Community building forces are important to protect in today’s fragile world. When more and more people are getting lonely and isolated, local communities offer a safe-haven and comfort for many people. One example of community building forces is churches. For ethnic communities in the process of settling down in the United States, these centers have played an essential role in history. But over past decades, a very destructive and accelerating process has been taking place in the Catholic Church: the closing of these important places – the parishes.
With Jeff MacIntyre, I set out on this journey in 2014 to uncover the reasons behind this disturbing phenomenon and share my findings in a documentary. As a Hungarian journalist, I have spent a month every year in USA since 2006 visiting Hungarian communities, making interviews, trying to understand how these communities live, how they conserve their homeland’s historical and cultural heritage and identity, their ties to it, and what role faith plays in it.
Destroying a home – a spiritual one in the case of these faith communities – causes an enormous shock, inflicting a huge and inestimable crisis on people at many levels, which cannot be underestimated when such decisions are made by the responsible. I wanted to analyze how communities react to these shock waves, and what strategies they apply in response. What interested me most was what those factors are that enable an individual or, in this case a small, seemingly powerless community to come up with a winning strategy to bring them out of a desperate and an extremely disadvantageous, if not life-threatening, situation.
I talk about Catholic communities only because I know them best. We can substitute them with any other religious or non-religious communities. The focus is not on a particular religion but on strategies and survival techniques for small communities.
Following my mother’s advice, “If you can’t build, don’t destroy”, my intention was to give a 360-degree picture of the players involved in such situations. If they chose not to take part, that was their decision; opportunity was given to everyone. With this documentary, my intention was to open and facilitate a dialogue between the parties to arrive at a win-win decision.
Returning from a shoot, on a Sunday, on the highway between Dayton and Cleveland, Ohio, we stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. A complete stranger of Hispanic origin, whom we opened the door for, letting him in before us, paid our check and left a note saying: “Pass it on”. Apart from showing the plight, the suffering of these faith-based groups, my goal is also to pass on to the viewer the generosity and the immense richness of these small, endangered communities and to pass on hope to these afflicted groups.