In these days when the world is in so much need of real heroes, Father Vincent R. Capodanno stands out as a man of God, who is worthy of emulation. If you want your teenagers to understand what it means to live for more than yourself, and how to set an example without preaching, then gather the family around the television at 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 30 for the premiere of “Called and Chosen – Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno.” (Encores at 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Sept. 4.)
This EWTN original docudrama depicts the life of a former Maryknoll missionary in Taiwan, a young man who would eventually die – at the age of 38 — on the killing fields of Vietnam as he was administering the sacraments and pulling others to safety. This extraordinary priest died, not because he cared about the politics of war, but because he cared about the men who were dying on those fields; men who needed God and the sacraments; men who needed what only a Catholic priest who was unafraid to die could give them.
The film will be preceded by a special “EWTN Live” with Writer/Director James Kelty (“Kateri”); George J. Phillips, Chairman of the Board of the Father Capodanno Guild (who served with the priest and whose testimony is also in the film); and Mary Preece, Vice-Postulator of Cause of Father Vincent R. Capodanno.
“Not only was Father Capodanno a hero, he was one of those people who had charisma while still being a very humble person,” says Kelty. “People just wanted to be around him — everyone who knew him told me that.”
The docudrama begins by depicting the priest’s idyllic early life as the son of Italian-American immigrants in Staten Island, N.Y. Young Vincent was born into a family of faith in 1929, and was captivated early on by stories of brave missionary priests whose martyrdom was portrayed in the stories and films of his day. Little did anyone know that this little boy would one day join the ranks of these martyrs.
“Called and Chosen” is most riveting in the last hour of the 90-minute film, which intersperses the testimonies of those Marines with whom Fr. Capodanno served with realistic battle scenes that put viewers into the heart of the action. We see a Military Chaplain who went into battle – even though it wasn’t required of him — armed only with the weapon of his faith.
Writer/Director Kelty is clearly an admirer. “He had a quiet strength, a way of mixing his ministry, the heart of which was to bring Christ to people, in a way that made people feel that he wasn’t just pushing something on them, that he cared about them. When he was stateside (on leave), he would go to the hospital to visit someone he didn’t even know. He was that kind of person. He just never said no. Some of us, our basket is full. We have to withdraw. But he didn’t seem to do that. He was always there, available to everybody.”
As this film explains, this was a priest who received 120 to 150 letters a day from former Marines who had returned home – letters he always did his best to answer. This was a priest who handed out St. Christopher medals and rosaries – including his own when he ran out – and who asked the recipients to pray for the enemy.
The men who served with Father Capodanno depict a priest who was fearless, who lived and prayed with the troops, who had a tremendous ability to listen, who could somehow tell what a Marine wasn’t saying, who had a sense of humor, and who almost always allowed others to decide when a conversation had ended.
Father Capodanno died exactly where he wanted to be, where he knew God willed him to be. As one Marine who served with him said upon seeing Father’s body: “Every other American I had seen killed had a very terrified look on their face. He was at peace.”
Kelty says the hand of God was on the film from start to finish. He managed to connect with John Paul the Great University in San Diego, Calif., which directed him to five recent graduates who Kelty said did a phenomenal job of lighting and shooting the film.
Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. connected Kelty with 15 students who do a superb job of playing Marines in the film. The actor who plays Father Capodanno even looks like the priest he portrays. The young actors were thrilled to meet a number of the Marines when the veterans visited the set during the filming, something Kelty called a great grace. “Hollywood extras wouldn’t have felt it the way these [Catholic student actors] did. The grace came from the vets that knew him and from these young guys who wanted so much to connect with that kind of heroism and courage and faith.”
Viewers will want to listen closely to the opening montage. Kelty was able to obtain two short snippets of Father Capodanno’s voice. In the first snippet, the priest calls upon God to grant absolution of sins. In the second snippet, part of a sermon Father gave to the Marines in Vietnam, you can hear him tell them: “God chooses the moment to call us back.”
God called Father Capodanno home as he was administering the sacraments and saving the life of a fellow soldier. As Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
This film will not only make you proud to be Catholic, it will make you want to be a better Catholic and, whatever you are facing, it will give you courage. After watching the heroism of this young priest, viewers will want to take to heart the message that Father Capodanno imparted to his men before they went into what would be this priest’s final battle: “Do not be afraid this day, for God is with us.”