PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Mark Wahlberg's newest movie, "Father Stu," may be a story about a Catholic priest, but it holds a hopeful message for people of all faiths -- or no faith at all.
"This is a biopic that really inspires people and challenges people to do better. Everybody's been dealing with very difficult things in life, especially now more than ever," Wahlberg mused, glancing out the window of a high-rise hotel in Philadelphia during a recent one-on-one interview with the Catholic Star Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey.
The story of "Father Stu," he said, is a message all need even more after COVID-19.
"I hadn't missed church in over a decade, and my faith was questioned. I went through things I never imagined I would go through, depression and things of that nature," Wahlberg, a Catholic, said of the pandemic.
"This movie hopefully will reignite people's hope and faith and encourage people to find the good in everything, the good in people especially. And be inspired to do better and also find your role in God's big picture."
"Father Stu," which opened in theaters across the country April 13 and by April 20 had grossed over $10 million in ticket sales. Wahlberg stars in the title role.
Before he became a priest, Father Stuart Long, or Stu, as he was best known, was an amateur boxer with a bad-boy charm. After a health issue forced him to give up his gloves, he moved from Montana to Hollywood with the hopes of becoming a star.
A near-death experience in a motorcycle accident put him on the road to the priesthood. He was ordained for only four years before he died from an incurable muscle disorder.
The film tells the story of his life before and after ordination and the lives he touched along the way.
Wahlberg said he hopes those who see the movie "will be encouraged to do a little bit more and do a little bit better.
"Nobody is beyond redemption," he said. "People need to know that they are cared for, that they are loved, supported and accepted unconditionally for who they are. That's really important because in this day and age, that is not a very popular thing."
Speaking of today's polarized society, he continued, "Hopefully this is just a phase and people realize how important it is to be able to look in the mirror and say you're not going to judge somebody else knowing you have some issues yourself. I think there is one judge; everybody else should be coaches, fans, supporters."
Wahlberg, who is a producer on the film, explained that it took six years to make the movie, the experience of which "was reaffirming in my faith and my purpose."
He pondered the timing of the movie's release -- during Holy Week and in the midst of tumultuous times. "I think the movie couldn't be more needed than right now."
He continued, "I could not sit here and take all the credit for that. I think the powers that be are really at work in how this movie came together -- the material, the quality, the talent that it attracted, even the opportunity for a major studio like Sony to distribute the film."
As an international star and Oscar-nominated actor, Wahlberg admits that his career places him in the unique position to publicly live his Catholic faith -- through his words and movie roles.
"God put me in this position, gave me this voice and ability to get people's attention," he said. "I'm always asking what is it that I am to do with those things I've been given, and this movie was a direct answer to that question. I think more will come in the very near future that will allow me to continue to utilize these talents and gifts for his greater good."
At the same time, he is quick to point out that he's not immune to life's struggles.
"I'm always trying to be better and hold myself to a higher standard. You win some and you lose some, and my faith allows me the ability to accept when I can win and really accept when I can't. And always, always reminding me that if I want a chance to be successful in anything I do, that I better put the effort in."
"Every day I wake up and express my gratitude ... and pray for the guidance to know what right is and to do so and to be a better person, a patient father, a better husband -- all of those things," Wahlberg said.
The Wahlberg interview can be heard on the Catholic Star Herald's "Talking Catholic" podcast, https://talking.catholicstarherald.org/show/talking-catholic.