‘The Christmas Candle’: Changing the culture from the inside out

How (and why) does a politician become a movie-maker? Recently, former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum visited Colorado and addressed a large crowd at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial, providing the answer to that question and giving the audience a sneak peek at his company’s newest movie, “The Christmas Candle.”

Santorum grew up in an Italian Catholic family that attended Mass regularly. He and his wife Karen have seven children and remain devout Catholics.

He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995, and then in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007, before running for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 (where he won the Colorado caucus). He was one of Washington’s most prominent conservative voices in U.S. politics on issues such as abortion, sexual morality, evolution and euthanasia.

“I realized in the years I was in politics, that the culture was changing,” he said, “and it’s not politics that’s changing it.” What’s changing culture, he explained, is the technology we access every day: smart phones, tablets, computers, television, movies. “That’s changing the moral fabric of our country.”

Santorum told the crowd how the people who make the content don’t hold the same Christian worldview of those individuals filling the pews.

“Yet,” he said, “they are the ones who are shaping the moral imagination of your children.”

When he was asked to become the CEO of EchoLight Studios, he “embraced the opportunity to get involved with this little company that was going to make inspirational faith and family movies.”

A strange fit for a politician, perhaps, but he countered, “If liberal actors and producers can get involved in politics, then conservative politicians can get involved in Hollywood.”

Santorum pointed out that too often, followers of Jesus Christ have taken the position that the best way to fight the current culture is to play defense, to block. But he has a different approach.

“My feeling on playing defense is this: if we believe we have the truth, why are we playing defense? Why aren’t we going out and doing what we are called to do, which is witness to the truth and to push the truth?

“For the first 1900 years since the birth of Christ,” he continued, “almost all the great art, all the great entertainment, was made by or for the Church: the beautiful mosaics, the stained glass, the paintings, the sculptures, the music. That was the popular culture.”

But with the advent of technology, things have changed.

While Hollywood knows how to tell well-made, captivating stories, the creators of most television programs and movies don’t share the beliefs of much of the audience.

“They subtly put things in there, just quietly, to turn you a little bit,” he said, “to desensitize you.”

For him, going on offense means producing really good content that adheres to the values of faith and family and sensitizes people to the truth. Would people watch it?

“I think they really would, as long as it is good quality,” he asserted.

Santorum treated the audience to an extended sneak peek of EchoLight’s forthcoming film, “The Christmas Candle” (see sidebar). The story revolves around a young progressive Anglican pastor who, through a personal tragedy, has lost his faith and no longer believes in miracles. He comes to a village in the English countryside and encounters a community clinging to the belief of the miracles wrought by a very special Christmas candle.

The pastor’s desire to bring electricity to the church puts him at odds with the villagers.

“It’s a movie about technology in the modern world and the end of legends and miracles,” Santorum said. “It’s about the beginning of the age of science and technology versus the people in this town who still believe in God and miracles. That is, in essence, one of the problems we are dealing with today.”

There are two major characters in the movie: one is the pastor who has lost his faith and the other is a woman who has no faith.

“’The Christmas Candle,’” Santorum said, delivers “a beautiful message to come into the Christmas season to see how God can work to affect us all.”

Santorum encouraged moviegoers to support the film early in its run (it opens Nov. 22), preferably on opening weekend, so that other theaters will see its popularity and pick it up.

For Santorum, a starting point for engineering a shift in today’s culture lies in the production of films such as those his company makes that champion families and celebrate faith.

“My feeling is that our country is on a path that cannot lead to good things. We need to engage the culture,” he said, adding that’s why he’s been traveling the country promoting EchoLight’s movies. “It’s a way to encourage people to not lose faith, to be willing to engage, fight back, and have the courage to stand up for the truth in our schools, our families and our churches.”


“The Christmas Candle”

Opening nationwide Nov. 22

From bestselling author Max Lucado comes a timeless story of faith, suitable for the whole family. The period piece is set in the late-Victorian era and filmed in the beautiful setting of the Cotswolds in England.

When a progressive young minister comes to the village of Gladbury, he embarks on a quest to modernize the town, an act that sets him at odds with the local candlemaker, who fights to preserve the legacy of the miracle-producing Christmas Candle. When the special candle goes missing, the villagers discover a new formula for miracles: good deeds and acts of kindness. The result is the most astonishing Christmas the village of Gladbury has ever known.

The exceptional cast features veteran performers Hans Matheson (“Clash of the Titans,” “Sherlock Holmes”), Samantha Barks (“Les Miserables”), Lesley Manville (Disney’s “A Christmas Carol”), Sylvester McCoy (“The Hobbit” trilogy, “Doctor Who”), and many others, including singing phenomenon Susan Boyle, who makes her feature film debut. Director of photography Michael Brewster worked on the Harry Potter films, and his cinematography is awe-inspiring.

Attention to detail (such as the fact that all the costumes were constructed out of 1890s fabrics) adds to the richness and authenticity of the film, which is a feast for the eyes and a celebration of the true meaning of Christmas.





COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”