by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
At the March for Life in Washington, D.C. this past January, I met a fascinating young man, Eduardo Verástegui, who is on fire with his Catholic faith.
Eduardo shared with me his remarkable conversion story. He had been a soap opera star in Mexico. He had achieved what he thought would make him happy. He had fame and wealth, as well as all of the human recognition and pleasures they provide. He was given the opportunity to come to Hollywood with the allure of becoming even richer and more famous.
The studio with which he was affiliated assigned him a tutor to help him learn English. His tutor, in addition to teaching him English, began to question him about his faith and moral life. She was a devout Catholic. Her questions and comments provoked in Eduardo a profound conversion.
For the first time in years, Eduardo began to attend Sunday Mass faithfully. Soon, he was going to confession regularly, receiving spiritual direction and participating in daily Mass. Eduardo began to turn down roles that formerly he would have pursued and eagerly accepted.
He felt a tremendous remorse for his former life and at one point announced to his spiritual director that he wanted to forsake completely his acting career in order to become a missionary in the jungles of Brazil. His spiritual director wisely counseled him that Jesus has several missionaries in Brazil, but very few in the jungles of Hollywood. He urged him to use his talents to glorify God by being an instrument of change in the culture of Hollywood.
Through God’s providence, he met two other men (Alejandro Monteverde and Leo Severino) who shared his desire to create artistically beautiful films that had the power to inspire others to live lives of virtue and to seek what is noble. They formed the production company, Metanoia, and chose as their first project a script entitled “Bella.”
“Bella” is the story of a young, unmarried, pregnant woman who considers abortion her only realistic option. She is befriended by a young man who has suffered his own tragedy. “Bella” is a love story unlike those usually depicted on the big screen. The movie is not preachy but, by portraying the development of the principal characters, communicates a message that upholds the importance of family and the beauty of authentic friendship. “Bella” is a story of redemption, revealing how God can bring forth life out of the most profound tragedy and suffering.
The film also speaks a message about the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person. Even before its official premiere in theaters, this film has already been instrumental in saving the lives of two children.
Along with 5,000 other films from around the world, “Bella” was entered into the Toronto International Film Festival. It was among a couple of hundred that were chosen for the competition and, much to the surprise of even its creators, won the festival’s prestigious People’s Choice Award.
Eduardo and his partners have taken seriously the challenge that the late Pope John Paul II gave to artists to use their gifts and talents to inspire and ennoble. They want to bring the truth and values of the Gospel into the powerful medium of cinema. They are committed to producing films that they would not be embarrassed for Jesus or his mother, Mary, to view.
When Eduardo was at the height of his fame and fortune, but far from God, his mother was frustrated because nothing she said was effective in helping her son recognize the harm he was doing to himself and others. She began to pray for his conversion, trusting that if her words failed to open Eduardo’s eyes, God would hear her fervent prayers and find a way to touch his heart. Eduardo believes his English tutor was the answer to his mother’s prayers. After all, what were the chances of coming to Hollywood to pursue his worldly ambitions, only to be “knocked off his horse” by the questions of an English teacher?
“Bella” opens in Kansas City and 31 other markets this weekend. If it does well at the box office the next two weeks, it will receive national publicity and be given a much wider distribution.
You may never hear me make this request to you again, but I want you to go to the movies. See “Bella”! You will not be disappointed, and you will be helping to transform our culture with the values of the Gospel. If you are a mother, go and see what your prayers are capable of accomplishing!