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Like a proud parent, Fr. Peter John Cameron likes to tell stories about the monthly magazine he’s edited for the past 20 years, Magnificat. That child has grown up and come into its own and begun to make a mark.
He recalls, for example, the day a staffer came into his office and handed him a copy of a recent issue. Opening it up, Fr. Cameron noticed a hand-written note inside the front cover: “Father Peter, Magnificat has meant so much to me, Dolores Hope.”
The admiring reader was the widow of actor Bob Hope.
Another day, an unsigned letter cam through the mail. It read, in part: “I will soon be retiring from the Secret Service after 30 years. You will be pleased that Magnificat came with me on all my assignments, including Air Force One and so much more.”
Every journalist likes to know that his or her work is being appreciated, especially by those in high places.
But what has really kept Fr. Cameron going for two decades was knowing that the monthly devotional magazine was reaching into secret places: not necessarily the private homes of Hollywood or the inner sanctums of power, but the secret recesses of the hearts of seekers, all across the English-speaking world. Christians were taking it into that “inner room,” where they could be in conversation, heart-to-heart, with God.
The magazine is meant to be a companion for Catholics attending daily Mass and contains all the readings and responses for the Liturgy. But it also lays out the days of the month with spiritual readings and reflections and offers meditations for daily Christian living.
When founder and publisher Pierre-Marie Dumont offered Fr. Cameron the job of editing the new English, North American edition of Magnificat, Fr. Cameron was hoping for one specific task: to find the meditations for each day.
“I knew that would be very challenging but it would also be rewarding because I had a huge interest in the spiritual masters, spiritual doctors of the Church, but I never had a chance to sit down and read them the way that I wanted to and the way they deserve to be read,” Fr. Cameron said in an interview, as he prepares to hand over the reins of the English edition to a younger Dominican priest, Fr. Sebastian White. “That has been just unbelievably rewarding for me. The readers say ‘We’ve never heard of x, y and z. We can’t understand why we never came across him before in our lives, but we’re so happy that we know this person, and now they’re our favorite writer.'”
As a daily support and companion for church-going Catholics, Magnificat is what Fr. Cameron would call a “mystagogical resource,” based on the concept of mystagogy: deeper and deeper understanding of the mysteries of the faith, for someone who has already accepted it.
“It’s ordered to and derives all of its identity from the Eucharist,” he explained. “It’s really meant for people to enter into the Mass and Eucharistic spirituality. My particular vision for Magnificat in America really focused principally on the meditations, to begin with. I wanted to introduce people to writers that they probably had not met before, for whatever reason, either because they were out of print or they were writers who people, in the normal course of their lives, wouldn’t bump into but who have so much to say and are giants in terms of understanding the faith and being able to communicate it.”
The aim of Magnificat, he continued, is to lead readers further and further to a “greater friendship with Jesus Christ and greater embrace of the faith and a greater awareness of how everything in their life is touched and transformed by the mystery of the Gospel.”
Fr. Cameron and his team have been challenged not only in finding good content but to find ways to lead readers in. They have striven to package Magnificat in the most beautiful way possible, with cover art that in many ways itself speaks to the soul of the viewer.
“There have been many stories about people saying, ‘What moved me to pick this up and read it was the cover. Once I opened it, I was hooked,’” the priest attested. “We got a letter once from someone who was going through some pretty tough times, and she said that the images on the cover were so consoling and so promising and so full of hope that I just kiss the cover when I can’t find the strength to pray,’ which was very moving to us. It almost has this sacramental dimension to us.”
Perhaps one of the most moving revelations, though, came not from a letter to the editor but from the subscriptions department. In 2006, a drunk driver had caused a head-on collision in New York City, killing an 18-year-old named Mariana Edkins. At the sentencing of the driver, John Sambuco, the victim’s mother, Mary Ann Edkins, stood up in court to address him directly.
“I wish you hope, that when you finish serving the time for this crime, your life will have been redeemed,” Edkins told Sambuco, “that it will have been transformed, that you will have hope and not despair and live in such a way that Mariana’s spirit will be honored by the way you live your life.”
The young man, serving a 15-year-to-life sentence, became a Magnificat subscriber, much to Fr. Cameron’s delight. But when his subscription came up for renewal, he found out who was behind it.
It was Mrs. Edkins, who bought the young man a gift subscription.
Fr. Cameron has taken on a new assignment, as spiritual director to the national youth ministry Hard as Nails. No doubt his 20 years experience of seeking out the gems of spiritual writing, to help people in all kinds of situations get through their own trials and tribulations, will help him in his new outreach to young people, many of whom are struggling with broken families, depression, drugs and other challenges.