Shia LaBeouf is a changed man. And it looks as though the spiritual prep for his latest movie role deserves a lot of the credit.
Playing the lead in the upcoming biopic “Padre Pio” appears to have guided the actor toward a new commitment to Christianity.
The film relays the real life story of one of the most beloved Catholic priests and humanitarian figures, an individual who within Catholicism has been given the designation of “Saint.”
Padre Pio was an Italian Franciscan Capuchin friar who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and has been venerated in the Roman Catholic Church ever since.
He was known around the globe for manifestations that many believe could only have emanated from above.
Over the course of his lifetime in shepherding his flock, he exhibited numerous supernatural phenomena and miraculous occurrences, including the marks of stigmata (wounds on the body that correspond to those suffered by the crucified Christ), visions, healings, and the ability to bi-locate and prophesy.
The Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina is located in the Province of Foggia, Italy, the southern Italian region (Puglia), where much of the filming of the “Padre Pio” movie took place.
Shia accepted the starring role of the film in the summer of 2021 and immediately arranged to spend time with a group of Capuchin Franciscan friars who resided in Northern California.
Traveling later to Rome, he went to stay at a monastery in southern Italy, the same locale in which the movie had initially been filmed. He even chose to sleep in the same bed where Padre Pio had rested his head.
In a recent conversation with Bishop Robert Barron, Shia revealed how he was led to become a Catholic Christian.
Referring to the time spent at the California monastery, he said, “When I walked into this, my life was on fire.”
The “fire” of which he spoke related to the personal tribulation he was going through, not only dealing with feelings of shame and depression, but even thoughts of ending it all. This was because back in 2020 his former girlfriend had sued him, accusing him of sexual assault.
In the aftermath of the debilitating experience, Shia parted with his agency and made the decision to take time off from his career.
He described a moment where serious suicidal thoughts were flooding his mind.
“I had a gun on the table. I was outta here,” he said. “I didn’t want to be alive anymore when all this happened.”
He also described the depth of emotion that had overtaken him.
“Shame like I had never experienced before — the kind of shame that you forget how to breathe. You don’t know where to go…,” he said.
He came to a point where his past actions made him feel as though he wasn’t worthy of being loved by God or of being received into a faith community.
He would soon be in for a blessed surprise. Living with the friars, he got to experience the love and support his heart and soul were aching for.
As Shia interacted with the friars and immersed himself in the Bible, he felt an “invite” to “let go” of obstacles.
Learning about the gifts of repentance, redemption and forgiveness convinced him of that all-important truth – in God’s eyes he is, as we all are, precious, worthy, and yes, loved beyond measure.
“It was seeing other people who have sinned beyond anything I could ever conceptualize also being found in Christ that made me feel like, ‘Oh, that gives me hope,’” he explained. “I started hearing experiences of other depraved people who had found their way in this, and it made me feel like I had permission.”
A transformational event in Shia’s personal journey was experiencing the Catholic Mass in its traditional Latin form.
“While we were practicing Latin Mass, I was having genuine emotional experiences,” he said.
Shia thought he had taken on the “Padre Pio” movie part for career reasons. However, he eventually came to realize that the Ultimate Director was working on a most beautiful subplot.
“I know now that God was using my ego to draw me to Him. Drawing me away from worldly desires. It was all happening simultaneously,” he said. “The reach-out had happened. I was already there, I had nowhere to go. This was the last stop on the train. There was nowhere else to go—in every sense.”
No doubt Shia’s spiritual path has been a unique one. His mother is Jewish and his father is a Christian. Both a bar mitzvah and a baptism graced his childhood.
As his first religious denomination, he chose his mother’s Jewish faith. Then in 2004 he shared that he had a “personal relationship with God that happens to work within the confines of Judaism.”
He later discovered his father’s Christian conviction while filming a movie. He said in an interview in 2014, “I found God doing [the film] Fury. I became a Christian man. Brad [Pitt] was really instrumental in guiding my head through this.”
In June of 2022, while at a park in Pasadena, California, he was seen reuniting with his estranged father, where the two read from Bibles as they sat next to one another.
Shia sees his religious pilgrimage as analogous to his method acting approach.
“I like to be immersive,” he said. “I like all immersive experiences, not just acting. That’s probably why I like Catholicism as well. I like adventure, and that requires full immersion.”
It seems to me that we could all use an immersive experience in faith these days.
“Padre Pio” is scheduled to premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, which runs from August 31 to September 10.