The Need for Holy Ground

Story behind the video

It actually happened in College Church’s sanctuary immediately after the 9:30am service. An Italian woman named Mary, a recent convert to evangelicalism who had attended my Catholic class, rushed toward me.

MARY: “Pastor, Pastor” she said (pronounced “pastu”). “You gotta meet my brotha Vito. He’s come to church this morning.”

Together Mary and I strolled to the pew in which 15 of her closest relatives were seated. Somehow, she managed to get the entire family to come.

The first person out of the pew was Vito. Before I could extend a greeting, Mary introduced us.

MARY: “Pastor Chris, this is my brother, Vito. Now pastor, I’ve been telling Vito all the things you’ve taught us about the Catholic Church.”

(A look of surprise and discomfort on Vito’s face)

MARY: “I told Vito that he must personally repent and be saved otherwise he’ll spend all of eternity in the Lake of Fire….”

Despite my best efforts to interject and somehow ameliorate this imminent catastrophe, Mary continued. Before she got much further, Vito interjected, staring at me in a way that resembled James Caan’s character Sonny from Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather film.

VITO: “You mean to tell me that my dear Motha�bless her soul�is not in heaven because she didn’t agree with this here church?”

I attempted to allay Vito’s fury but was denied the opportunity as he quickly followed up with another question.

VITO: “By the way, when did this church start?”

I respond in bewilderment, “Ummm…” Vito continued.

VITO: “See, that’s my point. Reverend, with all due respect, the Holy Roman Catholic Church was started by the Lord himself (pronounced Lawd). And while we’re on the subject, why does my sister think that she’s got all the answers? I mean (Mary interrupts).”

MARY: “Would you please let the pastor talk!”

By this point my facial expression is somewhere between shock and incredulity.

VITO: (Turns back toward me) “Look, you’ve got your beliefs. I’m glad they work for you. Me, I’m Catholic. I was born a Catholic and I’ll die a Catholic. Why does my sista not understand that?”

Vito and Mary stare at me during a protracted pause. I was completely dumbfounded. I began to slowly mutter: “Ummm, Well Ummm…”

The conversation ended shortly after that. It was from beginning to end a bonafide train wreck.

After describing the scene to my film director, Jill Walser, she agreed that it was a perfect story to illustrate the angst of Protestant/Catholic conversation. Her only suggestion was to move the context from a church sanctuary to a Christmas dinner, since it’s around holiday meals that these incidents often happen. We went with her suggestion and the rest is history.

One more detail. Since I’m a Long Island Guido, it was natural for me to play Brother Vito in the video. My buddy Lon Allison, Director of the Billy Graham Center, played the part of the Protestant pastor. The Gucci glasses, thin mustache, and white hair that I wear in the film are intended to distinguish my appearance from my author photo (just in case you were wondering).