Walking on Water

The production of our spirituality video courses had been very useful as a training exercise. I learned how to combine video and course book. It taught me how to write film scripts. It familiarised me with the various stages of a professional production. But it fell short of our main objective: how to support adult faith formation in Third World countries.

Here we faced further challenges. If even we in England had to struggle to find the financial resources needed for making videos, how could missionary dioceses find funding for such a purpose? Moreover, did the emerging Christian communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America have the local talent needed to create content and story? And if we thought of cooperation between various mission countries, how could we use the same basic material while yet doing justice to the immensely varying local cultures? It seemed an unsurmountable task.

So I started a long process of worldwide consultation. We needed to find the right principles that an international collaboration in this area would have to adopt. Eventually it led to an eight-day seminar organised by the catechetical commission of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference from 5 to 13 January 1988. The seminar took place in a retreat centre on the slopes of the active volcano Merapi in the outskirts of Yogyakarta on the island of Java. It brought together persons with media expertise, theologians, scripture scholars and religious educators from all the Indonesian islands, as well from some other countries.

At the start of the conference I explained my plans and my queries to the assembled experts. I outlined a project of international co-production which I provisionally called ‘Sitting at Jesus’ Feet’. Heated discussions in the general sessions and small groups followed over the next few days. And – it worked. As the days progressed I began to see how we could successfully develop the project.

  • The catechists pointed out that in any culture stories from other countries or even continents could be used as long as they were human interest stories. People can understand other people wherever they live in the world.
  • A Jesuit priest who worked as TV producer in Germany made me see that, even if a story is the main element of a video presentation, short slots of instruction could be inserted at the right intervals, just as advertising slots are routinely inserted in televised narration. These educational slots could link to more complete information in the coursebook.
  • Last not least, an Indonesian film producer showed me how a locally filmed story could be used in another region as long as the script employed so-called voice-over narration. This means that, for instance, in a scene depicting a row between a husband and wife, we do not hear the actual words spoken by the two, but a summary by the voice-over narrator who may say: “Her husband Mario is furious because she bought a new fridge without his permission, but she replies that looking after the kitchen is her responsibility and he should support her rather than always criticise.” Discovering this technique was a break-through. For the original film could have more sound tracks: one for background noises such as the hissing of a boiling kettle of water and another one for the voice-over narration. To adapt the film to another country, all one needed to do was to translate the voice-over narrator track into that country’s language and overwrite that new language track over the original language track. The Indonesian producer told me he had in this way successfully translated stories filmed in the Malay language into Javanese and Madurese versions . . .

I realised a truly international set of catechetical video courses could be produced as long as we adopted those principles. Bingo!

Sponsor meeting. From left: representative AMA (Netherlands); Heinz Hödl of DKA (Austria); myself; Barbara Pauli of Missio München (Germany); Ferdinand Luthiger of Swiss Lenten Fund; other German representative; Walter Ulmi of Swiss Lenten Fund.

With my team I drew up an audacious project for the production of what we now called the Walking on Water series. I managed to get financial backing for the scheme from a consortium of agencies such as AMA in the Netherlands, MISSIO in Germany and Katholische Jungschar in Austria. As a member of the Catholic international media organizations UNDA and OCIC I could give wide publicity to the project and so attract partners from many continents.

Creating this new network took many letters, journeys, consultations – to long to enumerate. Let me just mention one example. At the invitation of Father Cesar Herrera, secretary for Latin America of the World Federation of Biblical Apostolate, in January 1989 a conference was held in Bogotá, Colombia, to explore the possibilities of that vast continent participating in the project. It helped us to further clarify our objectives and establish valuable allies.

Negotiating Arab version in Beirut, the Lebanon. From left: Fr Jusuf Halit; myself and Jusuf el-Khalidi, the producer.

In due course our project assumed truly international proportions. The General Assembly of the 1990 International OCIC Congress in Bangkok adopted this resolution: “The General Assembly of OCIC welcomes the initiative of the WALKING ON WATER programme in which more than 25 countries in all continents will co-produce a series of videos on Scripture and Christian life. The General Assembly considers this a pilot project that could clarify principles of future cross-cultural production and distribution. It requests the General Secretariat of OCIC to explore with Housetop ways and means of evaluating the programme in depth before the next General Assembly.” (Proposed by Fr Patrick Casserly of the Fiji Islands, seconded by Fr Joe Naidu of Bangalore, India, and accepted unanimously by the Assembly.)

Ecclesiastical Patrons of the Walking on Water Series included Cardinal Franz König (Austria); Cardinal Jean Margeot (Mauritius); Cardinal Maurice Otunga (Kenya); Archbishop Peter Chung (Malaysia), Chairman of Episcopal Biblical Commission; Archbishop Michael Kpakala (Liberia), President of AECA WA;  Dom Luciano Pedro Mendes de Almecida (Brazil), President of Brazilian Bishops’ Conference; Bishop Alberto Ablondi (Italy), President World Catholic Federation of Biblical Apostolate; Bishop Bernard Agre (Ivory Coast),
President CERAO; Bishop Gabriel Ganaka (Nigeria), President of SECAM; Bishop David Konstant (England), Chairman Episcopal Commission on Adult Religious Education; Bishop Antonios Naguib (Egypt), Chairman Biblical Commission Egypt; Bishop Paul Shan (Taiwan), Chairman of Asian Bishops’ Conference; Bishop Cornelio de Wit (Philippines).

Among the co-producing centres were: Kuangchi in Taipei, Taiwan; Onkyo-Eizo Media Centre in Nagoya, Japan; Benedict Press in Waegwan, South Korea; Katolinen Tiedotuskeskus in Helsinki, Finland; Katolickie Stowarzyszenie Filmowe in Warsawa, Poland; Nav Sadhana in Varanasi, India; Puskat in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Centre Paul-le-Jeune in Montréal, Canada.

When the 1994 OCIC-UNDA Congress took place in Prague, we advertised the series to its 500 participants from 136 countries. I distributed a summary of principles that should guide cross-cultural co-production: Getting Video Co-Production Right. A Challenge to Christians. We ran three workshops on ‘Walking on Water’, recruiting 160 feedback advisers from many countries worldwide.