A San Antonio priest featured in an upcoming PBS documentary understands why the filmmakers focused on the sacrifice he willingly made in becoming a priest, but he wishes his own conversion story hadn’t been left behind.
“They followed me for over five years,” Father Steve Gamez said of the documentary crew. “There’s so much footage, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who figures what goes on the cutting-room floor. What they focused on me as a Catholic was celibacy and living a chaste life, and the sacrifice I made” to be ordained, he said.
Father Gamez is one of seven clergy of different faiths profiled in “The Calling,” a two-part documentary to be shown by PBS Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 20 and 21, 8-10 p.m. each night.
“I don’t know if fortunately or unfortunately, the film is more about sacrifice than conversion or redemption,” Father Gamez told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 6 telephone interview from San Antonio, where he is administrator of St. Philip of Jesus Parish.
“I would have liked to have seen a little more of my spiritual past, where my family came from,” he said. “I am the first in my family ever to graduate from college. I would have liked to see that a little played out.” Still, for Father Gamez, ordained in 2008, “The Calling” is “very well made concerning the sacrifice all of us had made as spiritual leaders.”
Father Gamez said there was one point when he questioned his vocation, but it didn’t have to do with either celibacy or conversion issues. “It was more of a reaction to an incident that occurred while I was in seminary that changed my perspective about the fraternity of the priesthood,” he said. He took a year off and returned — just before he was approached to be filmed — when he came to the conclusion that the incident was “an anomaly.”
With a camera crew trailing after him from time to time over five years, “it truly became second nature to me,” Father Gamez told CNS. “It was part of my life already.” It took some doing, though, for others in proximity to the crew to get used to the distraction. “Everybody was always curious about what’s going on, what’s happening, I would try to explain,” he said.
While “The Calling” was being filmed, one cable channel aired a documentary miniseries, “God or the Girl,” featuring four young Catholic men who were weighing a decision on whether to enter the seminary. “I saw five or 10 minutes of it but it didn’t interest me, so I turned it off,” said Father Gamez.
The priest added Daniel Alpert, the director of “The Calling,” “admitted to me I am the comic relief of the documentary. Even though he said there are some very, very serious scenes with me, the documentary shows me cutting up,” which Father Gamez said accurately reflects his personality.
In his review of “The Calling” for CNS, staff critic John Mulderig commended it for its “broad scope that takes in the struggles of seven individuals, including Muslims, Jews (and) Protestants” in addition to Father Gamez.
“Viewers willing to stay the course will get to know — and likely connect with — the generally appealing subjects profiled as they grapple with an array of problems,” Mulderig said.