Zac Efron wanted to talk about water on his Netflix show Down to Earth, and that journey led him to France and then ultimately to Lourdes, home to a world-famous healing spring. Along the way, he met a priest who's part of our family.
Before he was the national director of Family Rosary, a sister organization to Family Theater Productions, Father James Phalan, C.S.C., was at the Family Rosary Center near Lourdes, and a chaplain for visitors who come to the baths seeking physical and spiritual healing.
Lourdes is a village in the mountainous Pyrenees region of France. In 1858, a peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous began seeing apparitions of Our Lady there, which led her to an underground spring. Click here for more info, and below find a short video course on Lourdes:
In Down to Earth, actor Efron -- who's battled substance-abuse issues and health challenges in his short 32 years -- is teamed with wellness expert Darien Olien. They travel the world to explore healthy, sustainable ways to live.
Filmed in the spring of 2019, Episode 2 focused on water, and part of that was the spiritual aspect of H2O, which led them to Lourdes -- and to Father Phalan.
Checking in via videoconference from the Family Rosary headquarters in the Boston suburb of North Easton, Massachusetts, Father Phalan, a priest of the Holy Cross Order, explains what he thought about participating in the segment.
I was a chaplain, and my job, and what I love to do, is meet people where they are and talk to them and just try to share something of the message of Lourdes, the message of Our Lady, which is very similar to what we do in Family Rosary.
So, I was happy to participate, but I didn't know that much about it. Nor did I even care very much about it, because at Lourdes, again, people come from all over the world.
Lourdes is very interesting, because the whole place is a great equalizer. It doesn't matter whether you're rich or you're poor, or you're famous or you're not. The VIPs at Lourdes are the sick people.
We're there just to draw people into this experience of the Church. ... There's no place else in the world that brings the Church together in such a way that people come and they stay, and they form a community to take care of the sick.
During the visit, Efron and Olien talk to Dr. Alessandro de Franciscis, the Vatican's medical expert at Lourdes (more on him here). He walks them through the rigorous, multi-step process the Church applies to authenticate a healing, emphasizing that, of all the thousands of cases, only a small fraction are accepted as miraculous.
He then shows them X-rays of a cancer patient whose hip was destroyed but then later regenerated -- bringing looks of shock from the hosts.
Then, at Lourdes, they got the chance to tour, pray and participate in a candlelit service.
Says Father Phalan:
No one can look at Lourdes and deny that something extraordinary hasn't happened there. You'd have to be a total cynic. You'd have to just refuse to even admit the possibility. ... Everyone who goes there is touched by it. People who aren't believers, they feel something. It's in the air.
That would have been what I was hoping to share with them, as the chaplain. I know Dr. de Franciscis was talking to them about the cures, and the medical side. As he said, he's a doctor, "This is medicine. This is religion."
So, I was the religion part. They were turned over to me, so we walked down to the Grotto.
Everybody who goes to Lourdes, you just feel something. There's a presence; there's a peace. It's the presence of Jesus, that Mary is bringing us. So I wanted to share that with them. At the same time, I wanted to share with them other people's experience. They could be there and see all the crowds of people. They could observe and be a part of this community of faith and devotion and hope.
Father Phalan also got a pleasant surprise from the attitudes of the hosts, neither of whom are Catholic:
I was impressed with their openness. From when I met them, they were very open and friendly and easygoing. As we went to the Grotto, they were very open and just received what they saw and heard.
You saw the part in which we were at the Chapel of Light. At that point, I prayed with them. They didn't put that one in the film, but they did film it. I knew they wouldn't play it. But I said, "OK, I'm not here to make this into some kind of acceptable thing."
We prayed a very Christian prayer for them and their families and all those involved. But as I said, again, I didn't expect them to put that on there, but they were very open to it. And they were very grateful.
From his new home in Massachusetts, Father Phalan got a chance to watch the final episode, which is available here on Netflix. Here are his thoughts:
I was quite impressed. I was very pleasantly surprised by the open treatment that they gave to it. The presentation of the candlelight procession was very beautiful. ... Zac Efron says something like, "I was just taken up in a kind of meditative state."
That was very sincerely and well presented. Some of the jargon ... I would have said it a little differently, but what they said is, "The impossible, is possible. The impossible happened there." They recognized that, and they recognized the force, the power of people coming together and praying.
Here's the trailer for Down to Earth:
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.