Local video project wins viewing by Pope Francis
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
Thanks to some local youth, Pope Francis has gotten a little taste of southwest Kansas and the generous spirit of its young people.
It was a blustery cold day in January when Michael Zuniga sat huddled on a sidewalk near a Pizza Hut on the historic Front Street in Dodge City. He held a sign: “Blessed are the givers. Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” In front of Zuniga was a tin can.
Zuniga is a member of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe youth group. He and several other youth were participating in a special project of Catholic Extension entitled, “Make Some Noise.” The contest asked young Catholics to create their own “Extension Day” by actively bringing the light of Christ’s goodness to others through acts of prayer, service or philanthropy. Other youth appearing on video include Matthew Vogel, Lauren Oldham, Micha Still, Martin Vega, and Karime Talavera.
Participants documented their “Extension Day” with a two-minute video that answered the question, “Our Extension Day is extending the Church’s presence by ….” Judges, including actor Chris O’Donnell, Father Dave Dwyer, director of Busted Halo, and Father Mark Mary, co-host of EWTN’s Life on the Rock program, poured over dozens of videos submitted from all over the country. Videos were evaluated on creativity, passion and the impact of their message.
“Did you know we won?” asked an excited David McHugh, cathedral youth director. “Pope Francis watched it in March.” McHugh directed, filmed and edited the project. He learned in late March that the video had beat out some 70 others from across the country to become one of the top six, earning a viewing by Pope Francis, as well as a grant of $1,000.
But that’s just icing on the cake.
“Our original intent was to have the teens beg for money, to get that experience, then take whatever little money we gathered and lay before the altar of the Lord,” McHugh said. “We knew we wouldn’t make any money panhandling. So, we supplemented it with money from our budget. Then we took the money and went and bought supplies to give to a family that Father [Ted] Skalsky had told us about.”
The family, from Cimarron, has three children, the youngest of which is one year old. She is developmentally disabled and was born with a cleft lip.
After purchasing their items, several of the youth traveled to Cimarron to provide needed repair work on the family’s home.
McHugh said that some parts of the video were staged, such as when he asked a couple on the street if they wouldn’t mind walking by the “beggars” as part of the video.
“They were thrilled to be part of the project,” McHugh said. Other passers-by weren’t privy to the filming.
“While that part wasn’t as real as we would have liked it to be, the service part was absolutely real,” McHugh said. “You have to go all out and throw yourself into a service project. And they did.”
McHugh and the youth did run into one major dilemma: Panhandling is illegal in Dodge City. At first the police department refused to allow them to do the project, but after explaining the point of the project and that the money would be donated to charity, the police eventually allowed it to continue.
The video starts with interviews of the youth: “Have you ever given money to the homeless and wondered what they do with the money afterwards?” Then two girls apply makeup to four other youth. They cloak them with battered coats and hats.
On a cold January day, McHugh crouched around a corner with a camera while a member of his youth group sat nearby, leaning against a storefront, or on a piece of cardboard near a bush. You can see legs walking by, the tops of their bodies out of view, some people dropping money, some not, some staged, some unaware. The day-long project didn’t allow for more than 45 minutes before switching to another beggar at another spot.
Matthew Vogel, who was 14 at the time of the filming, was perched just east of an Applebees restaurant in Dodge City as McHugh filmed.
The soft spoken high school freshman admitted to feeling empathy with those really in such a situation; a helplessness -- sitting out in the cold, hoping people would leave something.
The greatest reward came when they used the money they gathered to help a family in need.
Later the same day, after a prayer service at the cathedral, the kids – out of makeup -- went to the hardware store and purchased materials for the family’s home. Then they went to work.
“I worked inside,” Vogel said. “The air would come in through the cracks in the windows, so I put plastic on the inside so the cold air wouldn’t get in.”
When the day was nearly done, McHugh began the arduous task of editing mountains of video – including limiting 15 youth interviews to six to fit in the two-minute time-frame. McHugh, a music recording artist, even composed the music.
When asked if he had heard from the pontiff (Pope Francis is known for making personal phone calls in answer to letters), McHugh laughed and responded, “No, but I get nervous every time the phone rings.”