The Christophers: Bearing Christ in the Stories

What do Akira Kurosawa, M. Night Shyamalan, Denzel Washington, Ken Burns, Jason Reitman, Cardinal Avery Dulles, Rod Serling, Bishop Fulton Sheen, David Mamet, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Heaton, Will Smith, Bob Dole, Clint Eastwood, and Big Bird all have in common?

They have all been honored by The Christophers for outstanding work in media and communications.

When he won a Christopher Award for his work on the 2002 CBS News special, "9/11," writer/editor and Catholic Deacon Greg Kandra counted the prize as especially meaningful. Although the documentary had also brought him an Emmy and a Peabody Award, "Of all of them, the Christopher means the most to me, because it speaks most directly to the higher calling of working in the media—the effort to act as a candle in the darkness and be, somehow, a tiny beacon of hope."

Christopher Awards producer Tony Rossi with Shannon Hickey, founder of Mychal's Message ministry and recipient of the 2011 James Keller Award which recognizes young people who are changing the world for the better.

"It comes down to the power of storytelling," says Christopher Awards Producer Tony Rossi. "Whether they're fiction or non-fiction, stories have the power to make us think in ways that preaching doesn't. Stories don't necessarily tell us how to think or act. Instead, they show us the results of thinking or acting a certain way and let us make up our own minds."

Recognizing excellence in Film, Television and Books for both children and adults, The Christophers presented their 62nd Annual Awards on May 19, 2011 in categories covering both fiction and non-fiction. Honorees in attendance included director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler of the Academy Award-winning The King's Speech. Attendees were addressed by two special award winners whose lives also tell great stories: Shannon Hickey—the 21-year-old Foundress of Mychal's Message and recipient of the James Keller Award in recognition of her ministry to the homeless; and Christopher Leadership Award winner Captain Scotty Smiley—the U.S. Army's first blind active-duty officer and the current commander of the Warrior Transition Unit for ailing or wounded soldiers at West Point.

Award recipients ranged from well-known films like The King's Speech and Toy Story 3, to the Grassroots Films Documentary The Human Experience, to Eric Metaxas's biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy to the children's book Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery, and also included HBO specials and beyond. But the awards, Rossi notes, are not restricted to the overtly religious. "Jesus' parables didn't always have an overtly religious subject so we don't think every story we award has to have one either. Winners in our Books for Young People category, for instance, deal with topics like growing up, unconditional love, and building self-confidence. These issues are universal so whether you're a Christian or not, they still resonate with kids."

In between producing this year's awards program and the Christopher Close-Up Podcasts, and writing the syndicated Light One Candle columns, Tony Rossi was able to answer a few questions about the organization and its founding. The name The Christophers, he admits, is sometimes confusing to people, "I've encountered those who think The Christophers are a religious order like the Franciscans or a family like the Flintstones. We're neither. Everybody has the potential to be a Christopher because the word in Greek means 'Christ-bearer.' A ['Christopher' is] anyone who takes the principles and truths that Jesus shared in the gospels, and lives them in their home, workplace, church, the community and so forth.

5/23/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Elizabeth Scalia
    About Elizabeth Scalia
    Elizabeth Scalia is a weekly columnist at First Things.