Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture


“Gimme Shelter”, “Alone Yet Not Alone” face stiff industry/media hurdles + A talk with Kathy DiFiore whose real-life work inspired “Gimme Shelter”

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Support Gimme ShelterBetween the Motion Picture Academy’s rescinding of its Best Song nomination for the Christian-themed Alone Yet Not Alone and some over-the top-negative reviews in the secular media of the gritty and powerful Gimme Shelter (now in its second weekend at theaters), it’s clear that Christian filmmakers really do face an uphill battle when it comes to how their work is treated by the movie industry and the like-minded media that covers it.

Gimme Shelter, for those of you who may not know, stars Vanessa Hudgens as Apple Bailey, a homeless pregnant teen who through the help of a kindly priest (James Earl Jones) finally finds help and, yes, family at a New Jersey shelter run by Kathy DiFiore (played by Ann Dowd). Rosario Dawson gives a brutally-honest performance as  Apple’s drug-addled mother. Brendan Fraser is subtle and quite sympathetic as the Wall Street exec with a wife (Stephanie Szostak) and family of his own who suddenly finds himself confronted with his troubled daughter when she literally shows up on his doorstep. Far from being demonized (as claimed by critic Alonso Duralde writing for The Wrap), Fraser’s character is presented as being a good man who is honestly trying to do what’s best for Apple as he and his understandably shaken (but, ultimately, supportive) wife take her in and arrange for her to have an abortion.

While it’s true, the organic nature of the true story being told is pro-life, it is hardly “preachy” (as Duralde labels it) and it most definitely does not engage in demonizing those who see abortion as the way out of a very difficult situation. Rather, the movie simply offers another choice — and, yes, that choice is shown as good and life-affirmingly dignified. It’s one thing to disagree about the artistic merits of a move. I honestly think Gimme Shelter is an excellent piece of filmmaking. Mr. Duralde, of course, can have another point of view. That’s what makes the world go around. My problem is that it’s really like he watched a completely different film than the one I saw on the screen. And, while he accuses the movie of having an agenda, I have to wonder about his. Gimme Shelter is a particularly dangerous film for the cultural gatekeepers — not just because it is “pro-life” (as if that’s a dirty word) but because it is artistically excellent and doesn’t fall into the trap of demonizing and preaching.  A trap, BTW, left-wing progressive films are as apt fall into as makers of faith-themed movies.

In any event, I have no doubt that with patience — and help from God — that these faith-fueled films with their powerful, optimistic stories will continue to connect with audiences as their quality continues to improve, along with the business and marketing savvy necessary bypass the cultural gatekeepers. The audience demand is certainly there and there are many talented people in Hollywood and throughout the land who are available to meet it.

Football fever. I met some of those people described above at the annual Super Bowl Breakfast on Friday. Emceed by New York Giants legend/humanitarian George Martin and Christian author/humorist Eric Metaxas, the event was held at the Marriott Marquis in New York City in support of the Athletes in Action. The affair culminated in the presentation of the Bart Starr Award, given each year to an NFL athlete who exemplifies the value of living one’s faith by giving back to the community. This year’s honoree is Aaron Rogers  of the Green Bay Packers who, in describing his personal view of faith, quoted St. Francis who famously said “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

I was there, BTW, because one of the event’s sponsors was When the Game Stands Tall, a faith-and-football themed film starring Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest, The Passion of the Christ) as Bob Ladouceur, the legendary high school football coach who led his California-based De La Salle High Spartans football team to an awe-inspiring 12 season-long 151-game winning streak.  The film, which also stars Michael Chiklis (The Shield, The Commish) and Laura Dern (Enlightened, Jurassic Park) is set to hit theaters in August.

Back to the event, its basic theme can be summed up in the words of one of its the speakers who asked “What kind of influence are we having on others?” It’s a question, I think we in the media should always ask ourselves.

Speaking of having a positive influence (and getting back to Gimme Shelter)… There’s no doubt that Kathy DiFiore, who runs the real-life New Jersey teen pregnancy shelter (as well as four other homeless shelters) that the movie Gimme Shelter is based on, deserves to have a spotlight shown on her work. Mind you she’s not seeking publicity but the attention the film receives will hopefully encourage the rest of us to do more to help the least fortunate among us.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kathy about both the movie and, more importantly, her own remarkable calling. I should note that a fifth shelter, located in Mendham, New Jersey is currently closed for lack of funds. Kathy desperately needs financial help to reopen it. If you would like to help with that — or with any of her shelters — please go SeveralSources.net or LifeCall.org. Or contact her directly at lifecall@aol.com.  If you need immediate help,  the Several Sources hotline number is 1.800.662.2678. The LifeCall hotline number is 1-800-NO-ABORT (662.2678).

FACT FILE: KATHY DIFIORE: FOUNDER OF SEVERAL SOURCES SHELTERS

  • Founded by DiFiore more than 30 years ago, Several Sources Shelters is a network of resources devoted to helping women in need. She currently four residential shelters. A fifth, in Mendham, NJ, is seeking funds that will enable it to reopen.
  • As a suburban wife and mother, DiFiore escaped an abusive marriage, which left her homeless and on the street. In reclaiming her life, DiFiore’s recovery fueled a desire to help others turn their lives around.
  • In 1981, DiFiore welcomed her first pregnant teen into her own home.
  • When she made her home a shelter for un-wed, pregnant women, the State of New Jersey raided it and levied huge fines for running an illegal boarding house. As a devout Catholic, she decided to reach out to none other than Mother Teresa.
  • DiFiore has worked hand-in-hand with Mother Teresa in an effort to change the shelter laws in New Jersey (the DiFiore Bill still exists today). She has also been honored by three American presidents and recognized at the UN for her life-changing work.

JWK:  So, tell me, how’d your own story begin?

KATHY DIFIORE: I started with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi — “Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon.” That prayer started my ministry. What happened was I went through a very bitter divorce and it was that prayer that kept giving the inspiration to go on. It would lighten my soul and my heart. I started to study the life of St. Francis and I saw how he decided that he wanted to help people in need by living the words of Christ — “When I was in prison you visited me. When I was homeless you took me in.” He did many, many things based on Matthew 25.  So, I decided I was going to do the same thing. I started up a little prison ministry. I took in a woman that was working with me who had adult acute leukemia but the one thing I did was I took in an unwed mother who eventually gave birth to her baby — and then another unwed mother, and another unwed mother. And it seemed like, all my family and my friends, they just were very interested in these mothers and their babies and that was the seed of my work. That’s how I started. People just flocked to help me out.

JWK: How do you just start doing this? What were you doing before?

KD: Well, in my world before — you know, living out the life of what I hope is what Christ wanted — I was a personnel director. I have an MBA and I was working in business. I worked for American Express. I worked for a German chemical company. But, then after going through this difficult time in my life where I was divorced and, basically, homeless (with) no place to stay. I lost my house and…I went from place to place for over a year.

JWK: So, you had no place of your own for a while.

KD: That is correct…I had no place to go. I was just going from friend to friend…and eventually I got my own house and once I got my own house I said “Well, I’ve got to do something with this and that how I (began) bringing these girls into the house.

JWK: How long were you married?

KD: Eight years.

JWK: I guess after your divorce — during that time when you had no place of your own — you were working?

KD: Yes.

JWK: How long did that period last?

KD: I would say a whole year.

JWK: So, that must have been emotionally traumatizing.

KD: Yeah. My parents came in and they helped me  and they found a place for me for a couple of weeks that I could stay. Then I… It was not easy. I don’t like reliving it. It’s something I moved forward from. I’d rather talk about the work, if you don’t mind.

JWK:  So, let’s move forward. You started opening your home to pregnant girls in need. What year was that?

KD: I started bringing in young women into my own home in 1984.

JWK:  How does a person actually start doing that?

KD: I put an ad in the newspaper — in the personal column of a newspaper. I said “Pregnant? Need help?” I put an extra phone in my spare bedroom. And my friend who I had mentioned to you –  Barbara who had adult acute leukemia — that was her bedroom.  And the phone line would go off and she’d answer it and, little by little, we ended up having pregnant girls living with us.

As it turned out, my friend Barbara ended up getting healed and she got her own place and her brother moved in and her mother moved in. So, within six (or)  seven months, she was off (in her own place) and I had eventually three and then four girls living with me.

JWK:  Have you been keeping in touch with these young women and the children they’ve had?

KD: Sometimes I’m in touch. I really (keep in touch) with them when they’re living with me — and all of their needs, particularly their spiritual needs. I want them to grow closer to God. I would say to them “It’s not enough just to save the baby. You have to also save the soul of your baby and the closer you get to God — the more you understand Scripture (and) the Gospel message — the better example you are to your children. This is very important, So, don’t just leave my house, don’t just leave the shelter, with a baby in your arms — but have God in your heart. That’s what’s important.”

So, that went on  on for years and years but I would  always have to pay attention to the next girl coming in, and the next girl coming in. Because I feel they’re pretty well prepared by the time they leave to face their life and have God in their hearts.

JWK:  When were you approached about this film?

KD: I think before I answer that question I’d like to say that I never wanted any publicity about the work. I just wanted to do the work. I would go to churches and speak at the churches in my area and the pastors would help and the people would help. But I would get phone calls and I would get emails all the time — particularly the last, I would say, 10 (or) 15 years — from people who were talk show producers. They would want to have the pregnant teenagers be on their show. They’d want to do this and they’d want to do that and I’d always protect them from that — feeling they need their privacy. They need to grow up. They need to be a good mother. I didn’t want get them involved in what could be considered media difficulties.

But then I was approached by Ron Krauss. He called He talked to me and said that he had some ideas about doing a documentary. There was something different about him. He was just quite the humanitarian. His body of work was wonderful. He had done work with children that were handicapped. He had done work for children who were (victims of) child trafficking…in South America and the United States. It was just something about him. So, I allowed him to come and visit with the girls and, when he came and he visited, they really liked him. You know, they bonded from the minute he walked inside the shelter door. God just put it upon my heart (that) this was.a story that needed to be told and maybe now was the time to tell it.

JWK:  So, the original idea was that the movie would be a documentary?

KD:  I guess so. I guess that’s what he was thinking. I mean people ask me how did you meet him? And I go “God writes straight with crooked lines.” I don’t know how many people I must have met that led me to meet Ron. But, more or less, we were just feeling things out because when he said he wanted to do something like a documentary, I wouldn’t even say yes. You know what I mean? I wanted to test the waters with him to see who was this person that I was letting into my heart, the work of my life — and these young mother’s lives. They don’t need anybody that’s going to harm them in any way, shape or form.

JWK:  You’re very protective of your girls.

KD:  You have no idea. I had a young girl came into our program (recently). She had been living in a laundromat for three days. The man who owned the laundromat told her “(You’re) pregnant now. You’ve got to leave.” She was totally homeless and, when he put her out, she decided that maybe the only thing (to do) was to end it all — and she tried to walk into…oncoming traffic. You know, she was just so despondent. She had nowhere to live, nowhere to go.  So, she somehow found our hotline (1.800.662.2678). She’s living with us now. She’s just so happy to have a place to live. She’s (about five) months pregnant. I know a year from now she’s going to be fine. I’ve seen this cycle for 33 years. She just needs somebody to help her — someone who’ll love her, someone to show her how to be a good mother. You know, she has no one to care for her. How can you not be protective of that? You know what I mean? It’s like your heart bleeds for these girls. When your heart bleeds for them, you’re like a mother hen to them. I don’t want anybody to hurt them. Consequently, there was no way I was going to let somebody walk into their lives and hurt them again by telling their stories and not doing it in a dignified manner.

JWK:  Where’s your home located?

KD:  I live in Ramsey, New Jersey.  My original house is in Ramsey, New Jersey. We have a second shelter that somebody donated to us in Ramsey but I have a little tiny condo around the block, the same exact block as the main shelter because I’d never get anything done now. Actually, I have more shelters. One is closed temporarily because of lack of financing. And I have a shelter for homeless women in Newark, New Jersey that I set up with the help of Mother Teresa’s sisters. They asked me to do that as a daytime shelter for homeless women. They have nighttime shelters in Newark but nowhere for homeless women to go during the day.

JWK:  How many shelters do you have in total?

KD:  I have five — but one of them is closed right now in Mendham, New Jersey just because we don’t have the money to run it. I’m hoping and praying and praying and hoping that we can reopen it (very soon) because (the movie can be expected to cause an avalanche of) calls from women all over the country that need a place to live.

JWK:  How can people reach out to help?

KD:  I’m at LifeCall.org. We have 55o shelters listed by state but 550 is nothing compared with what you might need.  You never know if this movie is a big success how many phone calls you’re going to get.

JWK:  How happy with you with how the movie turned out?

KD:  It’s hard to watch without making me cry. It’s just so beautiful. It’s a masterpiece.

JWK:  As I understand it, it’s not really a true story per se. It’s more like a composite of several true stories.

KD:  I would say 65% of it probably — my guess — is based on one of the girls and then Ron combined (other true stories)…I wish I could say it wasn’t true but it is true. These girls live very hard lives, very difficult lives, very complex lives.

JWK:  I take it you’re Catholic.

KD:  I’m very Catholic but I would call myself a born-again Catholic, very much biblically-based. Very much…Gospel put in action to help the poor (and) do God’s work.  I love the Gospel message, I go to Church. And I also love Mother Teresa.  Mother Teresa and I had a good, close relationship. I have five beautiful letters from her. She saved my shelter…I was fined $10,000 by the State of New Jersey back in 1984. She got the fine removed and she got the bill changed (so that) a house like mine would be legal in the State of New Jersey. So, we had a very close relationship.

JWK:  How’d you meet her?

KD:  You want to know the truth of how I met her? I met her because when I got the $10,000 fine and everything looked like after a 15-month battle I was going to lose the battle because the governor was going to veto the legislation, I prayed. I heard a voice inside my head that said “Contact Mother Teresa.” I had met somebody…and he gave me a business card. He told me he volunteered in her soup kitchen in Newark. I told him and guess what. He was able to get her on the phone and, the next thing you knew, she was helping me. It was just divine inspiration.

JWK:  What was she like to speak with in person?

KD:  She was the most fun. I was in her company many times.

I’ll tell you a nice story. One day she was coming to Newark and Sister Kathleen called me up. She was the woman that was the mother superior at Queen of Peace — which is their shelter in Newark. She called and she said “Mother’s coming in. Would you like to see her?” I said “Of course” and she said “Okay, come pick Sister and me at up at the convent.” I picked her up. I brought one of my girls and her baby and we went to St. Michael’s Hospital. At that time Mother Teresa’s friend Mary — who had brought Mother Teresa the first time to the Untied States — was passing away and Mother wanted to be with her…and there’s Mother Teresa at the foot of the bed and she’s holding onto Mary’s feet. And she’s shaking Mary’s feet and she says “Mary, when you see Jesus tell him that I love him.” Poor Mary was half way to heaven but Mother Teresa wanted to be sure that one more message was given to Mary before she saw the Lord. I just loved that — her faith, her joy. It just was an amazing thing to see that woman in action.

JWK: Getting back to Gimme Shelter, what do you hope people take from this film?

KD:  That’s such a good question. I think the answer is in the question you asked me — hope. I really hope and pray with all my heart that people realize that they can help people and there is hope. I think the best thing that could happen is that people start paying attention to pregnant women in need. You don’t have to start a shelter like I did. I mean, if God inspires you, that’s okay. But you can get involved in something as simple as helping a girl right in your neighborhood who has a baby. She might need a stroller or a car seat. You can set up a pantry in your church where you have diapers and baby things and wipes for young mothers that go to your church…to help these girls out. I think that we all need to do more…I could tell you 50 other stories of women in need. They’re all over the country. 750,000 teenagers get pregnant in this country every year. Now, many of them, thank God, have their parents, their aunts and their uncles and grandmas to depend upon, but many of them are like the girls that I see. They don’t have a support system. So, one-by-one we can help them out. That would be my hope.

JWK: How can people help you in what you’re doing?

KD:  They can go on our website…LifeCall.org. There’s a donate button if they want to help one girl for one day (or more) that would be nice. I think that would be wonderful. I don’t to go past what I said before…Mother Teresa had a saying which was “Find your Calcutta.” People would travel halfway around the globe to be with her to help the people that were in Calcutta. She would say, you know, “find your Calcutta.” That might be a local crisis pregnancy center, a local shelter…When you go on our website, that particular website, you can click on your own home state and (find a shelter to donate to volunteer at)…I’m not going to turn down any donations — because I need to have that shelter open in Mendham! I need to get that shelter open!

JWK: I know you don’t want to dwell the difficulties you had to overcome — but did the fact that you had to overcome them help you with regard to your mission to help the girls and women at your shelters?

KD:  Absolutely! The best thing that one can do when you feel despondent or depressed  is to do something for God. The next thing you know the healing breaks come in a nanosecond. He’s standing right beside you and He’s helping you to see that by helping others you get healed. Your soul gets healed. You’re able to feel joy again in your heart and that suffering that you went through is a distant memory. I’ll be honest with you. I have not talked about the past in years, years and years. Now, because I’m being interviewed and people ask the question, I have to answer the question. But it really isn’t anything I think about or dwell upon. You know, that was so many years ago and I’ve got so many good memories (and) I love the work that I do. That’s my life.

JWK: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

KD:  I think the power of prayer (is important) and I would say to anyone (reading) this, please pray for us. Pray for all of these mothers. Ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen them (and) direct them. So many of the girls have that in common. When I sit with them  and I’ll say to them “What happened and why are you here?” They’ll say “Because I was praying and I asked God (for help). And then my girlfriend told me they found you online for me. I think that’s all the power of prayer. I believe prayer changes things and I think that really is the key to helping us…move closer to God and, in particular, helping these girls find their way to us and people like us.

Note: Kathy DiFiore has written a book called Gimme Love, Gimme Hope, Gimme Shelter: The True Inspiration Behind the Movie Gimme Shelter featuring nine stories of nine girls that have lived at the shelter. Proceeds will go to help helping continuing the shelter’s work.

Again, Kathy desperately needs financial help to reopen her Mendham shelter. If you would like to help with that — or with any of her shelters — you can go to SeveralSources.net or LifeCall.org. Or contact her directly at lifecall@aol.com.  If you need immediate help, the Several Sources her organization’s hotline number is 1.800.662.2678. The LifeCall hotline number is 1-800-NO-ABORT (662.2678).

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Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11



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