WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two Jesuit priests who minister to some of the most marginalized population groups in the United States are the subject of separate documentaries that make their debut later this year.
Jesuit Father James Martin, whose work with gay and lesbian Catholics over the past few years has won him both praise and opposition, is the subject of the documentary “Building a Bridge,” the same title as his book from 2017 in which he detailed his ministry.
And Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, whose has ministered to with Hispanic gang members in the Los Angeles area for a generation, is the focus of the documentary “Homeboy Joy Ride.”
“Building a Bridge” will be featured at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Martin tweeted that a June 15 outdoor screening of the documentary sold out in 10 seconds.
“Ten seconds!” he exclaimed, as if he couldn’t believe it himself. “It was incredible. It shows there’s an interest in the topic,” he said.
“Even my sister couldn’t get a ticket, and she was online at 11 o’clock on the dot,” when tickets were made available, Martin said. “There are people in the film who couldn’t get a ticket,” he told Catholic News Service in a May 12 phone interview. Tickets remained, though, for an online screening June 16.
The priest said he was approached about filming his ministry a few months after the book was published. “I thought it was going to be a little YouTube video,” Martin said. Then, he saw the film crew on the same flight to Dublin for the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families.
“Why are you coming to Dublin?” Martin said he asked the filmmakers. Their response: “Because we’re trying to make a good documentary.” The 90-minute documentary, executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, “is a long way from the little YouTube video I thought it was going to be,” the priest added.
Martin said ministry to gay Catholics is similar to other groups in the church, be they students, seniors or seafarers, in that each is a “group with joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties, to quote Vatican II, with needs and experiences and interests. They’ve much like any other group in the church.”
“But,” he said, “they’re not like any other group in the church in that ministry to them is frowned upon in certain places.”
He told CNS, “I think the thing that makes me happiest is that 1,000 to 10,000 times more people than have read my book will see this film,” and if more Catholic gays are welcomed and accepted into the church as a result of the documentary, “it will have done its job.”
Co-director Evan Mascagni said, “I was raised in a Catholic town — Louisville, Kentucky, a very Catholic community. I didn’t know that other religions even existed! I was surrounded by Catholics,” but “I had distanced myself from the church” after his college days, although “my mother would always convince me to come back.”
Mascagni added, “After I moved back to New York City, my mother said, ‘Who’s this cool priest I follow on Instagram?'” It turned out to be Father Martin, also based in New York. She persuaded Mascagni to seek him out, and he went to one of the priest’s talks, and “I was blown away.”
Shannon Post, the other co-director, had a different story to tell during a joint May 13 phone interview with CNS.
“I had a friend from college who was killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting” in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, she said. “I just wanted to tell that story in some way.” Christine Leinonen, the mother of her college friend, appears in “Building a Bridge.”
“Ultimately, together we found it would be somewhat of a silver lining” to focus on the priest’s ministry, Mascagni said. “Father Martin’s story was just so inspirational and positive and so needed after the Pulse nightclub massacre,” in which 49 people were murdered and another 53 wounded.
After Tribeca, Post said, they hope to land berths at other film festivals as well as a distributor that can take the film to a wider audience, including a streaming platform. Mascagni added they also want to launch an “impact campaign” with “Building a Bridge,” taking the film to parishes and schools and hosting community screenings. “Unless something happens,” he said, “I don’t see the need for a film like this going away any time soon.”
“Homeboy Joy Ride” is one of a series of six documentaries in a series titled “Called From Darkness” that looks at the impact of faith in action regarding different social issues confronting the United States.
Boyle created Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles as a model of community and transformation. “We want to create a community of tenderness because the highest form of spiritual maturity is tenderness, so if love is the answer, community is the context,” Boyle says in the film.
Homeboy Industries, according to filmmaker Paul Steinbroner in director’s notes on the documentary, is “the starting point on a joy ride that takes people suffering from addiction, isolation and marginalization to community and connection. Homeboy is where individuals come together to heal themselves and connect with their lives, their families and the community.”
“This place wants to stand against forgetting that we belong to each other,” Boyle says about Homebody Industries. “It’s at the root of all the things that are wrong with the world. It’s born of the notion that there might be lives out there that matter less than other lives and we stand against that notion.”