by Clyde Ericson H. Nolasco
During an interview on Word on Fire with Bishop Robert Barron, Shia Labeouf exclaimed: “Padre Pio saved my life.” Thus, seemingly announcing his conversion to the Catholic faith.
Known for his roles as Louis Stevens for Disney Channels’ Even Stevens and as Sam Witwicky in Michael Bays’ sci-fi action film series Transformers, Labeouf took a 180 degree turn to know and appreciate the Catholic faith thanks to his portrayal of Padre Pio.
A Jewish-Christian Background
Shia was born in a family of entertainers. His father Jeffry was a comedian as a rodeo clown and even a performer at a circus where he also trained chickens while Shayna his mother was a ballet dancer who eventually became a couturier and a jeweler. Shia was an only child. Though Shia claims to be agnostic before knowing Padre Pio, his dad was a Christian. On the other hand, his mother was Jewish. He was even named after his mother’s father, a Jewish comedian. “Shia” in Hebrew means “gift from God.” He was baptized and when he was 13 years old, underwent the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, a rite of passage for Jewish people.
Issues and Controversies
Though Shia knew that he was loved by his parents and he loved them, life wasn’t a bed of roses for the family. His father, who was a Vietnam veteran, was abusive. He himself experienced it when his father verbally attacked him, even pointing a gun at him. Eventually, his parents divorced due to financial problems. To keep up with the family’s difficulties, he entered show business as an actor at a very young age.
He earned recognitions and starred in big budget films along the way. But the compliments did not last long. In 2013, he was criticized for the release of his directorial film Howard Cantour.com. Many claimed that it was plagiarized from Dan Clowes’ comic Ghost World which Shia did not admit nor deny. Thus, more of his works went under scrutiny and were found plagiarized.
In the following years, he was arrested either for disorderly conduct, public intoxication and obstruction or for all of them. He attributed all these to his alcoholism. He was even arrested in 2020 as his ex-girlified sued him for sexual battery and assault. Along with this, many charges were filed against him as he lost control of himself, even expressing that he had been abusive to himself and the people around him. He then took a hiatus from acting to undergo treatment.
The Conversation and Conversion
In his 80-minute conversation with Bp. Robert Barron of Word on Fire ministries and of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Shia didn't fail to mention the turmoil he went through. He even opened up what he felt when the accusations against him were made public, “I went and loaded up a gun and sat on my table.” He added, “I was gonna kill myself.”
Nonetheless, what really made the interview extraordinary was his detailed religious experiences as he prepared for the role of Padre Pio.
Hoping to revive his deteriorating career, he accepted an offer to be the lead for Abel Ferrera’s movie “Padre Pio.” Knowing only a little to nothing about the well-loved Italian saint, he took a leap of faith unaware that it would also change the course of his life.
With his sincere intention to prepare for the role, he planned to observe the life of the friars. He was initially observing them from the parking lot of the seminary of the Franciscan Capuchins in the California Province until he was invited inside. He spent time with the friars especially with Br. Alexander Rodriguez, OFM Cap. who also served as his companion to Italy where they shot the film. Shia also went on pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo and to Pietrelcina, significant places in the life of Padre Pio
Here are some of the striking points mentioned by Shia in his conversation with Bp. Barron implying his deep attraction to his newfound faith Catholicism:
On Padre Pio and the Mass - “Pio was a very emotional guy and Mass is very technical. So technical. I spent most of my time not even studying Pio. I just studied Latin Mass…it would be like playing Bob Dylan and not knowing how to play guitar. If you want to play Dylan, you don’t just read Dylan biographies. You have to pick a guitar up and learn how to play. Then the guitar has to be your best friend and then you need to sleep with the guitar. The guitar needs to be your only travel companion. That’s the way into Bob Dylan. The way into Padre Pio was through the Mass.”
On attending the Eucharist - “The Mass isn't about selling you Catholicism; it's about the worship of Almighty God of which we are privileged to take part.”
On Latin Mass - “The Latin Mass affects me deeply because it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to sell me a car.”
On reading the Gospel - “I started reading about a route, a map, toward something that felt like ‘let go.' That’s really what I got out of the Gospel. If I could wrap it up in two words it was, ‘let go.'”
Shia’s life is just one of the many souls who were inspired by Padre Pio’s healing and hallowed life. Like him, may we also have the courage to allow Jesus to work on us and say, “Let go and let God!”