|Not afraid to use the media to speak the truth
On 30 August at the 2009 Walsingham Prayer
Festival, Mexican singer, actor, film producer, international speaker
and much recognized pro-life advocate Eduardo Verástegui
spoke to more than 1,200 British teenagers on the theme of "The Call to
Holiness". After the festival, devout Catholic Verástegui
graciously took the time to speak to "L'Osservatore Romano" on his grand
conversion and his views on life which continue to inspire and
What motivated you to speak
at the Walsingham Prayer Festival?
It is eight years now that
I am a changed man, filled with that inner peace which can only come
from God and this is something that you naturally want to share, despite
the nervousness which comes every time when speaking in front of such a
large group. I was very happy to be invited. England is a special place
for me because my great-grandmother was English. I never thought that a
boy from a very small town in northern Mexico would ever come to England
to share his testimony with the youth of her homeland. I am very
grateful and blessed that God gave me the gift to come all the way here
to do this because I believe that the youth are the future. It is good
sometimes to remind young people that the Holy Father John Paul II told
us not to be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium and that this
world needs heroes, needs candles, because we are living in such an
impure time and we need to be the light in the darkness.
Did you find inspiration at the festival?
Yes, I could see how these young lives were changed
after spending three full days in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I
witnessed the healing of the Lord. At the end of the day we are all
broken, wounded, and we need healing. It was a great healing experience
for all involved.
Much has been written about your transformation from
soap opera actor to producer of films which promote human values such as
true love, virtue and forgiveness. Can you relate the events that led up
to your conversion experience?
I am the eldest son and I
have three younger sisters. I grew up Catholic but my Catholic faith was
not the centre of my life. It was not my priority
not because l intended it to be that way but I really didn't know my
faith very well. I never went to Catholic schools, never received a
solid foundation. I thought that I was a good Catholic because I was
going to Mass once a year at Christmas; I was not a thief; I was not a
killer; I was not a saint either but I was a good person. So I created
my own God in a way, out of ignorance of course. That was my mentality:
God loves me, I love him. I believe in him and I pray every night. But
meanwhile I was living a life full of contradictions.
It was my father's dream
for me to be a lawyer and a politician so I went to law school and after
the second semester I realized that it was not my passion so I left. I
was the black sheep of the family, a misbehaving troublemaker. I moved
to Mexico City to pursue my dream of being an actor, a model and a
singer. Imagine moving from a small town of 15,000 people to a city of
22 million! I thought I could achieve happiness by becoming rich and
famous. I started modelling first. Then at the age of 19 I was singing
in a boy band called Kairo, travelling all around Latin America for a
few years, performing at huge stadiums for 50,000 people, becoming
famous. Three and a half years later I was acting in Mexican soap operas
and becoming very famous, and that's when I lost perspective on
everything. I was seduced by the entertainment environment and I was
living a totally hedonistic lifestyle
money, material success, women, fame
everything that I thought was going to bring me heaven on earth.
After nine years in Mexico
City, I moved to Miami to take up my music career again, releasing an
album in Spanish and touring in Latin America. Still wanting more, I
dreamed of Hollywood even though I didn't speak any English! Then one
day on a flight from Miami to Los Angeles my manager and I were sitting
next to the casting manager for 20th Century Fox Studios. He was looking
for a Spanish actor with a thick accent and invited me to read for the
part. I got the part and moved to L.A. I started learning English from
the beginning at the age of 28. It was the typical American dream
small town Mexican boy is discovered on a plane, lands in Hollywood and
makes his first film! Then all of a sudden I had lawyers, managers and
agents working for me
15 people passionate about "making" the new Antonio Banderas in
But after so many years of
working really hard I realized that something was missing in my life. I
thought I had everything but in my heart I knew that I had nothing. I
was very empty, lost and confused, unhappy and lonely. I was deeply
disappointed that none of my hard work had brought me happiness and I
had no one to blame. I was living in this bubble of vanity and ego. I
thought I was in control of everything but inside my heart was bleeding,
my soul was bleeding. I was wounded and weak, virtually in agony. And
this was the turning point.
I understand that there was
one woman in particular who provided you with the impetus to turn back
Yes, I had a wonderful
English teacher on the film set who was very strong in the faith and God
used her as his instrument for healing me. She started asking me
questions like, "Eduardo, what is the purpose of your life?", "How are
you using your talents?", "How are you choosing your projects?", "What
sort of message are you sending to society?", "Are you part of the
problem or part of the solution?", "Do you treat your body as a temple
to the Holy Spirit?", and "Your Latino community has been stereotyped in
Hollywood in a very negative way. What are you doing to resolve that?".
Did you find it difficult
to find peace after your English coach started asking these questions?
Yes. In the beginning I
didn't like her. It was so uncomfortable for me not having the answers
to these questions. I tried to avoid answering them but for six months
she patiently and lovingly persisted and eventually she asked me
directly, "Do you really love God Eduardo? Then why do you offend him in
the way you live your life?". After this I broke down and I cried like a
baby for hours. I went to Confession and I promised God that I would
commit my life to him and I would never again accept roles which would
compromise my Catholic faith or offend my family or my Latino culture.
I realized that a real man
is someone who identifies his life with the life of Jesus Christ and is
therefore someone who respects the dignity of women and recognizes that
sex is a gift from God. It is sacred and that gift is to be protected
and shared with the most important person in my life one day
apart from God
and that is going to be the mother of my children, if that is my
vocation. When I discovered the value of chastity I made a promise to
God that I would never again be with a woman until I marry.
People talk about the
economic crisis but there is also a major crisis of values and we need
to do something to change this culture. The power of the media is so
great today and Pope John Paul II said in his last Apostolic Letter to
not be afraid to use the media to speak the truth. So I want to follow
My whole conversion took
place in the capital of temptation, not somewhere like Lourdes or
Fatima. It was here that the Lord made a new man of me.
And something a friend once
told me changed all my priorities. Blessed Mother Teresa said we are not
called to be successful. We are called to be faithful to God. These
words remain with me always.
Your mother must be as
happy as St Monica was about the conversion of her son St Augustine!
Yes, but for a long time my
mother was very worried about me. She supported me
as always in my life
even though she didn't like the idea of me going to Hollywood. Then she
saw the sinful life that I was leading, full of arrogance and pride and
she said to her priest, "What can I do? He will not listen to my words.
Well if my words don't touch his heart, my prayers will". So she prayed
a lot for me
especially the Rosary
and for the protection of all her children. I believe that there is
nothing more powerful than the prayers of a mother for her children. My
English teacher was the answer to her prayers.
I read that you considered
becoming a missionary in the Amazon in Brazil?
Yes, when I discovered that
I was not born to be a Hollywood movie star or director, but rather I
was born to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ, everything
changed in my life. I experienced such joy to know that I was created
as Mother Teresa said we all are
to become a saint. Then I realized there was no way I could continue to
live in Hollywood. How could I be a practising Catholic in a place
which, in my opinion, is poisoning society? After my conversion I
thought that I was meant to go and serve the poor in the Amazon jungle
for two years so that I could discern what God wanted from me and
cleanse my soul of all the sins of my past. But when I told a priest
what I intended to do he said, "Absolutely not, you're not going
anywhere. Hollywood will be your jungle. It belongs to God, not to the
studios and we need to take it back. You need to be the light in the
darkness. This little place called Hollywood has such a large impact
around the world and Our Lord touched your heart here for a reason". I
said, "Father, you are sending me into the ocean full of sharks with a
He gave me a book called
Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott and Kimberly
Hahn that changed my life. It helped me to understand that there is
nothing greater on earth than the Holy Eucharist. I started going daily
to Holy Mass and praying the Rosary from then on. I went to Confession
once a week, started having regular spiritual direction and doing three
spiritual retreats a year.
At my first retreat at a
beautiful monastery called St Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California,
the Norbertine Fathers gave me the tools to survive in Hollywood. If I
keep to the program I developed there, I can be at peace with God and be
sure that I am not being led off my path because we are not capable of
doing anything good by ourselves without the grace of God. The only
thing that we can do without God is sin. So I wake up every morning at 6
o'clock. I go to Mass at 6:30 a.m. and I pray the Rosary in front of the
Blessed Sacrament then I pray Lauds and meditate for about half an hour.
Then I go to the gym or play tennis or swim at the ocean and by 9
o'clock I am at the office at the production company. I pray the Angelus
at 12:00 p.m., the Divine Mercy at 3:00 p.m., then Vespers at 6:00 p.m.
Usually there is a business dinner and scripts to read or maybe I watch
a documentary. Then I pray Compline followed by the Salva Regina and
then I sleep! It sounds like a monastery but it is the only way to
survive in such a secular environment with so many temptations. I do it,
not because I am a good person, but because I know I am weak. Otherwise
I would focus too much on myself.
How did the formation of
your film company "Metanoia Film? (Greek for conversion) come about?
With the promise I made to
God about all the things I wouldn't do again, I couldn't work for nearly
four years and I used up all my savings. So I decided I wanted to start
my own production company and I met someone at Mass who had also had a
massive conversion. He read C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain and
that changed him. He went on to become a theologian and taught theology
and philosophy and apologetics. So I asked him if he wanted to join me
on this adventure of making movies that matter. He said "yes" and then
the brother of one of my best friends also underwent a similar
conversion experience and he joined us too. Our mission is to make
movies that entertain, uplift, heal and above all, respect human dignity
the essence of Pope Benedict's Encyclical.
We want people to leave the
movie theatres wanting to love more, forgive more and complain less; we
want them to leave with a candle in their hearts, full of hope and
faith. I want my mother and my grandmother to be able to watch my films
without having to cover their eyes. I want to have our Blessed Mother
and Our Lord Jesus Christ on the set and not have to cover their eyes.
And I don't want any actors to have to compromise their values.
The first fruit of that
mission is the feature film "Bella", about a woman considering having an
abortion! One of my partners wrote it in two months, with me in mind to
play the lead actor. But we didn't have any money to produce the film.
Then you met Pope John Paul
Yes, my priest friend who
convinced me to stay in Hollywood organized for me to meet the Holy
Father in Rome. When I was holding the Pope's hand I explained my
mission to him and asked him to please pray for us. It was one of the
most special moments of my life when he gave me his blessing, two
How did this lead to
funding "Bella" in which you play a soccer star whose life is
transformed by tragedy?
Literally 10 days after
receiving his blessing I met a family who gave us the money without
reading the script or signing a contract. We went to New York City. We
shot the entire film in 23 days and sent it to the Toronto International
Film Festival. We were accepted into the festival so we flew back to
Mexico City and we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We
dedicated the film to Our Lady of Guadalupe because she is known as the
"Patroness of the Unborn". Several months later we attended the nine day
festival. We used these nine days to do a novena to St Maximilian Kolbe
and at the end of the festival, our film won! So it was really a miracle
but the best part is not the awards or the box-office success. It is all
the letters and emails and phone calls we received from young pregnant
women who were scheduled to have an abortion and after seeing the film
by the grace of God
changed their minds and decided to keep their babies.
How did your campaign go
for the release of "Bella" in Hong Kong where the abortion rate is
I could never have imagined
the great response that we received in Hong Kong where one in three
babies are aborted. We talked to so many young people, spreading the
message that there is no sanctity without chastity and purity. Our Lord
said "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8).
That's the goal of the Christian life!
You are called to speak at
ceremonies and festivals (such as the 20,000-strong Marian Congress in
Phoenix last month) and rallies on issues including the right to life
and the importance of the family. Your intervention outside an abortion
clinic in Los Angeles last year saved at least five babies that day.
That's a good day's work!
Actually we go as a group
to abortion clinics every Saturday. Last Saturday we saved six babies
for sure. It's always two or three, sometimes five babies, but last week
six was very special. Many of the women are Latino so they recognize me
which opens them up a little to listening to my message. I learned so
much about abortion when I was making the film "Bella". People always
talk about the number of people killed in the Holocaust and they are
able to see looking back what a horror it was. The reality of abortion,
however, is that 42 million babies are killed every year. My hope and
expectation is that in time
whether it is 10, 20 or 30 years
that people will be able to look back and say in horror "what were we
Do you find it difficult to
remain true to Catholic values while being surrounded by the excesses of
the film industry?
It is always a question of
being rooted in prayer. I have led a chaste life, as we are all called
to do, for eight years now which as you can imagine is very difficult
with all the trappings of Hollywood. Hence my belief in constant prayer.
I am not sure if I am called to marry or to consecrate my life to God.
We will see!
You really have to be
careful what you read and what you see and who your friends are. These
things either elevate your spirit or bring you down. Prayer life is the
most important thing in reminding ourselves of our call to holiness. I
try to keep to my spiritual programme every day and pray that the
environment in which I live will not be able to steer me from my path.
it's uncomfortable, but you need humiliation to remain grounded in the
faith. My mission is to always walk with the spirit of gratitude and
One final question: Your
This is a very exciting
time for Metanoia Films. We are growing our film fund for upcoming
projects that will include 5-7 films of different genres. The mission
for all of these films is to encompass the same heart and soul as
"Bella" with investors who also truly believe that we can change this
culture of death most effectively through the media. More information on
our mission to promote what is good, beautiful and truthful can be found
My other main focus is on
raising the necessary funds to open a pro-life medical centre in the
middle of all the abortion clinics in Los Angeles. Along with the
pro-life centre we are eager to be organizing our next missionary trip
in Latin America. Our goal is to take a team of people and build homes
for communities in extreme poverty. For more information and to donate
please Visit www.mantodeguadalupe.com.