Through a Lens Darkly
Reflecting the Truth: A Conversation with Dominic Iocco of John Paul the Great Catholic University
I feel like we need to be making stuff that everyone will watch. If we're only making stuff that Catholics and Christians will watch, then we're not going to impact the culture. That's just preaching to the choir. Now there's definitely a place for preaching to the choir, and goodness knows the choir needs preaching. But that's not the way we'll change culture. And our focus—our whole mission, really—is to try and produce graduates who will reach out and impact our damaged culture for the good.
In John Paul II's 2004 ad limina address that you quote in your material, the Pope references Ex Corde Ecclesia in saying that "As communities committed to the pursuit of truth and the establishment of a living synthesis of faith and reason, these institutions should be at the forefront of the Church's dialogue with culture, for 'a faith which remains on the margins of culture would be a faith unfaithful to the fullness of what the word of God manifests and reveals, a truncated faith, and even worse, a faith in the process of self-destruction" (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 44).'" The call to avoid the sidelines is a key part of his message, but how do you respond to critics concerned that interaction with certain aspects of our media-fueled culture—by which they often mean film or television—will irreparably damage us even as we try to reform them? And how are John Paul the Great's students and graduates going about this "dialogue with our culture"?
I could talk for hours on this topic; honestly, sometimes my response depends on my mood. But the first thing I would say is: running away from it is not the answer. Now, we have to be careful about exactly what we're talking about here—what I'll let my kids watch on television, for example, as opposed to what sort of things I'm willing to expose myself to so that I can engage them, which has to come from an informed decision.
But one of the examples I will often use is the funding of crisis pregnancy resource centers, centers that reach out to women considering abortion. Obviously, I think those are great things, and we need to fund them. My argument, though, is that we can keep putting money toward this each year, yet there will always be the same number of women that need help. If we want to think long-term, we have to find out a way to impact the culture itself, so that women in this situation won't even consider abortion.
The first project we did that got national attention was a web series called "Bump+," which tracked three women who were considering abortion. And our whole premise was simple: there's no scenario where you are not rooting for the baby to be born. If we really believe that truth is on our side, let's just let that stand. One of the more interesting results of that were some studies done on 11th and 12th graders in Pennsylvania where teachers surveyed their classes before and after they saw the series. Twenty-five percent of the students who self-identified themselves as pro-choice before they watched the show said that by the end of the series, their view on abortion had changed. That's a shocking statistic.
So, my "takeaway" is that if we can impact culture in that profound of a way—literally changing folks from pro-abortion to pro-life—then abortion will quickly stop being a political issue. And that sort of transformation will only come about through engagement with the very culture many want us to avoid. That, to me, is exactly what John Paul II is calling us to do.
Given Pope Benedict XVI's recent emphasis on the New Evangelization during the Year of Faith, and pairing that emphasis with the USCCB's recently-approved "strategic plan roadmap"—Journey with Christ: Faith, Worship, Witness—John Paul the Great's graduates seem ideally positioned to address a significant need in the Church. It will be exciting to see them tackle that challenge, and I look forward to celebrating the fruits of their labors. Thanks so much for your time, Dominic, and may God continue to bless the University's endeavors.
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.