Lenten message shared from ‘Oz’

CHAMPION — Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, the lion and even Toto were all on a journey to Oz, just as people today are on a spiritual journey during Lent leading up to Easter.

A three-evening special Lenten Mission series using characters and aspects of the film, “The Wizard of Oz” was held at St. William Parish, where the congregation welcomed the return of Friar Johnpaul Cafier of the Holy Evangelists Franciscan Friary in Chicago.

Each evening had 150 to 200 people attending.

The program “Finding Hope: Reflections from the Wizard of Oz” included discussion and hands-on activities of how the movie characters relate to Jesus’ journey through Easter.

The church lobby was decorated with large displays of the movie characters.

“‘The Wizard of Oz’ is a movie that shows us the five stages of spiritual growth that each of us can find in life as we go on a journey looking for God in our lives,” Cafier said.

Cafier said the first stage is that of discontent in our lives such as mid-life crisis and wanting more.

“We ask ourselves is that all there is in our lives. There is a desire for more. Just as Dorothy and the others went in search of new lands, so do we in our lives,” Cafier said.

The second stage is the call to follow God, such as when Moses had a call to lead people out of Egypt and the 12 disciples had a call to follow Jesus.

“These calls are dramatic and often a feeling inside you to move on. The Lord helps us as we move on our spiritual journey,” he said.

The third stage is moving out on the call — whether heading to college, to a new job or on a trip.

“When you first go out on a journey, it is exciting until we realize we can’t do it alone and need others or a higher power. There are sometimes the lions, tigers and bears that may block our way. Just as in the spiritual journey we need a guide and friends along the way,” Cafier said

He said in the movie, Glenda the Good Witch gave Dorothy guidance, as did her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.

“We need guides like this who help nourish our lives and help us on our spiritual journey,” Cafier said.

The fourth stage is a new awareness that we will and must learn something on our journey.

“We have to learn a new lesson. How will trials and tribulations in life help us. They are all lessons. Life will give you pain and suffering and unless we learn something from it — and not just want to forget it — it will just be pain and suffering. We have to stop and we have to reflect. Change will happen, it will change us,” he said.

At the end of the movie, Glenda told Dorothy that she always had the ability to get home, but she had to learn it for herself, he said.

“When you learn it for yourself, you come to a new awareness and see things differently,” Cafier said.

The fifth stage of the journey is to return home changed — just as parents prepare their children to one day leave home on their own life journey.

“We learn what is truly important in life and have a new awareness ,” Cafier said.

“Friar Johnpaul is a dynamic, faith-filled and energetic speaker who provides enlightening insights about our faith and relationship to God, sprinkled with humor, stories and real-life experiences,” said the Rev. Michael Balash, church pastor.

Cafier and his family are also the largest curators of Wizard of Oz memorabilia in the United States, with more than 25,000 items.

He asked the congregations trivia questions, including how Margaret Hamilton as the witch was accidentally hospitalized after being burned, how actor Buddy Ebsen was going to play the tin man but had an allergic reaction and a legend that a munchkin hung himself in one scene that was actually a crane tethered to a perch that got spooked and fell off the perch.

Cafier is a Franciscan priest of the Sacred Heart Province of Chicago / St. Louis. He is a former police officer who has worked as a counselor and chaplain at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago.

He is a pastoral associate and preacher at Holy Family Parish in Inverness, formerly the assistant vocation director for his Franciscan order and now serves as chaplain for the Illinois State Police.