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From video to the street: ‘We bring love, concern and the Eucharist’

NCR Staff

This is a youth ministry with no time to socialize. But where else can students as young as 12 go to church and get hands-on experience in all aspects of video production? The moment the weekly 9:30 a.m. Mass starts, it’s all concentration -- on the computers, on the graphics, on what the camera is seeing. And on keeping a cool head when things go wrong.

Using professional, if antiquated, equipment donated by a local TV station, this is the Holy Family video ministry -- 48 people, half of them students, make up a production crew whose work is broadcast three times a week on three local cable channels -- to the shut-ins, elderly and sick.

“Sometimes the headset goes out,” said Mary Overell, 14. “The video director is screaming. You stay cool and try to get the right titles on the screen -- you can’t hear him.” A crew member since she was 12, Overell prefers the computer graphics to camera -- but she’s done that, too. “Just don’t pan too fast,” said the high school junior.

This is a ministry like few others -- it has career potential. Matthew Bell, 15, who “can pretty much do everything” on the team, said the exposure has attracted him to a possible future in the computer part of production. He intends to keep working on it for as long as he is in the area. Meanwhile, he has a regular stint every second week. Overell, who was considering acting, now is attracted to the production side of entertainment.

Do the priests keep their homilies short enough at the 9:30 a.m. Mass so the hour tape doesn’t run over? “No,” admits Overell, “we’ve had some problems with that.”

There are deliberately no on-screen or off-screen appeals for money --”this is a gift from the parish,” said the pastor, Msgr. Clement Connolly.

It isn’t just the video cameras that focus on Holy Family’s elderly.

Mary Ternan, parish staff gerontologist, puts in 30 hours a week with her team of more than 100 volunteers who work with 350 seniors.

“We’re bringing love, concern, understanding and the Eucharist,” said Ternan, whose volunteers also provide the elderly with transportation to doctors’ appointments and the grocery store.

Some of the outreach is social service work, said Ternan, such as plugging seniors into the local senior care programs. “But this is spiritual outreach, and we have to be careful and say we can’t do anymore, for example, when assessments need to be made for placement in a nursing home.”

Ternan said seniors welcome the volunteer visitors and love the video Mass. If they have complaints about the televised Mass, it’s only about the sound system. Sometimes they call in and say they can’t hear what’s being said.

National Catholic Reporter, December 25, 1998