A new film about the life and ministry of Padre Pio starring Shia LeBeouf finally made its way stateside June 2, and it’s been generating a lot of buzz (and admittedly, lots of mixed reviews). However, what’s lesser known but perhaps even more noteworthy is the real-life conversion to Catholicism that LeBeouf is experiencing as a result of portraying the revered saint and confessor.
Last year, LeBeouf had an in-depth conversation with Bishop Robert Barron about how living with Capuchin Franciscan friars at a friary in California to prepare to play Padre Pio served as the impetus for what has become a full-fledged journey to the Catholic Church. Recently, LeBeouf told ChurchPOP that he is currently in OCIA and will be confirmed in seven months — and he is hopeful that Bishop Barron will be the one to confirm him.
Of course, as with any journey of faith, the starting point is an encounter with Jesus Christ. This can take many different forms, but for LeBeouf, this encounter came partly by way of a local Capuchin Franciscan friar, Brother Jude Emmanuel Quinto, O.F.M. Cap, who was stationed as an archivist at the Old Mission Santa Ines Church during the summer that LeBeouf lived there. Brother Jude resides at Saint Francis of Assisi Friary in Denver and works at St. Bernadette Parish and as Provincial Archivist Assistant.
In his conversation with Bishop Barron, LeBeouf actually mentions Brother Jude by name as one of the friars who introduced him to Jesus in the gospels.
“He came to study the friars and become familiar with Padre Pio, however, in order for him to understand and know who Padre Pio is, he needed to know who Jesus is,” Brother Jude told the Denver Catholic. “So, we read and reflected Sacred Scripture with him. We started with Matthew because I figured it was the first book of the Bible. We also accompanied him at the Masses he attended regularly, prayers and other things that he saw and or heard. The classes we had were very informal because it was meant to accompany him on his faith journey and how he understood Christ to be.”
Brother Jude shared that it was an honor to accompany LeBeouf as he became more immersed in Sacred Scripture and the Catholic faith.
“For myself, to witness how Shia got to know and encounter Christ through reflecting and meditating on Sacred Scripture and accompanying him at Mass and [seeing how] the life and intercession of Saint Pio moved in his heart and his life… those two and a half months were a huge blessing for me,” the friar said.
LeBeouf sought to learn the Church through her teachings and doctrines, Brother Jude recalled. However, for all of these to make sense to someone who is new to the Catholic faith, you have to start with the seed of Christianity: A relationship with Christ. This is where Brother Jude encouraged LeBeouf to start.
“He wanted from the very beginning to memorize and know all the teachings, doctrines and catechism, which was fine, but we began first with the basics: Mass and scriptures,” Brother Jude said. “We told him that all these (doctrines, teachings, etc.) do not make sense if there is no relationship with the personhood of Jesus Christ and from opening himself up to Jesus, all things were beginning to make sense. Watching him understand these moved me as just as it moved him.”
It’s not everyday that someone gets to walk with an A-list celebrity on their journey of faith. Even so, Brother Jude approached LeBeouf no differently than he would anyone else beginning this journey.
“I did what I was supposed to do as a Christian and a Capuchin Brother: invite and welcome all who approach and accompany them to Christ,” the Capuhcin friar said. “Christ does the rest of the amazing things.”
Brother Jude was quick to mention that it wasn’t by his efforts alone that LeBeouf came to faith. He said that the Old Mission Santa Ines parishioners played a crucial a role by assisting him in learning the rosary outside their meeting times and reflecting with him about the experiences.
“Their prayers and support were huge,” he said.
He also gives credit to Brother Alex Rodriguez, whom he said “did most of the leg work with [Shia].” Brother Alex actually plays a role in the film, starring as Padre Pios’s friend and confidant. As LeBeouf also mentions in his conversation with the bishop, Bishop Barron also visited the friary while LeBeouf was there.
From an evangelization perspective, it’s easy to see how it might be intimidating to try and find common ground with a celebrity like LeBeouf to then enter into those deeper discussions. Brother Jude, however, expressed that the only common ground we really need when introducing someone to the person of Jesus Christ is Christ himself.
“For me, if I, a sinner, have experienced and keep experiencing the love, mercy and forgiveness of God in the sacraments and in my own prayer, who was I to withhold it back from Shia?” Brother Jude said. “This was the common ground we had, he and I both sinners and in search, but God, using our weaknesses and ego, brought us in a place of encounter through communion.”
He continued: “This is part of our charism as Franciscans: from this life-giving and life-changing personal relationship with Jesus, especially him Crucified, by encountering Him and His radical love in the Gospels and in the Eucharist and Sacraments. From this encounter of how Christ loved us; wholly, freely, entirely, totally and without reservation, comes a personal conversion that radically changes how we begin to relate and love Christ and from this love of Christ that we encounter, embrace and imitate, that is how we love others and ourselves.
“This is how St. Francis of Assisi lived the Gospel, and this is how Padre Pio lived and loved. That is how we love and that is a part of who we are. This is how we loved and love Shia.”
Thanks be to God, LeBeouf is now a catechumen who, God willing, will soon be a fellow brother in full communion with Christ and his bride, the Catholic Church. To this end, Brother Jude has one simple request: pray.
“Pray for Shia and for his continued journey with Christ,” Brother Jude concluded. “The prayers of those who he knows and does not know is part of what brought him here today, and imagine where it could lead him and us if we keep supporting each other through prayer.”