|From Coast to Coast: Catholics Come Forward to Defend the Honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ|
On May 19, 2006, The Da Vinci Code was released nationwide, and a polarized America was stirred up all the more with this latest example of blasphemy against the Faith.
For months, the media and the film’s promoters have highlighted the various nonfictional issues raised in this “fictional” work. Many Catholics saw Dan Brown’s affirmations on the divinity of Christ, the establishment of the Papacy and true origins of the Church as a veiled blasphemous attack.
At first, the Catholic response was a systematic and massive refutation of Dan Brown’s errors. Dozens of books and documentaries “decoded,” “cracked” or “broke” the pseudo-cryptic code that so many, including the author, have mistaken for the truth.
By May 19, 2006, the time for refutation was over. It was time to reject, and on opening night, Catholics did just that by gathering in front of over 1,000 theaters nationwide to protest against blasphemy.
The Story of a Massive Protest
When Sony Pictures announced last year its intention of putting The Da Vinci Code on film, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and its America Needs Fatima campaign started organizing grassroots protests.
Blasphemy has always touched a raw nerve with Americans, and The Da Vinci Code went beyond that. Never before have Church teachings and history been so grossly distorted in a major motion picture. Never before has the Divinity of Jesus Christ been denied so brutally before such a vast audience. Yet the overwhelming media hype surrounding the film made any reaction seem impossible.
Yet the idea of protest caught on, and Catholics everywhere were energized. What began as a small effort to find a few local organizers soon exploded into a massive grassroots network that has led to over 2,000 protests across the nation.
A Cross Section of America
The protest network enjoyed an impressive outpouring of support from Americans from all walks of life—an authentic America united to denounce and repudiate blasphemy. Everyone wanted to get involved. Housewives, students and teachers suddenly found themselves on the frontline in today’s Culture War. One 87-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair took it upon herself to be an organizer. Professionals, doctors and lawyers offered to lead protests; musicians and artists put their talents to work; university students took advantage of the summer vacation to put together protests. Church and pro-life youth groups also joined in. Some people located area theaters showing the film and organized the vigils. Others planned meetings and barbecues to discuss strategy, and set up Web sites especially for their protests.
Organizers used innovation and initiative to recruit others. One organizer went door-to-door asking for help. Others took their protest posters to church and restaurants, enlisting help wherever they went. Still others posted signs on their lawns or put them visibly in their cars. The TFP Web site listing of organizers put protesters in touch with each other.
Reparation for blasphemy became the cause that united Catholics and overwhelmed the phone banks at TFP’s Da Vinci Code Protest Central near Topeka, Kan. People who never thought about publicly defending Our Lord and the Blessed Mother suddenly were leading the charge and making a stand.
Organizers reported all sorts of tactics to discourage them in their endeavor while they answered enthusiastically the call to reject blasphemy.
The Da Vinci Code advocates/fans/supporters played both sides of the controversy. On one hand, they would minimize the film’s religious impact, portraying it as a mere work of fiction. On the other hand, they would parrot the central theses of the “fictional” book, saying it was telling the truth about Jesus and the Catholic Church.
Peer pressure was another obstacle. Friends and neighbors told protesters not to get involved. Others said that everyone would laugh at them. Fellow Catholics said the best thing was to do nothing! Shamefully, there were parish priests who said they read the book and saw no problem in its blatant disregard for Church teachings.
Despite evidence that negative publicity does hurt companies, many repeated the mantra that protests give free publicity to the film. Many even cited The Passion of the Christ as an example, though there were no massive protests in front of theaters for that blockbuster film.
Others were told to go to another movie—do anything but protest. However, such obstacles only strengthened the organizers’ resolve. Many of them were more determined than ever to go ahead.
Support from Bishops
Midway through the recruitment effort, protest organizers received the precious support of Vatican officials and American bishops who encouraged organized protests. On April 28, 2006, while speaking at a Catholic conference in Rome, Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, criticized The Da Vinci Code book and film, and urged Catholics to organize protests worldwide.
Eleven American bishops joined in encouraging such protests in front of theaters. Numerous priests denounced the film from the pulpit.
In a letter to American TFP President Raymond Drake, Bishop Raymond J. Peña of Brownsville, Texas, wrote, “I am encouraged to know that people of good will such as the members of the Society [TFP] will exercise their legal right to peacefully protest a film that serves no objective other than to ridicule Catholic doctrine and incite the masses to error.”
Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, wrote, “Thank you for your prayerful and peaceful efforts to give public witness to the truth of Jesus Christ and His Church, and the belief of Christians, even as they are belittled and blasphemed in The Da Vinci Code.”
Breaking the Consensus
The promotional hype by the media created the impression that those who opposed the film would be a tiny, unimportant minority. Organizers nationwide prepared themselves to receive negative reactions and to be the focus of scorn and laughter.
However, few were prepared to be so well received and accepted by the public. Across the country, reports indicated that a majority of the passersby supported the protests. Protesters received honks of approval from drivers or a thumbs-up. People came up to thank them for being there. Many were relieved to see them at the theaters. Others stopped what they were doing and even joined the protests. Finally, many decided not to see the movie after hearing why it was so offensive.
The protests helped to break the consensus that everyone is behind The Da Vinci Code. The protesters were living proof that dissenters were not alone.
From the Front Lines
One lady stayed outside her local theater the entire time the movie was running. At times she was joined by her three teenage children and others. She reported that there were “about five quite nasty responses, but many, many acts of kindness, and many opportunities to [talk].”
In Richmond, Va., eighteen protesters found widespread support. In particular, they were impressed by a group of children. As the children approached and read the protesters’ signs, one of them said, “I love Jesus, too!” and they all started singing and supporting the protest.
Another protest organizer reported on a similar enthusiasm from sixth graders who saw their protest and started asking questions. Several young boys became very excited about the idea of protesting and even offered to pray a Rosary of reparation. “It was such a blessing to see these young children get excited about their faith!” said a protest organizer.
An eight-year-old boy at a protest in Hudson, N.Y., approached a reporter and asked him to print his story. The reporter listened intently as the boy stated, “Tell people I hate The Da Vinci Code. Don’t go see it.”
One lady who saw a prayer vigil protest said seeing Catholics witnessing for the Faith encouraged her to persevere in the Faith. In tears, she continued, “The Catholic Church is still alive.”
Many organizers reported cooperation from security officers and mall managers who were against the film. At times, protesters were asked to move to other locations, and these new locations provided better visibility for the protests. In fact, there were twenty-two people protesting on the public sidewalk outside a shopping center when security came and said they had to move. When asked where they might move, the security officer said, “Well, since AMC Theater is showing this, and the other merchants have no part, we are arranging to have you protest in front of the theater!”
There were cases where a brave parish pastor would lead his parish into protests. Such occasions were always successful events and proved to be a source of blessing for the whole parish. Admiringly, one Catholic recounts the story of a parish priest who, with a injured foot and using a cane, walked back and forth during the protest in front of the crowd saying the Rosary, slowly, loudly and clearly. She described the experience as “powerful.”
Of course, the protests were not without oppositions. Some protesters found people holding up hastily drawn signs, sneering and jeering, and parodying the prayerful stance of the protesters.
The Honor of Protesting
Most organizers felt honored by being at the protests. They felt it a privilege to publicly witness for the Faith. Others said it was a rewarding experience. One protester from Sugar Land, Texas, reported that their group of twenty considered the protest and some hecklers “a blessing from the Lord because He let us share His suffering.”
“Catholics need to do more of this kind of public display rather than sitting inside our churches while our Creator is vilified,” wrote a woman from New York. “While God the Father and His Son are driven out of our country, we sit by waiting for someone else to do something. Well, our little group did something today in the hot blazing sun. We stood up for Jesus on public domain in a dignified, respectful way, and God-willing we and others will do so again.”
“What a joy to be a real Catholic today!” wrote one lady returning from a protest.
Over 2,000 prayer vigils and protests were held nationwide. The most important accomplishment was that these prayer vigils were acts of reparation in atonement for the blasphemies contained in The Da Vinci Code book and film.
However, an added effect of this effort was that so many overcame the obstacles and answered the call to reject The Da Vinci Code. Catholics felt the joy of being Catholic. Moreover, they felt part of a vast family of souls from all over the country, who radiated like a thousands points of light to stand up for Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.