WTTW to air Word on Fire’s ‘Catholicism’ series Oct. 13

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, October 9, 2011

Television viewers across the country will get a glimpse into the rich history, culture and tenets of the Catholic faith when 90 public stations across the country air four episodes of Father Robert Barron and Word on Fire’s new “Catholicism” series. Locally, the series will air on WTTW- Ch. 11 at 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 20, 27 and Nov. 3.

Eternal Word Television Network will also air the series.

“Catholicism” is a big endeavor. It includes 10 hour-long DVDs, leader and group study guides and a 300-page stand-alone book of the same title. Barron’s goal was to show the history and treasures of the Catholic Church, which has more than 1 billion members worldwide. The series, which Barron hosts, was filmed in highdefinition and spans more than 50 locations in 15 countries.

Word on Fire — a Skokie-based global media group that aims to “educate and engage the culture” — pitched all 10 episodes of “Catholicism” to PBS but the network opted to do four and chose the episodes it wanted: the Revelation of God become man; the mystery of God; Mary, the mother of God; and Peter and Paul as missionaries.

No money was exchanged under the agreement, Barron said, and Word on Fire will promote the full DVD set and program at the end of each episode.

Barron, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary, said he was surprised PBS agreed to air “Catholicism.”

“I thought that maybe they would think it was too Catholic. They loved it right away,” he said.

The goal of “Catholicism” has always been to evangelize the culture, and media seemed the best vehicle to accomplish that, the priest said.

He also wants to reach people outside of the Catholic Church, such as fallen-away Catholics, secularists, non-Catholics and disinterested Catholics.

“That’s why I love that PBS is broadcasting it,” he said.

High quality

Barron’s “Catholicism” has a good chance of reaching people who are not part of the church because it is a high-quality series done in an inviting way, said Eileen Daily, assistant professor of the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago.

“One of the biggest issues with evangelization is getting people not to put up a wall before your message gets to them,” said Daily, whose study includes using art for religious education. People will be more open to the message in “Catholicism” because it looks like the rest of the shows they are used to seeing on television, she said.

Even the program being on PBS instead of some other network adds a level of trust and credibility because, “PBS isn’t going to accept something that is proselytizing,” Daily said.

Many people look at catechesis as a form of indoctrination, but productions like Word on Fire’s “Catholicism,” are welcoming and “it builds bridges between us and those who don’t know us — whoever they are,” she said. “It makes us not so foreign, not so other.”

In the end it is a form of Catholic hospitality, she said.

“In speaking the language that other people can understand, you are demonstrating hospitality to who they are and what they are about.”

Unique endeavor

No doubt “Catholicism” is a unique endeavor. “There is nothing out there like this that gives you the global, visual, culture, history and theological side of the church,” Barron said.

It also takes the church out of a euro-American framework by including segments in Africa, where the faith is growing, and Kolkata, India. It shows that the church isn’t some kind of evangelical sect. Rather, it is an institution that has engaged the culture in creative ways over the years, including being friends with the likes of Michelangelo, Dante and Msgr. Georges Lemaître, the creator of the Big Bang Theory.

“I hate the reduction of Catholicism to the sexual abuse scandal. God knows we have problems that have to be dealt with,” Barron said, adding that, “there is so much more to Catholicism than our current struggles.”