Faith inspired Downey to take life of Jesus to the big screen

Roma Downey plays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the movie Son of God.


Roma Downey plays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the movie Son of God.

March 3, 2014

The just-released film Son of God promises to tell the story of Jesus from the moment of his birth, describe his teachings and miracles, and follow through to his crucifixion and resurrection.

"It's a huge epic sweeping movie that will touch people's hearts and inspire them and strengthen them," says producer Roma Downey.

The public probably recognizes her from her role as Monica in the TV series Touched by an Angel. She's gone on since then with a multitude of projects, all faith based, the most recent being The Bible for the History Channel.

She and husband Mark Burnett teamed up with Fox films to produce Son of God. Downey talked by phone to the WCR while on the last leg of a promotional tour before the film opened Feb. 28.

In a voice filled with the passion of a believer, Downey described the film as "the story of Christ, from his humble birth through his ministry and mission. We see miracles on the big screen. We see his death, resurrection, ascension.

"It has been such a blessing for me to be able to work on this. It's been a labour of love for myself and my husband. I don't know that many people get the privilege to be able to do what they love to do and combine that with what they believe and to do it with their own spouse. It has really been a blessing for us."

Downey comes by her faith thanks to her parents. Born in Northern Ireland, she and her siblings (one now a priest in Ireland) "went to Mass every Sunday with my mom and dad. My dad used to kneel us down and say the rosary as a family together every night.


"It (faith) was front and centre in my life. I went to Catholic school from five to 18. I was taught by the Sisters of Mercy. Or as we used to jokingly call them, Sisters of No Mercy."

Disaster struck the Downey family when Roma was a child.

"My mom (Maureen) tragically died when I was just 10. I was so grateful for my faith and the comfort that it gave me, and the cross knowing that I would see her again. I don't know that I would have gotten through my adolescence if I did not believe."

Producer Mark Burnett, actors Darwin Shaw and Diogo Morgado are seen on the  set of the movie Son of God.


Producer Mark Burnett, actors Darwin Shaw and Diogo Morgado are seen on the set of the movie Son of God.

That Catholic faith has proven to be the foundation for the rest of her life.

Asked what makes Son of God special, her reply is instant.

"Because we begin the story with his birth and get to travel with him in the early part of his ministry and mission, with the time we have invested in him, we already care about him. The story really shows the humanity of Jesus, his kindness and compassion."


She compared her film to The Passion of the Christ, saying, "It told the story in just three days and began when Jesus was already in the garden (of Gethsemane). If you didn't know the whole story, it did not give you a whole lot of opportunity to discover who he was and to fall in love with him."

Son of God is not just a Catholic film, says Downey.

"We have been working with many faith leaders and denominations," she says. "We work closely and in friendship with Cardinal (Donald) Wuerl, archbishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C. He served as an advisor, a mentor and he prayed with us."

Downey says Wuerl's archdiocese put together a curriculum, a study guide to be made available for dioceses across North America to use the film as a tool for schools and youth groups.

"To see the story, for many people, kids in particular, who are not reading the Scripture, maybe are not going to Church, but will discover him on the big screen. What an opportunity to touch people's lives!"


"We are visual people. We like to hear the word, read the word – we like to see the word. So many when they see it, it anchors it (their faith in Jesus) in a different way."

That is what happened to Downey herself.

"During these last five years, it has taken a story I have known my whole life. It has opened me up and asked me to consider (Jesus' life) in new and different ways. And I take that information back to the Gospel when I read it or when I hear it. It brings it to life for me."

Downey and Burnett have gone home now to spend time with their three children. And of course they have a pending project. It's a film documenting what happened to Jesus' disciples.