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(Editor's note: An annotated version of this story appeared in the Feb. 18, 2011 printed edition)
BRAINTREE -- Father John Corapi is one of the most recognizable voices of Catholicism in the United States due to his presence on EWTN and his radio shows, tapes, DVDs, books and live conferences.
One of his few upcoming conferences, and the only one in New England, will be at Boston's TD Garden Aug. 6 to benefit Boston's new Catholic radio station, WQOM 1060 AM.
Father Corapi spoke to The Pilot about the August conference and his ministry.
Q: 8,500 people heard you speak at the Boston Catholic Men's and Women's conferences in 2006. How will the upcoming conference on August 6th compare to the 2006 conferences?
Father Corapi: It's a new subject matter, so the material is going to be different. But I hope the experience will be the same because that 2006 Conference in Boston was one of the best conferences I ever did. This time the subject matter will be "The Church Persecuted." The topic was "Spiritual Warfare" in 2006. My two main goals are education and inspiration. Hopefully that will be there for the people. It's going to be very exciting.
Q: Can you share a little bit more about the subject matter of "The Church Persecuted"? What types of persecution, and what else, will you discuss in Boston?
Father Corapi: I'll start with a historical perspective and show that from the Old Testament forward throughout history that the Church has been persecuted. The main concentration will be on the contemporary situation of the Church. Some of the persecution of the Church is outright and not at all subtle, such as we saw in some Communist countries and we see today with radical Islamic governments or places like the province in India where it is a capital offense to proselytize or preach Christianity. But there more subtle ways in which members of the Church can be persecuted quite simply for their beliefs. This happens every day in Western society including the United States. Anyone who is strongly pro-life will feel a little persecution, and sometimes a lot. So there'll be a broad spectrum of examples of persecution in the Church. I'll concentrate on the more subtle forms because they are the more common ones today.
My conferences always focus on two things: education and inspiration. You have to have both. Education and knowledge is always good as long as it is authentic. But inspiration is what really puts the edge on the sword. So you have to have both. I think I've done my part in the pro-life fight, but I know a lot of people are out on the front lines more than I am, so I'm very sympathetic to that and I consider them heroic in their efforts.
Most of what I do is the result of a charism. I do my work, I have my preparation, I have my academic background, but I have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit. I have often said that all I do is show up for work and the Holy Spirit just does the rest. That is really where the power comes from. It is really a hard thing to describe accurately. It just happens. I just know I've done over 500 conferences and missions and I don't recall a single one where it wasn't a powerful experience. That's not because of me, but because preaching is a graced action. The Holy Spirit does His part if we correspond to the grace that's available.
One thing that I can say for sure is it is going to work. The message that I'll have for Boston-area Catholics who are engaged in that battle for life is "Hang in there, fight the good fight, run the race to the finish line." If God is for you, who can be against you?
I have, thank God, a lot of friends in Boston and the Northeast in general, but it is a tough place. I have preached all over the country, and in every state within the continental United States. That area in the Northeast is probably the toughest. There are great people there and a great Catholic tradition but the intensity of the resistance to authentic Church teaching in certain areas is absolutely frightening at times. So that is why back in 2006 I described Boston as 'ground zero in the culture of death.' In the battle for authentic Catholic doctrine in many areas; especially life issues but others as well, it's a tough spot. But that is why we're going to be there.
Q: Your ministry used to involve conferences nearly every week. Now your website indicates this will be one of only 3 conferences you'll do in 2011 and the only one in the Northeast. Because of that, your conferences are now larger. WQOM is selling 12,000 tickets for the August 6 Conference at the TD Garden. Will that be one of the larger conferences that you've ever done?
Father Corapi: The upcoming conference in Boston will certainly be one of the larger conferences. You are right that in the last couple of years my conferences are getting bigger. I don't travel much anymore, quite simply because our emphasis is on television, radio, and writing. I used to do 35-40 events every year. A couple of years ago, I didn't do any. The following year I did only the one in Buffalo [for the Station of the Cross]. Last year I did six, and this year I'll be doing three conferences. I just returned from a small event down in Naples Florida for the Legatus leadership. I'll be doing Conferences this year in Illinois in March, then Boston in August, and then Seattle in September.
There were about 15,000 in Newark last October and about 12,000 in San Antonio. In Buffalo, there were 10,000. So the 12,000 expected in Boston this year will make it one of our biggest conferences.
Q: You have done other Conferences in the past to help promote a Catholic radio station. What makes Catholic radio such a powerful tool of Evangelization?
Father Corapi: Yes some of our biggest conferences have been sponsored by Catholic radio stations. The one in Buffalo a couple of years ago was sponsored by the Station of the Cross which is also sponsoring the one in Boston.
Someone once remarked to me that media technology is amazing and that it is almost like it allows people to bi-locate. We hear stories from the annals of the saints, like St. Padre Pio, where they could bi-locate and be in more than one place at the same time.
When you think about it, radio, television and the internet enables us to be working so much harder and so much better. In the old days, before this technology, I would have had to physically travel to places every day constantly to reach different people and I still wouldn't reach a fraction of what we do now. Today we reach millions instead of hundreds. Through Catholic radio, I can preach a homily once and millions of people can hear it.
Catholic media is becoming an increasingly powerful force. It was mandated by the Church. One of the sixteen major documents of the 2nd Vatican Council mandated that the Church use of what they called the means of social communication, which involves radio, television and I'm sure they would mean the internet too, had it existed when the document was written. Catholic radio reaches many people so effortlessly. It's a fantastic tool. It has certainly earmarked my ministry from the beginning and probably will to the end.
Q: People are certainly familiar with your EWTN TV show. In Boston, now because of WQOM, Catholics are becoming familiar with the radio side of your ministry. What else do you do on the radio?
Father Corapi: We do a lot with EWTN. As we started in 1997 with my Catechism series, I record things and give the programming to EWTN and they air it on TV and radio. Many Catholic radio stations get their feed free from EWTN radio.
On Saturday night, they play recordings from many of my live conference, such as "Surrender is Not An Option" from the Conference I did in Boston in 2006. EWTN-TV plays the video feed and EWTN-Radio takes the audio feed. On Sunday night, EWTN has played my Catechism series non-stop since 1997 on both TV and radio.
Now, because I have a state of the art television studio here in my offices in Montana, we can produce programming for radio, television and for our website [www.fathercorapi.com]. We occasionally do live broadcasts from here when EWTN brings in a satellite truck.
Q: Besides your 3 upcoming conferences, what are some of the larger projects that you are working on this year?
Father Corapi: We have launched a new series through our website called "Our Sunday Homily." We read the Mass readings for Sunday and then I preach a homily on those readings. That's an ongoing project. I'm also working on my autobiography; however, it's like pulling teeth.
Q: How is writing your autobiography more difficult for you than preaching on Christ or teaching on the Catechism?
Father Corapi: Well, it is a different way of expressing something. My personal testimony is what launched my preaching ministry in the Church. It has had a phenomenal reach. Even today it startles me that people are listening to it after all these years. A friend of mine was recently on a business trip and he stopped in a rather famous bar in Nashville. A well known actor, I won't say who, sat down next to him. This actor has struggled for a long time and was in a bad place. They started talking and the actor said "the only thing that's been keeping me alive is this guy on television." The actor then started describing my life story. My friend told him that he often travels with me and then offered to introduce us. The actor couldn't believe it. These sorts of stories are very humbling. The autobiography will be the written expanded version of my personal testimony. I hope to finish it in time to release it in Boston at the Conference.
Q: You have a unique ministry. Beyond the Pope there might not be another Catholic priest or Catholic leader that reaches as many people annually as you do, particularly because you've embraced media as a central part of your ministry. Did you have an idea from the beginning of your priesthood that media is where God would want you to focus your ministry, or did it kind of just happen and then you went with it because you could see it was helping so many?
Father Corapi: That's a great question. When I came back to the Church after having lapsed for twenty some years, I went to confession and had a rather radical and extraordinary type of conversion experience. Archbishop Fulton Sheen was I think the instrument which God used to help me. I just knew I was going to be a preacher. Now I had never had any experience with public speaking. There was no way to know that [I would have a charism for preaching], but there was an inner knowing that that was what I was going to do.
Then when I went to Holy Apostles Seminary in 1987, I met Father Jim Flanagan. [Fr. Flanagan is founder of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) of which Father Corapi is a member.] He is from Boston by the way. One of his brothers was district attorney for many years there. Another brother was head of the philosophy department at Boston College for a long time.
About ten minutes into our conversation, it was extraordinarily and startling. Fr. Flanagan said "You want me to tell you your vocation?" I thought he was going to tell me that I'm called to be a priest, maybe in his group. But it wasn't like that at all. He said, "You have a charism, a gift called Apostolic preaching. Archbishop Fulton Sheen would be, in time, the closest example of this that I could mention. So you're to follow his example. You'll get the best education the Church can give you. Just as he went to Louvain, you'll go the best university that we can find and et cetera. And he said my mission would be Apostolic preaching- using the means of social communication." So that's the first time I ever heard that [explicitly]. It was in the first ten minutes that I ever met Father Jim Flanagan.
Q: You've been one of the pioneers in terms of the use of media for evangelization, helping people on their path to conversion and to deeper holiness. What insights have you learned through your ministry that the rest of the Church could embrace in its expansion of the use of media?
Father Corapi: Well, the first thing is that we have to do it. It's a mandate. It's not optional. The Church told us in Inter Mirifica [Vatican II Decree on the Means of Social Communications] that we must use the means of social communication to preach the Gospel. So that being the case, we have to figure out ways to do that.
Now the technology is there. We know that and that's the easy part. The most important thing in using the media effectively might sound overly simple. This is what works: to be absolutely faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, to hand on what the Church has given to us -- not some liberal theologian's notion of what it should be -- but the authentic, authoritative teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. If we stick to that, just like if religious orders will stick to the authentic charisms of their holy founders and foundresses, they will be successful and bear fruit. In radio, television, and in using all the means of social communication, the Church will bear fruit directly proportional to our fidelity to the authentic teaching of the Church.
Q: The Archdiocese of Boston is preparing to launch the Catholics Come Home initiative this Lent. Your ministry has helped so many people come back to the Church. Many Catholics in this area have told me that they returned to the Church after a friend gave them one of your tapes or after they listened to one of your broadcasts on EWTN. What message might you give to the Catholics here who will be praying for the return of family members and friends to the Church and working to invite them to come home?
Father Corapi: Well this piece of advice is almost axiomatic. There is a principle in metaphysics: things are received according to the mode of the receiver. We can translate that into everyday human affairs and to this in particular: a person is going to receive the faith, truth, grace, directly proportional to their disposition. If persons are well-disposed, they are going to receive more.
Some people at a given point in time are not well disposed. So you can present something to them as eloquently and perfectly as possible and it will go nowhere. People even rejected Jesus Christ himself to His face. So we shouldn't be discouraged when we do a good job, we have good materials, we're faithful, we're holy, and then family members and friends don't accept it. It's not your fault. It has to do with their disposition.
Now what can you do about that? That's where the spiritual life comes in. We pray. Prayer and grace have to precede the actual work of evangelization. We should have great materials. We should have a great program. But we have to understand how grace works. And the mystery of free will is that a person often says "no". We should not be discouraged by that. Just move on to the next person.
Your job was to put it out there. Eventually in God's time, and through God's grace, people will accept it. You are going to experience more failures than successes. But they're not really failures. Like with kids sometimes who don't want to go to CCD classes: you teach them their faith and they're not very interested in it. But at some point in their life it will help them greatly, if not outright save their life.
Q: Is there anything else you'd want to share about the August 6th conference [www.frcorapiconference.com]?
Father Corapi: Well, we're all in it together. Certainly the Archdiocese of Boston is a great Catholic area. We should try to do all that we can to be at the forefront of a major, of what I could call in military terms, 'offensive' for evangelization.
I can't guarantee very much in life, but I can guarantee you this one thing: that conference in Boston in August is going to be fantastic. It's going to be very exciting. I've worked with the folks from the Station of the Cross before. They always do a good job. I think the people are going to be very excited. They are going to get some education. They will receive some inspiration. That way we strengthen each other. Whenever I come in contact with people when I preach, I'm strengthened by their presence. So it helps me, and God willing, it is going to help them too.