CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
The DeSales Media Group rolled into the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist with their cameras, lights and Brooklyn accents.
Headed by the Diocese of Brooklyn’s vicar for communications, Msgr. Kieran E. Harrington, the crew positioned equipment around the sanctuary and prepped the scene for the filming of a new television series titled “The Chair: A Conversation with Today’s Apostles.”
With the cathedra of the cathedral in the backdrop of the frame, Msgr. Harrington sat down with Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and Bishop Jeffrey Haines on Aug. 13 for a unique encounter in a familiar Milwaukee setting.
The crew began filming this series in March, and have been on the road since, stopping at various dioceses throughout the nation and interviewing bishops about their experiences sitting in the cathedra, the bishop’s chair. Milwaukee was their 23rd stop on the route.
“You get to see a lot of America, and that means you really see how different this country is, how beautiful that diversity is and you really get to see a sense of the history of the Church,” Msgr. Harrington said.
This travel opportunity put the DeSales Media Group in touch with different cultural textures that compose the American Catholic Church. Each cathedral they visited held vestiges of the traditions of immigrants, whose nickels and dimes built the worship spaces and whose cultural practices today animate the life of the Body of Christ.
“It has really been beautiful to see these beautiful temples to God, but really they are metaphors for the places where the people live,” Msgr. Harrington said. “They are all different, but each says something. It is like a symphony.”
The themes of this symphony inspired Msgr. Harrington to launch this film project as one response to the current Church climate.
“We are talking about really terrible things in the Church all the time,” he said. But that is not the only facet of our story as the Body of Christ.
These grave matters must be spoke of and addressed, but we also need to speak about the Church’s beauty and the people that animate her. After all, the Church is more than a handful of men, and bishops are not defined by the sins of their brothers.
Our shepherds have stories about childhood adventures, adolescent faith journeys, and memories of calls: divine calls to the priesthood and unexpected phone calls from papal nuncios.
Hearing their stories, how their vocation unfolded, and how they find themselves in their current chairs— “which they had never really particularly expected— it is really quite beautiful,” Msgr. Harrington explained. It inspires priests and parishioners alike.
Filming conversations with our bishops, through this project, aims to refocus the conversation in the Church today and highlight America’s local cathedrals and the shepherds who tend to their people.
“The takeaway is that the Church is very much alive,” Msgr. Harrington said.
“There are moments of pain and death, but then there are moments of resurrection, and that is what I am seeing as I go across the country to each of these cathedrals.”
“The stories that are really compelling are the stories of our bishops.”
The glimpse into the life of Archbishop Listecki, Bishop Haines, and others throughout the country, coupled with a tour of their preaching domain, is a unique opportunity to go beyond the one-dimensional experience of our bishops. During his filming session, Archbishop Listecki shared memories of how he became a civil lawyer, his time growing up in a Chicago neighborhood and even what his initial reaction was to becoming a bishop.
Archbishop Listecki and Msgr. Harrington also conversed about how they grew up in a culture that supported the Church, but now we are in the life of the Church where the culture is absolutely oppositional to a life of faith— and how we can respond.
“When good people just become quiet, the voices that dominate are the voices of anger, hostility, and vitriol,” Msgr. Harrington said. Standing up for the faith is “a challenge, so hopefully this can be an opportunity to get people to testify.”
Testimony, he emphasized, is needed today to reach the hearts of those in the pews and those still outside the walls of the Church.
Msgr. Harrison draws his inspiration from the Apostles’ stories. “I put my confidence in their eye-witnessing testimony,” he said.
“The reason why we are doing this is the bishops are the modern apostles. They stand in the footsteps of those first men who testify to Christ.”
“Who do you say that I am? That question Jesus asks to St. Peter and the apostles is the same question that is asked to us.”
To answer that question, we turn to the witness of the saints who have gone before us, and the shepherds who stand before us preaching from the cathedra and sharing their stories in “The Chair.”