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'Bella' star keynotes Redemptoris Mater Seminary gala

  • Eduardo Verastegui, Cardinal O’Malley and rector Father Antonio Medeiros are pictured with Redemptoris Mater seminarians following the dinner. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
  • Guests listen to Eduardo Verastegui’s remarks during the 10th annual Redemptoris Mater Seminary Gala Dinner. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
  • Keynote speaker, actor and producer Eduardo Verastegui. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

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QUINCY -- The 10th annual Redemptoris Mater Seminary Gala Dinner, held at the Boston Marriott Hotel in Quincy on June 16, featured a little bit of everything: from a Hollywood actor to a mariachi band; from seminarians singing popular songs by Mumford and Sons to Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley leading a chant in Latin.

"You never really know what will happen at these Gala dinners," joked Father Antonio Medeiros, rector of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Boston.

The focus of the night was the keynote speaker -- Eduardo Verastegui, a Mexican-born actor, producer, and philanthropist known for films such as "Bella" and "Little Boy."

Because the event was held on Father's Day, the gala dinner began with Father Medeiros honoring all the fathers present at the event, "both spiritual fathers and physical fathers" with a cake that was accepted by the cardinal.

Father Medeiros then spoke of the importance of forming "men who are in love with Jesus Christ and who are passionate about spreading the Good News."

"People need to hear the good news of Christ," he said, noting that "one of the most vulnerable segments of society ... is young people."

The importance of reaching out to young people has been underscored by the Papal Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment held in Rome last year. The synod looked at modern society and its impact on the youth. According to Father Medeiros, the synod noted that the search for fame, for popularity, for stardom often lead young people away from the Church.

"Faith and fame seldom go together," Father Medeiros said.

Echoing Father Medeiros' sentiment, Cardinal O'Malley added that "we know the entertainment industry has such an impact on the culture."

While introducing Verastegui, the cardinal praised Verastegui for making films that were both impactful and uplifting.

As Verastegui took to the podium, he began speaking in his native Spanish.

"Before I start speaking," he said, "I want to say that all the good I have done in my life -- thanks to the grace of God -- is nothing compared to one Mass celebrated by a priest, so thank you for giving us the body of Christ in the Mass."

Verastegui then briefly spoke of his personal life: how he went from being an actor in Mexican "novelas," akin to American soap operas, to a Hollywood producer and founder of Metanoia Films.

"In Mexico, if you want to be an actor, you have to either do soap operas or soap operas," he joked. "There isn't much variety."

He became a successful soap opera actor, but happiness eluded him. Determined to make a bigger name for himself and achieve what he then saw as happiness, Verastegui moved to Miami, where he began to work on crossing over into English-language films.

"My life was perfect," he said, "everything was perfect from the outside, but from the inside, I was bleeding."

It was after being cast for an English-speaking part -- a language he could not speak -- that Verastegui's life took a drastic turn.

"The English teacher that I hired not only taught me English, she changed my life," he said. In teaching him the language, she began "asking very deep questions" about society and the role the entertainment industry plays in shaping the minds of young people.

"She helped me realize that I was poisoning the minds of young people without even realizing it," he said.

"I told my English teacher that I was part of the problem, and I promised before God that I would never again do something to offend myself, my God, or my Latino culture," he recalled.

To do that, it meant that Verastegui would turn down any and all roles that would not be in keeping with his Catholic faith. It also meant that, for four years, he did not work at all.

"I lost everything -- and I mean everything. But I found God," he said.

During those four years, Verastegui even began considering a vocation to the priesthood. He attempted to travel to the jungles of Brazil for two years as a missionary, but before leaving, his parish priest told him that "Hollywood is an even bigger jungle."

Armed with a purpose, Verastegui then taught himself how to produce films, ultimately founding Metanoia Films. His first film, "Bella," in which Verastegui's character convinces a young woman not to proceed with a planned abortion, was received with many accolades at the Toronto Film Festival and won the 2008 Grace Award for most inspirational film.

He said "Bella" made him realize, "I want to be part of the army that defends life from the moment of birth until natural death," he said.

Since then, Verastegui has starred in and produced several other films, all of which have inspirational messages. He is currently working on two new films -- "Sound of Freedom," a film about human trafficking and "Mary," the historical account of the killing of the innocents as recounted in the Gospels.

"Each of these movies have changed my life in a very particular way," he said.

Verastegui concluded his address promising to pray for all the attendees.

"I promise to pray for you every day for the rest of my life, that you become the persons God wants you to be," he said, asking that those in attendance pray for him as well.

"Pray for priests, for holy priests," he said.

Following his address, the Redemptoris Mater seminarians entertained guests with several songs before Cardinal O'Malley addressed the attendees one final time.

"We live in a world that is in crisis because of a lack of fatherhood," he said. "The seminary is our response to make sure that we have holy men willing to be spiritual fathers."

"We are grateful to these young men who are offering their lives," he added, reminding the seminarians of Christ's final farewell. "His last instructions to us were to go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

The cardinal concluded the night singing "Alma Redemptoris Mater" together with the seminarians and all who were present.

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