening in only five movie theaters throughout the island, "Cine Fe, Puerto Rico" refocused its promotion, not so much in social networks, Catholic radio stations and the Catholic television channel, but in parishes, which is where the base of the parishioners is located.

Father Alberto Ignacio Gonzalez in front of a Catholic movie poster

"Cine Fe, Puerto Rico" is a group of lay people who put their gifts, skills, work and money to acquire, market and distribute Catholic films in theaters in Puerto Rico, under the spiritual direction of a presbyter who evaluates the films. As I mentioned before, the great challenge for the organization was to regain a respectable position with the movie suppliers in Puerto Rico, since the permanence of a movie is always measured by the dollars and cents it generates in sales.

St. John Paul II said in his apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici that "ecclesial communion, while always preserving its universal dimension, finds its most visible and immediate expression in the parish.... The same Church lives in the homes of his sons and daughters" (n. 26). Therefore, because the parish is where the base of the sons and daughters of God is found, promotion must always be from the base.

Thanks to the Bishop of the Diocese of Mayagüez, Ángel Luis Ríos Matos, who allowed the distribution of promotional posters for the films in the 30 parishes, a grassroots movement was created in the parishes where the seventh art became not only an experience of parish life, but also a moment for evangelization. After all, if parishioners fill the pews of parish churches, can't they fill a movie theater? Of course, the challenge is always to make it evangelization and not to fall into the folklore.

The support of the presbyters

This has motivated several priests of the aforementioned particular church to support the project. It is not only a matter of announcing the films in the parish bulletins and putting the poster on the bulletin board, but of personally inviting the parish community to see the film, even to see it with their father and pastor.

For example, the pastor of the San Miguel Arcángel parish in Cabo Rojo, Father Wilson Montes, has invited the faithful to support this initiative and invites them to accompany him to the Excelsior Theater, just steps away from the parish church, to see the Catholic films coming to Puerto Rico. This is also thanks to the manager of the establishment, who is a parishioner of his parish. Julio Echevarría, parochial vicar of San Sebastián Mártir Parish in San Sebastián, mobilized 60 people to Western Plaza in Mayaguez for the movie "La Divina Misericordia". This server did the same in a "party bus" for the premiere of "Tengamos la Fiesta en Paz," since in the parish community where I work there are many elderly people who do not drive in the dark of night.

A group of parishioners who went to see a Catholic screening with Father Alberto Ignacio González

For the Director of "Cine Fe, Puerto Rico", Danny Nieves, who is a parishioner of Maria Madre de la Misericordia parish in Guaynabo, the support of the presbyters has been crucial for these films. "We are a small film provider. We will never compete with production companies like Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramountamong other major producers in the Hollywood film industry. The film industry is driven by ticket sales volumes and that puts us at a disadvantage. The important thing is to show that these films have support so that we can continue to maintain our space," said Nieves.

Because of these efforts, Caribbean Cinemas, the largest cinema provider in Puerto Rico, increased the number of theaters where movies are shown, allowed private screenings for the presbyter who guaranteed the sale of 50% of the theater's seats and admitted that the branches located in the Western Plaza in Mayagüez and Aguadilla Mall in Aguadilla, both on the grounds of the Diocese of Mayagüez, have been among those with the highest number of ticket sales.

St. John Paul II was a great promoter of this instrument for the "New Evangelization." Twenty years ago, while at the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, the Roman Pontiff expressed that "the Church has always considered that, through art in its different expressions, the beauty of God is reflected, in a certain sense, and orients, as it were, the mind towards Him." Citing the Second Vatican Council, he referred that the knowledge of God is manifested in a transparent way to the intelligence of the human person.

Currently, a collaborative project is being developed with Caribbean Cinemas to offer private screenings in Catholic schools in Puerto Rico. In this way, the arts are integrated into the curricula of teaching the faith and the students are given not only a space to make and build community, but a space where the gospel is made accessible in movie theaters. Among the premieres projected for the year 2023 are "The Gospel of the Gospels" and "The Gospel of the Gospel".Lourdes"and "Heaven Cannot Wait" from the life of Blessed Charles Acutis.

The authorAlberto Ignacio Gonzalez

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