BATTLE GROUND, Wash., Mar. 25 /Christian Newswire/ -- When Pope Benedict XVI recently proclaimed June 2009 through June 2010 The Year of the Priesthood, dedicated to Saint John Vianney, Leonardo Defilippis was overjoyed. That's because Defilippis, the director and star of the feature film THÉRÈSE, has been working for two and a half years on a new live production on John Vianney, which will open on August 4, 2009, the 150th anniversary of the saint's death. The U.S. tour of VIANNEY will travel to parishes, theaters, seminaries, universities and throughout the Catholic school system, as a significant contribution to the year-long celebration and renewal of the priesthood and family life.
"The Pope's focus on John Vianney is right on target," says Defilippis. "The Curé of Ars is the saint who will inspire all of us, especially young people, with a deeper understanding of the heroic life of the priest. I believe we'll see a tremendous upsurge in vocations from this Year of the Priesthood - because our youth are seeking a radical choice, a way to make a difference in our world, and John Vianney points the way through his dramatic life of self-sacrifice and his struggle with evil."
Father John Cihak, pastor, seminary professor and Vianney scholar, who has recently been appointed to a Vatican Congregation, agrees. "St. John Vianney is pivotal in bringing about a renewal of holiness among priest and laity alike... We need a drama to help create this spiritual renewal. Writing books and articles about the Curé of Ars is good, but nothing gets a saint into the minds and hearts of people today better than drama and film."
Leonardo Defilippis's new production tells the story of the Curé of Ars (1786 – 1859), from his childhood during the French Revolution through his death after forty years as the parish priest in the tiny village of Ars, France, where pilgrims from all over the world flocked to his confessional and to hear his preaching. During that time, Ars went from a decaying community with a lax spiritual life to a vibrant Christian center, a model of holy living for the world, a place of such radiant peace that many of the thousands of people who came to visit described it as "heaven on earth."
Amazing things happened in Ars, witnessed by ordinary people. The Virgin Mary appeared regularly at the rectory for conversation with the pastor. So did the devil, who kept trying to smash the furniture. There were miracles of multiplying bread to feed the hungry, miracles of healing and of prophecy. Then there was the miracle of a pastor who kept going for years on amounts of food and sleep too small to sustain human life. Most dear to Vianney's heart were the conversions -- thousands of them. Skeptics and curious tourists found their lives transformed. Families were healed and renewed. Fallen-away Catholics wept and returned to the Church. All of this came about through the sacrifices and holiness of one simple pastor.
The VIANNEY production has received the support of a growing number of bishops and dioceses throughout the U.S. Says Bishop Ronald Gainer of Lexington, Kentucky, "I believe that this drama has the potential of doing great good for our Church, not just in the encouragement for vocations to the priesthood, but as encouragement of God's call to each individual soul: in family life, single life, or religious life...We are very much looking forward to sponsoring several performances of John Vianney here in the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky."
A feature film will follow the live production tour, as awareness of Saint John Vianney builds and funding is acquired. "It costs a fortune to produce a movie, but that, too, can do so much good," explains Defilippis. "With a major motion picture as a second stage, we can reach not just Catholics, but the general public, with this relevant, inspiring story of sanctity."
The year 2010 will mark the 30th anniversary of Saint Luke Productions, the ministry Defilippis and his wife Patti founded with the mission of "renewing the culture through theater and the media." During those years, the couple has produced nine live theatrical dramas on the lives of the saints and the Scriptures, which have been seen by more than one million people throughout the English-speaking world. In addition, their televised productions on Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Francis, John of the Cross and the Gospel of Luke have been broadcast internationally, and received numerous awards. Saint Luke Productions' most notable accomplishment is the feature film THÉRÈSE, the story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, which generated tremendous grassroots and film industry support and played in mainstream movie theaters for an unprecedented 70 weeks. In DVD release, the film continues to inspire numerous conversions and vocations.
"I first met Leonardo and Patti Defilippis while Archbishop of Portland in Oregon," says Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "I was impressed with their vision and their understanding of the importance of a Catholic voice within the entertainment industry. Leonardo and Patti are creating a training ground for young artists and restoring the dignity of the professional arts through live drama, film and television."
Saint Luke Productions is currently scheduling performances for the 2009-2010 seasons. They provide everything necessary to make the event a success, and the VIANNEY production include all the elements of professional theater -- lights, sets, costumes and an original musical score. Call 1-800-683-2998 or visit www.vianneydrama.com for more information.