SPOTLIGHT: ILLINOIS ORGY—ROME CONNECTION premieres Monday, Sept. 20 after Catholic Info Hour at 7 PM ET
Creative Catholic laymen Angelo Libutti, Ray Grijalba and Austin Kelly are joining forces — and talents — in an "all or nothing" drive to produce a first-class, Hollywood-style documentary that builds on the work of Blessed Carlo Acutis, who was beatified earlier this month in Assisi. During his short life, the Italian teen created a multi-dimensional website honoring the many miracles of the Holy Eucharist throughout the centuries and across the world.
"This movie is for people who don't believe, or for those Catholics who went astray due to poor catechesis, or for atheists and nonbelievers," Libutti, a storyboard artist part of multiple Oscar-winning teams, told Church Militant. "We need to bring back the prodigal sons and daughters to their real father — God."
"It's a big task and that's why we need the strong believers to support us. It's a work that cannot be done by the Church hierarchy or with the Church involved because they've lost touch with what the laypeople need," he added. "They don't recognize their sheep anymore or their needs and are feeding them dry grass — in areas surrounded by wolves."
Libutti explained to Church Militant how the team of three assembled to work as writer, director and producer on the project, as well as their motivations and the scope of their project, scheduled for release in June 2021. He also explained how Catholics can help crowdfund the enterprise and bring it to fruition.
"We can no longer wait for someone else to step up," Libutti declared. "We invite Catholics and non-Catholics to help us create a universal documentary about the Real Presence."
Church Militant: How did you three Catholic laymen come together to work on this project?
Angelo Libutti: It started after I saw a video about doctors verifying Eucharistic miracles that Ray Grijalba posted on his YouTube page, The Joy of the Faith. I was really moved. Ray was fantastic, and I saw he had a genuine and happy soul with a sincere Catholic heart full of genuine love for God and His Mother.
I immediately saw the potential of such an incredible message and wanted to bring this theme to the big screen. Too often Catholic productions are of a low quality and don't attract viewers. My wife and most of my family and friends see the same thing. I bought and viewed almost all the Catholic movies and documentaries available, but just a few — The Passion of the Christ, Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Jesus of Nazareth — are watchable from a cinematographic point of view, even though the last two represent an old style of filmmaking.
I felt the urge to contact Ray and ask if he was interested in collaborating in making an outstanding movie about the eucharistic miracles. When I did, he was quick to respond, and we soon became friends. We shared the same feelings about Catholic productions — you watch the first 10 to 15 minutes, then you turn them off. Even some of the new movies lack action scenes, and this misses the target of what audiences like nowadays or are used to in a world of special effects and superhero movies and video games.
Ray was "in," but was concerned about identifying a platform and a producer that would support our enterprise and help raise funds for the project. Shortly after, he got contacted by Austin Kelly, an incredible man, newly formed in the Faith and fired up with love of God and a desire to serve Him. Austin was deeply touched with Ray's YouTube video as well. As soon as Ray mentioned our desire to make a movie about it, he immediately accepted.
The following week I met Austin. It was supposed to be a short meeting — 15 to 30 minutes. But we ended up talking for hours, sharing our conversion stories, our love for God. When you meet a Catholic who loves God sincerely and wants to serve Him with no limitations, it's like you knew him all your life. The trust and friendship we had was as if we knew each other for many years.
CM: Your film will focus on the Real Presence, which 7 in 10 U.S. Catholics no longer believe in. Please say more about this.
Angelo Libutti: Yes, the number of Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence is terrifying.
I was present at the 2018 Sacred Liturgy Conference, the theme of which was "Transfiguration in the Eucharist." The truest and most sincere lovers of Christ were there, including priests and bishops. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bp. Athanasius Schneider, Bp. James Conley and Abp. Alexander Sample and listening to their remarkable stories about the Holy Eucharist. Without the love of the Eucharist, and therefore Christ, we are at the same place, then, as our brother Protestants — we miss out. Christ died so we could unite ourselves to Him, to cure us — heart and soul — with His Real Presence. He is the medicine for our weakness.
At the conference, one bishop told a story about his parish being almost $1 million in debt, with virtually no one attending eucharistic adoration. After he made one change — closing the church office during Mass time and requiring employees to attend Mass — in less than six months there was a stark turnaround. More people started to join adoration, more faithful became parishioners of the church, and the church is now no longer in debt. This is what happens when someone puts God first and trusts in Him and Him alone.
Bishop Schneider shared that when he was a child, he walked hours with his mother to go to Mass. How many of us today are willing to do so? We easily accept watching Holy Mass on the TV instead of taking the time to go to Mass in person. It's all about priorities, and Church teaching in this matter is sadly really weak. I have many friends who are Catholic speakers, and they all agree that it's easy to make teens and their followers sing, but almost impossible to make them study the lives of the saints or talk about deep theology. This shows that they are being fed news of external pleasure but not meaningful spiritual pleasure.
Padre Pio said that if we knew what truly happened during the Mass, we would risk walking in a minefield or passing through a police block at the church door. Many preachers cheer all these saints and quote them, but they are not willing to go as far as what they did.
I was asked by a priest — who knew I had a connection to Padre Pio — to tell some stories about the saint because he wanted to be like him. I told him how Padre Pio heard confessions 15- to 19 hours a day, spent hours in front of the Holy Eucharist and fasted every day, even faking to eat food. But the priest was reluctant to do any of this. He wanted the "magic powers" but did not want to do the spiritual work. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? God gave Padre Pio those gifts, as to all other saints, because they worked and sacrificed hard first, not the opposite.
CM: It seems your documentary will appeal to Catholics and people of all ages — which is great — because sometimes a generational divide stands in the way.
Angelo Libutti: One thing I learned from one of my mentors is that when we do something for someone else, we need to do it not thinking of them as equal in knowledge and zeal, but as if we spoke to a child or an older person who never opened a computer before. For example, Walt Disney used to fly to New York to spend hours on the top of the Statue of Liberty to understand why all Americans loved that statue. He came to the conclusion that, because it spoke to them and represented what they needed, [spoke] to what they went through, it embraced their life.
He eventually created movies for the audience, not for what he wanted to create. His life can be for many questionable, but as a filmmaker, he understood a key element that many find hard to embrace. Doing art only for ourselves will most likely end up to be what Vincent van Gogh did, create an art form that was only understood a hundred years after its making. In my opinion, that is wrong because it glorifies just our ego as an artist.
As a filmmaker, I need to create something for my audience first, to hear their desire for God and use God-given talents and experiences for them. If I don't spend time with them, and I don't hear their frustration and needs, I will never be able to please their inner spiritual life.
Our audience represents a generation that grew up watching action movies and video games, but at the same time, they have an inner desire for tradition. This is easily seen in how many teens love to listen to classical music or are attracted to filmmaking. This is essential — to know how to translate the message into a movie and to find the right balance to please younger and older generations.
CM: You're relying on a unique method of crowdsourcing to fund the film — could you say a bit more about that?
Angelo Libutti: Many people are unaware of what's behind the filmmaking process or the costs. My parents, still after 30-plus years of my explaining my work to them, think that just by pushing one button on the computer, it does all the work.
As you know, we are planning to do a few live-action scenes to make the movie more engaging — besides medical interviews with experts. For example, We're planning to include the Roman child saint St. Tarcisius, who was martyred by a mob while carrying the Holy Eucharist to Christians in prison. This week we went to a costume supplier for custom wardrobing services and fabrics for this scene. Just that scene will run over $3,200. Then we'll need to buy all the props for the market the Romans will walk through. Plus we'll need to rent the mission location at $1,000 for three hours and $500 for each hour after that.
Even with really pulling the strings tight, just one minute of special effects costs $6,000–$8,000.
All these steps and more have a cost. People have to spend hours of work on it. And the more qualified an artist we hire, the more it will cost, but the faster and better quality he will produce.
But we need the support of the laypeople. This project is funded by "us," laypeople. Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen and Pope St. John Paul II were right — we are the ones that can save the Church. Ray, Austin and I took the first step, putting aside our daily jobs (that for sure pay way more than doing this movie), but without other Catholics and faithful, we cannot reach the budget goal.
We intend to carry out what Bl. Carlo Acutis started. So we're asking the interested to make pledges at our website.
CM: I heard you have a connection to Padre Pio — do you think that has something to do with the project coming your way?
Angelo Libutti: Yes, my cousin on my father's side, who is my godfather, was Padre Pio's personal assistant. His picture hangs next to Padre Pio's bedroom door in San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy, speaking to their beautiful 25-year friendship. I grew up listening to him tell stories about Padre Pio and his love for the Eucharist. I feel all this was a preparation for this movie and other ones I will do.
I was extremely blessed to grow up in a family where my parents surrounded themselves and me with holy people. On my mother's side, my grandmother's best friend, Ven. Genoveffa De Troia, is now in process of beatification. She was one of Padre Pio's spiritual daughters, and a close friend of my godfather, who was many times their intermediary.
Padre Pio loved and treasured the Holy Eucharist, and he spent many hours in confession to allow people to receive the Holy Communion in the most pure way. In 1962, 83,035 women and 19,837 men registered for confession with Padre Pio — an average of about 273 per day.
Not many speak about the total silence he demanded during Communion. He often spent more than 40 minutes just holding the Holy Eucharist sometimes with blood dripping from his forehead as if the crown of thorns was afflicting him.
He promised my godfather that he would oversee and protect me, and truly many incredible events have proven his presence in my life. I owe to him and to Christ to do the best I can on this film. I don't know how long I will be alive — no one does — and every day needs to be spent like the last one for Christ.
CM: Is there anything else you'd like to share with Church Militant viewers?
Angelo Libutti: When I organized the annual consecration of California, I covered all the costs — for food, speakers and locations. I spent almost $20,000 for each year and took off three to four months for preparation. But for this movie, we need to hire a number of specialists and, as you know, this industry is no longer filled with Christian artists willing to do pro bono work for Christ. They need to be paid a regular salary. Working on our project could even cost them their regular job and career, as was the case with Jim Caviezel.
We will travel to all the locations where the miracles happened — including Argentina, Egypt, France, Poland, Mexico — to bring viewers in and allow them to travel to right where Christ chose to manifest Himself in His glory. We want this movie to be a video viewers can share with all their family and friends.
It will be a movie that will be so well done that every priest will be able to use it for catechesis or to form new Catholics. We need to bring the current percent of believers in the Real Presence to 100%. It's the mission for all of us Catholics.
Today we have science to prove the Real Presence, besides the theological explanation, and Ray, Austin and I want use it in the full to bring glory to God for allowing us to know it and to share it with all others, many of whom unfortunately suffered from poor catechesis.
We want to make this movie happen with a passion. Hopefully, this interview will touch some Catholics who love the Eucharist and are willing to help.
To contribute to the production at various levels with various perks, visit the website. Those who pledge at specific levels will be listed in the movie credits. We need co-producers to make this happen.