Down on his luck and on the verge of suicide, actor Shia LaBeouff stunned both Hollywood and the Catholic Church last week when he announced his conversion to Catholicism while playing the role of St. Pio of Pietrelcina in an upcoming film – an event he referred to as the result of some very unexpected “celestial mathematics.”
According to Entertainment Weekly (EW), LaBeouf’s conversion came about after a series of events that began with his attendance in a “spiritual program” on Zoom which he described as a “fellowship of the down-and-outs.” One of the attendees in the program was Abel Ferrara, the director of the upcoming Italian-German biographical drama about Padre Pio. It was here that Ferrara first reached out to him about playing the saint. This outreach surprised him because at the time, he was immersed in several very public scandals, including a lawsuit by former girlfriend FKA twigs for sexual battery and described himself as “nuclear” to the industry. “…[N]o one wanted to talk to me, including my mother.”
That was just the start of the miracles that would lead him into the arms of God. After he accepted the role, Ferrara told LaBeouf, who identified at the time as an agnostic or atheist, that he needed to do some research at a Catholic seminary. During this research into one of the Church’s most popular saints, he found himself becoming drawn to the spirituality and began to learn how to “let go” of the mess he’d made of his life.
"When all of my designs failed, when all of my plans went out the window, when my life had led to serious infliction of pain and damage on other people, I threw up my hands like, 'My plans are garbage, and I don't want to be here anymore.' And that was required to enter Pio," he said. "This is why it feels like celestial mathematics. It feels way too coincidental to be a coincidence."
In an interview with Bishop Robert Barron, the 36-year-old said, “I had a gun on the table. I was outta here…I didn't want to be alive anymore when all this happened. Shame like I had never experienced before — the kind of shame that you forget how to breathe. You don't know where to go. You can't go outside and get like, a taco.'"
But his research into the great Saint Pio of Pietrelcino, the Franciscan Capuchin mystic who became famous for his miracles and stigmata, is what opened LaBeouf’s eyes to the meaning of atonement, forgiveness, and second chances.
“It was seeing other people who have sinned beyond anything I could ever conceptualize also being found in Christ that made me feel like, 'Oh, that gives me hope…I started hearing experiences of other depraved people who had found their way in this, and it made me feel like I had permission,” he told the bishop.
Finding God was as much a surprise to himself as it was to the rest of the world. Going into the film, he was focused entirely on his career and his role as Padre Pio, but God had other ideas.
“And when I got here, a switch happened. It was like Three-Card Monte. It was like someone tricked me into it, it felt like,” he said. “Not in a bad way. In a way that I couldn’t see it. I was so close to it that I couldn’t see it. I see it differently now that time has passed.”
God had timed things perfectly. “I know now that God was using my ego to draw me to Him. Drawing me away from worldly desires. It was all happening simultaneously,” he explained. Even while they were practicing the Latin Mass, “I was having genuine emotional experiences,” LaBeouf said.
It all happened in the nick of time. At that point in his life, “I had nowhere to go,” he said during the interview. “This was the last stop on the train. There was nowhere else to go — in every sense.”
The film is scheduled to premiere in competition in the. Giornate Degli Autori section of the 2022 Venice International Film Festival.
As the summary on Imdb states, “It is not a film on belief or non-belief, but a story that will allow a person to remain fascinated over the workings of another human being…Through narration and raw footage that we have been granted, we will bring forth the making of a modern-day saint.”
Let us keep this brave young man, and the impact of this film, in our prayers!
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