- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Born into a strict Jewish family, Saul of Tarsus — later renamed Paul — seemed destined for great things as a Pharisee.As a young man, Saul “made havoc of the church” in Judea, according to the Book of Acts, and then was entrusted by the high priest in Jerusalem to travel to Damascus to further persecute the growing Christian sect.

But the road to Damascus led the young Pharisee to destinations he never anticipated. As a leading Christian evangelist and theologian, he helped spread the new faith to Asia, Greece, Rome and beyond.

A 90-minute documentary, released Sept. 15, journeys into the life of the Pharisee turned apostle, by “taking the audience to never-before-filmed sites where St. Paul lived and worked over 2,000 years ago,” said Steve Ray, the film’s creator.

“Paul: Contending for the Faith” is the fifth video in Ignatius Press’ 10-part film series, “The Footprints of God: The Story of Salvation from Abraham to Augustine.” The film tells an interactive story that begins with Paul’s life as an ardent Jew, and recounts his conversion to Christianity, his missionary journeys and his final years as a prisoner in Rome, where he was beheaded around A.D. 67.

“While other documentaries just seem to hit on his theology and his travels, we actually walk where Paul walked and travel where Paul traveled,” Mr. Ray said. The documentary was filmed on location in Israel, Syria, Turkey, Greece and Italy.

The film follows Paul from a tent-making shop in Tarsus, Turkey, to the Damascus Road where he fell from a horse and heard the voice of Jesus, and to the Damascan wall where Christians let him down in a basket to escape from a cadre of Jews who wanted to kill him. “I wanted this to be a moving and interactive demonstration on the life and acts of St. Paul,” Mr. Ray said.

“It was interesting to see the geography of the area, and to see where cities such as Damascus and Athens are in relation to modern cities,” said Dennis Walters, who teaches catechism classes at Christ the King Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Not a lot of time was spent exploring Paul’s sea journeys … but that was my only disappointment.”

The film portrays St. Paul as a tough man who suffered and preached out of the love of God, Mr. Ray said. “Paul was whipped so much that he was completely covered in scar tissue. To see how committed Paul became to the kingdom of God, all you had to do was ask him to take off his shirt.”

Mr. Ray had his own conversion experience, a story he told in his 1997 book, “Crossing the Tiber.”

Raised a Baptist, he joined the Catholic Church in 1994. He said the documentary about Paul is designed for both Protestant and Catholic audiences.

“This film is intended to help Catholics understand what they believe about St. Paul, but it will also resonate with Protestants in their love for the apostle Paul, as well as helping them understand more of the Catholic theology.”

The film “is a graphic portrayal of the heroism, earnestness and willingness of St. Paul to suffer persecution,” said Al Kresta, talk-show host for Ave Maria Radio. “It’s directed by someone who wants to show how the Catholic faith is embedded in — and stems from — the lives of apostles like Paul.”

The “Footprints of God” video series explores millennia of Jewish and Christian history, with the first four videos focusing on Peter, Mary, Moses and Jesus. Additional videos will include Abraham, David and Solomon, the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the Apostolic Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin), and Doctors of the Church (Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius and John Chrysostom).

“I wanted to hit the key people in salvation history, but we didn’t want to stop at the New Testament,” Mr. Ray said. “We wanted to tie each story together with a thread so that, by the end of the series, [viewers] will have a comprehensive knowledge of biblical salvation, all the way from Abraham to Augustine.”

It was a trip to Israel that helped inspire Mr. Ray to produce the video series.

“After converting to Catholicism, my wife and I took our two children to Israel and, upon returning home, they told us they had come to realize that Christian faith isn’t just true — it’s true, with a capital T,” he said. “The Holy Spirit woke me up one night after that, and I immediately told my wife that we had to do a 10-part video series on salvation. I stayed up that entire night creating an outline for the series, and here we are.”

“Peter: Keeper of the Keys” — the first video in the “Footprints of God” series — was released in 2000. Mr. Ray hopes to complete the series by 2008.

Seminaries and churches are using the latest film to dig deeper into the life of Paul, and “really get inside his head,” Mr. Ray said.

“These videos were made so that people could see how God is involved in human history,” he said, “and how he doesn’t just leave us high and dry in this world.”

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