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Children can understand deep concepts as long as difficult vocabulary doesn’t get in the way.
This is a conviction at the heart of a popular animated series that is leading kids to a deeper understanding of prayer, the sacraments, the saints, and other Catholic treasures … and bringing moms and dads along for the ride.
Robert Fernandez, one of the founders of Herald Entertainment, is the creator behind “Brother Francis,” the basketball-spinning, church bell-ringing, song-singing Franciscan friar who stars in (so far) 16 videos about the faith.
In addition to his conviction that kids’ “souls have to be respected,” he also feels strongly that “cheesy” can get in the way of sharing the faith.
The Brother Francis series is thus one of today’s leaders in children’s catechetical material, with high-quality animation and songwriting supporting clear and complete explanations of Church teaching.
Aleteia asked Fernandez to tell us more about this singing friar, his videos, and supporting catechetical material, and how he came about.
Aleteia: Can you tell us a bit of the background of Brother Francis and the creative team? What educational and life experiences have come together for you to be able to create such high-quality animation, music, and script for Catholic kids?
Fernandez: Herald Entertainment is a media production house with an emphasis on the production of quality-content audiovisual and print materials that highlight good values. The creation of Catholic material started when I began to envision a character that could help children experience God by learning about their faith. The idea really came from my own experience of growing up Catholic but not fully understanding the wealth and depth of the Faith. A deeper relationship with God grew during my late teenage years and my reliance upon my faith became a very important part of my life. I never forgot the questions I had as a young child and finally, after what I feel was a constant nudging of the Holy Spirit, I began to put together the pieces of the first episode.
We really didn’t know how it was going to be received, since the very first episode was about prayer and how memorized prayers can be rambled without any notion of Whom you are addressing.
The idea was to help kids really think the prayers through and to get them to understand that there was Someone else on “the other side” actually listening and wanting to have a back-and-forth relationship. The episode had some funny parts and was all around fun, but the script contained a lot of very deep concepts – although introduced in a very simple way. The point is, it resonated with the public and we soon started production on Episode 2, which is “The Bread of Life.”
From then on, the demand grew and grew and we’ve recently completed our 16th episode! Our goal has always been good quality. We didn’t want to create something substandard. In reality a lot of people told us it was a crazy idea. “Why produce for Catholic kids?” Well the reason is God was saying, “DO IT!”
So Herald Entertainment is not a specifically Catholic company, right? Has Brother Francis become your most popular product?
Fernandez: Correct. Herald Entertainment is not specifically a Catholic or religious company, but we produce a lot within the faith-based community and are thankful to be able to meet the need specifically for wholesome, biblical entertainment for children on an international scale. That said, Brother Francis has become a very important part of what we do because of the lack of good quality Catholic material available for children.
Could you speak a little about your core values or standards, and what kinds of principles motivate your production?
Fernandez: We really value not only quality audiovisuals but also content. We feel kids’ souls should be respected, and that they are capable of deep concepts as long as you don’t let difficult vocabulary get in the way. As adults, we use a lot of big words that really go over the kids’ heads but that doesn’t mean they can’t understand profound things – it’s just that they have no terminology for it yet.
So, we try to add layers of depth to the scripts for several reasons: so that they child will watch them many times, and so that even if they don’t understand everything at first, as they grow, they will.
“Cheesy” can really hurt the sharing of our faith. Life is just not “cheesy” for most people, including kids, so we are striving really hard to give something that will stay with them for a long time. In fact it is our belief that as much as we base our productions on God’s Word, the more it will speak to the hearts of kids. And amazingly enough – adults. We get a lot of comments from adults about how the episodes help them. In some cases, they are even being used for adult formation.
Why did you choose Francis as the main character? Was it from a devotion to St. Francis?
Fernandez: It was a character that had been popping up in my mind for several years and this was many years before Pope Francis ascended to the papacy, so it had nothing to do with linking the character to the pope. It was just a character that evolved in my head and the name Francis seemed to come along with it. The fact that Brother Francis is a Franciscan has to do with the Franciscan values of simplicity. St. Francis of Assisi is also a wonderful example of dedication and holiness who continues to influence people today.
What should we learn from this saint in our own day?
Fernandez: St. Francis’ very deep and sincere love of God and his example of turning away from anything that would impede that relationship is a great model for us today. St. Francis did not just preach with words, but he was a preacher by his deeds. So, although Brother Francis was not really modeled after St. Francis, I do believe that that same spirit is embodied in the character. He teaches viewers to live out their faith in their everyday lives. He helps us remember that faith should be part of everything we do.