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COL EXCLUSIVE: Fr. Pontifex - See what this priest does to deliver his powerful message

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
November 19th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

He is a growing personality in the Catholic world and represents a new movement to engage the youth and reconvert the lost. Is he the Pope? A new bishop? A pop star? Well, he's not any of these things - yet. However, Fr. Pontifex, may eventually be all three, God willing.

EVANSVILLE, IN (Catholic Online) - Fr. Pontifex is the stage name of Claude Burns, a priest in the Diocese of Evansville, Indiana. Combining an amazing talent for spoken word and discourse, Fr. Pontifex seeks to engage all who will listen with the message of Christ through popular media.

Publishing from his website and on YouTube, Fr. Pontifex produces videos in spoken word format.  Spoken word is a form of poetry that often uses alliterated prose or verse and occasionally uses metered verse to express social commentary.  It became very popular in college circles in the 1980's and has been embraced by  the inner city You may have heard it referred to as "slam poetry."  It is seen as a very powerful and artistic way to express ideas. 

Catholic Online had the opportunity to interview Fr. Pontifex and we are excited to share his vocation with you. Make sure you watch his video and visit his website, you're in for a treat.

COL:
Who is Father Pontifex and what is his (your) mission?

Fr. Pontifex:
Fr. Pontifex is a name I took as a symbol for all priests.  Pontifex is a word that means bridge builder.  When I was in seminary I learned that it was one of the characteristics of a priest.  So, I took it as a name to become a symbol that stands for the truth and love of the Catholic Church.  My mission is to respond to the call of the New Evangelization and use various types of media to embrace cultures with the message of Jesus Christ.


COL: Your videos embrace the spoken word format rather than simply presenting the facts in plain language. Why did you choose this method to reach your audience?

Fr. Pontifex: I was raised in the inner-city, a very urban environment and rap was always a part of my life.  I was in a Christian rap group as a teenager and toured around in the mid-west.  As I progressed through college and then on to seminary I was fascinated as well with poetry and the power of words in general.  Spoken Word is an excellent fusion of hip-hop and poetry.  As an art form it seems to really fit where I am in my life right now.  I think stating things in a creative, metaphorical way opens up new doors of thinking about what the Church has to offer.  It speaks to the heart when it is accompanied by an authentic passionate relationship with Jesus.  I love to speak in homilies, and talks as well but rhyme is a passion that I find very powerful.  I released one hip hop album "Ordained" on August 27th, 2011 and I am currently working on a follow up.

COL: How are your videos produced? What is the cost in terms of time, talent, and money to produce these?

Fr. Pontifex: I am partnered with Spirit Juice Studios out of Chicago, IL.  I was approached by Rob Kaczmark, who is part owner of the Catholic Production Company, in January of 2012 to do a response video to Jefferson Bethke's viral video "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus".  Mine was entitled "Why I Love Religion and Love Jesus."  It was a great experience, an eye opening one for me in regards to the need for evangelization through this type of media.  Rob and I agreed early that we had began something very special, something that was very God inspired and we decided to continue to make videos.  We have now made 5 spoken word videos and are currently filming a 4 part Advent series.  All of these can be seen at Spirit Juice Studios YouTube Channel.

The videos are a labor of love and currently we do them for free.  Rob and Spirit Juice Studios as well as myself donate our time, talent and money to the production of the videos.  We just believe that it is a vital need and that it is worth the sacrifice.  We are exploring ways to fund our efforts long term.  Each spoken word video takes an average of about 6 or 7 hours to film.  We usually meet on a Monday, since it is my day away from the parish, and we just work hard all day to get as many good takes as possible from a variety of angles.  The post production is real challenge for the team and they work many hours to make sure the production level is very professional.  They are great group of guys to work with and I am very blessed to be a part of it for sure.

COL: Do you perform for your congregation?

Fr. Pontifex: The kids at my school love it when I rap.  I made sure that each family received a free copy of my first album because it was filled with Catholic teaching and I knew they would be more inclined to listen to it that way.  I have not done the spoken word pieces live at my parish but they do watch them on YouTube and I've shown them as well, especially to our older members who find the internet a challenge.


COL: How does your Bishop feel about your work?

Fr. Pontifex: My Bishop has been supportive.  I've been sure to run my scripts by his desk before going public with the videos.  I try to keep him informed as I am asked to speak in different places.  Overall he is very supportive and at the same time I think he finds it a bit surprising.  It is a rather unique form of expression for a priest.

COL: How large is your fan base?

Fr. Pontifex: That's a good question.  I am really amazed at the number of people who recognize me when I am at Catholic events.  It seems to happen more an more as the videos are rolled out.  I have people that send me emails, tweets (@frpontifex), and Facebook messages from all over the world.  From Australia to Africa to all parts of Europe and then throughout the U.S. it is rather surreal.  I just keep praying, serving and expressing myself and really focus on staying humble.  It's not about me it is about Jesus Christ.  I never want to lose that focus.


COL:  Has anyone told you that your video had an impact? What happened for that person?

Fr. Pontifex: Each of the videos has a different focus but at the heart of them all is the truth and love of Jesus in the Church.  I have received many messages from people that have decided to become Catholic, to return to the Catholic Church, have questioned their atheistic stances, have felt comforted that they are loved, and have expressed that they have been inspired.  Those messages are the ones that keep us focused on producing more videos, more music and more messages.  It makes every hour worth it.  It's the only thing that matters really.

COL: Do you have any plans for the future? If so, what are they?

Fr. Pontifex: As I said early I am currently working on a follow up album.   I just finished a series for each week of Advent with Spirit Juice Studios.  We plan to record more Spoken Word Videos in 2013, hopefully traveling to some new places and embracing the challenges that face our Church.  Personally, I have been doing many speaking engagements and hope to add more of those to my schedule for the upcoming year.  I just want to stay open to what God has in store.  It truly is an adventure every step of the way.

COL: What music is on your iPod?

Fr. Pontifex: I am very eclectic in my musical taste.  I listen to Matt Maher, HIllsong, Lecrae, Playdough and a few other Christian Artists, Bob Dylan, Mumford and Sons, Adele, Coldplay, U2, Radiohead, STP, Kenny Loggins greatest hits, Bibio, some Kanye West, the Fugees, and ton of instrumentals for new tracks I'm working right now.

I also have many Catholic rap artists from phatmass.com in my playlist.  We have some great up and coming artists and I'll just name a few, Foundnation, Akalyte, Sammy Blaze, Move Merchants, and many others.  You gotta check out the music page on the site.  It's an up and coming movement.

COL: Please tell us a few more things about yourself that our readers might like to know.

Fr. Pontifex: I'm just a regular guy, living out my vocation.  I pray everyday that I stay grounded in my faith and remain authentic.  I love the challenges and the blessings of priesthood and the Pontifex Project is just an extra gift from God. I am always blow away by his love and generosity to me.  I do not deserve it.

COL: Fr. Pontifex, thank you for your time and God bless you for the work you are doing. We look forward to your next video.

You may friend Fr. Pontifex on Facebook: www.facebook.com/frpontifex and follow him on Twitter: @frpontifex And visit his website at: www.frpontifex.com 

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