By Natashya Fernandez
In his mission to reach the disengaged Catholic, Bruce Downes, also known as The Catholic Guy, is Australia’s first lay television presenter who has now started presenting with the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the largest Christian television network in the world.
In an interview with The eRecord via Skype from the US, Mr Downes discussed The Catholic Guy, life on international television, and why he is grateful to the Archdiocese of Perth, in particular to Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey and the priests for doing what they did to make the ministry work.
He said it all began with Impact Catholic Ministry that raised questions on how the ministry would go about proclaiming the Gospel and reach the 90 per cent of Catholics who don’t attend Church.
“I was the Youth and Young Adults Ministry Director from 1990 to 1998 and one of the things we noticed was that there were so many youth and young families that were dropping out of the Church,” Mr Downes said.
“It was with the support of then Archbishop Hickey (now Emeritus) that we set up Impact Catholic Ministry and it took off from there.
“The national TV show was borne out of this need to engage with the disengaged Catholic and how we reconnect with them,” Mr Downes explained.
Mr Downes soon became known as The Catholic Guy through his presentations and uplifting speeches, whether on television or face-to-face.
Through the parish missions around Australia, his ministry has reached thousands of Catholic who are going to Church but are not enthused and non-practicing Catholics who have dropped away.
“Saint (Pope) John Paul II always talked about proclaiming the Gospel as widely as we can and that is what we are trying to do. That is the essence of the ministry in how we bring them to the sacramental life of the Church, which is the centre of the Church,” he explained.
Mr Downes is no novice to the television world, with some 10 years of experience and his new talks will be aired three times a week in Australia.
Mr Downes today travels all over the US to record his talks as well as broadcasts out of Sydney, Australia.
While his talks primarily proclaim the Gospel, he said, it is done in a way that relates to today’s world.
“We are trying to get people to listen to us in such a way where we take the ordinary things of life that people are going through – marriage, work, raising children, and study and link them to our everyday Catholic lives.
“Saint (Pope) John Paul II and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI constantly spoke of the need to be in a personal relationship with God. We are trying to create those moments of encounter that an individual has, with a deeper sense of faith in their own life, and connect them to parish communities where they can experience the sacramental life in the Church,” Mr Downes said.
With more and more people tuning in to watch his talks on screen, Mr Downes said the challenge is to engage them to listen.
“Technology has changed the way we deliver. There are many ministries in America now where everybody is going to screens – the sermons are on screens, talks are on screens because people listen to screens.
“We are reaching a lot more people through technology and we are doing this in many ways so that it is engaging, prayerful and with the kind of information that people are interested in listening to, helping them grow in their spiritual lives.”
Mr Downes noted that this is in addition to a number of plans in place for adult outreach and in particular for the 2018 Year of Youth in Australia and Year of Youth Synod internationally.
“To reach out to the youth of the world we must speak a language that is applicable to them. Saint (Pope) John Paul II said we cannot change the message of the Gospel but must ask the question of how we say it in a new way that people will get it.
“The reality is that young people are great at evangelisation but they also need mentors and guides to help them along the way. I think it is essential they are engaged in evangelisation but they first have to be reached,” he added.
Still remembering his first talk on television titled, Mary a Life Holy Devoted, he said that The Catholic Guy Ministry has grown immensely through the years and he is grateful for what the Archdiocese of Perth, the bishops and many priests in Perth have done to make the ministry work.
“It is extraordinary what has happened and how much we have grown. From a small city like Perth to where we are now, it is amazing.
“I am completely convinced that we need to be enthusiastic and continue to be about pronouncing the Gospel and telling our Catholic story. Sadly for many people they have forgotten what it is.
Mr Downes said he was looking forward to coming from the USA to conduct outreach events in Perth in Lent 2018 with The Catholic Guy Impact Community based in Perth that assists with the Saturday night Mass in the Highgate Parish.
“Every Catholic has a personal relationship with Jesus, it is him that holds us faithful and true. We should not get disillusioned by everything that is going on around us and stay true to the teachings of Jesus,” he concluded.