Roma Downey on finding unexpected blessings—even online

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are seen with the cast and crew on the set of the television miniseries "The Bible" at the Ouarzazate Museum in Morocco (CNS photo/Joe Alblas, courtesy Lightworkers Media). Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are seen with the cast and crew on the set of the television miniseries "The Bible" at the Ouarzazate Museum in Morocco (CNS photo/Joe Alblas, courtesy Lightworkers Media). 

Roma Downey ("Touched by an Angel") is an Emmy Award-winning actress. Together with her husband, producer Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Voice," "Shark Tank"), she recently founded LightWorkers Media as a division of MGM Television and Digital. The purpose of this new online enterprise is to “create engaging, uplifting and inspirational content.”The husband and wife producing team has created a number of faith-based TV shows and movies including “The Bible” series (History Channel) and the film “Son of God.”

Ms. Downey is the author of the forthcoming book “Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessings All Around Us” (March 2018). On Nov. 1, I interviewed Ms. Downey by telephone about these recent projects. The following transcript has been edited for style and length.

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You and your husband, Mark Burnett, have been at the forefront of Hollywood’s revival of faith-based productions in recent years. How does LightWorkers Media continue this work?

I’m the parent of three young adults, and I know where they access news. They don’t go to the same places that older people use. So wanting to bring the good news to a new digital audience is a big part of what we’re doing.

“To bring the good news to a new digital audience is a big part of what we’re doing.”

How did you convince MGM executives to sponsor this project?

MGM has been so incredibly supportive. They know my authentic desire to make a difference through media. They know there is a hunger out there and an audience out there for stories about hope. In a time when there is so much bad news, we need to remember all of the wonderful people and signs of God’s presence out there.

What’s an example of the inspirational stories you’re sharing with LightWorkers?

We’ve had a great deal of success with our “37 Seconds of Good News” segments. That particular series has received millions and millions of hits. I still have friends who ask me where to find LightWorkers on TV, but I tell them: You don’t need a TV! It’s all free and you can watch anytime.

Your forthcoming book continues the mission of promoting this kind of “good news” for our troubled times. What are some of the “unexpected blessings” you’ve received in your own life?

I’m really very excited about my book. It’s intensely personal and amazing how incredibly vulnerable I feel having written about my life. I share about my experiences of losing my mom at a very young age, losing my father in college, suffering heartbreak and so on. And yet there was a reminder for me of God’s presence at each of these moments. God was there with me.

You grew up Catholic in Ireland, but later achieved fame as an actress. How has your faith changed or evolved over the years?

I’m the youngest of six, and my oldest brother is a Catholic priest in the town where we grew up. I was educated from the time I was five to the time I was 18 by the Sisters of Mercy, or the “Sisters of No Mercy” as I jokingly call them. So it’s part of who I am. But I’m also grateful for America and all of the opportunities it has given to me, from my start on “Touched by an Angel” to now.

What is your calling in life?

I’ve just felt very called in my life to share inspiration and good news with people. I hope LightWorkers is helping me do that with a new audience.

“In a world driven by anger and revenge, we need to hear more about forgiveness.”

In addition to “The Bible,” you’ve continued to help produce Christian dramas like the big-budget “Ben Hur” remake. If you could make the perfect Christian movie, what would it look like?

In the media, we try to reach people en masse. In my work I try to do this in a variety of ways because people are starving for good news in a world full of anger and hatred. I think that the theme that resonated throughout “Ben Hur” was forgiveness. That story held a very important message for the world that we live in. In a world driven by anger and revenge, we need to hear more about forgiveness.

What is your own experience of forgiveness?

I come from Northern Ireland, I grew up there during the Troubles, and as a community in Northern Ireland we’ve figured out how to live together. It took a long time to get everyone to sit down at the table together. But we did it.

If you could say one thing to Pope Francis about the world today, what would it be?

I think Pope Francis is the pope of hope. He’s really just a blessing to the world, a great leader, so inspirational to many with his loving heart and his personality with the way he walks through the world as a relatable man, as the pope of the people. His embrace is wide and his love feels inclusive. And I think our future is in this inclusivity: The church needs to be a place where all people feel included.

Any final thoughts?

Lightworkers.com has been a culmination of the last year of my life. To see it up, and to see people coming to discover these video pieces, has been incredibly rewarding. We have a great team of people with wonderful hearts. It’s easy to turn on the news any given day and be horrified, yet we need to remember that there’s still more goodness, more loving people out there, than we tend to think. We need to remember to look for the signs of God’s presence.

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