Catholic Magician Performs Sleight of Hand-ing on the Faith
By Megan Peterson, Features/Multimedia Editor
April 18, 2024
ROCKFORD—Upper-grade Holy Family School students chattered as they poured into the parish’s St. Gabriel Hall April 11. Anticipation was high for the afternoon’s show: the illusions of Catholic magician Giancarlo Bernini. 
That day, the magician also performed two other shows: one in the morning for preschool through third grade and another that night for parishioners of Holy Family. These shows were “entrance ramps,” 
Father Phillip Kaim, pastor, explained. If people would be willing to come to the parish for a low-pressure and fun event, that familiarity could help encourage them back into the Church. 
That same idea drives Bernini’s evangelization. 
“It’s easier to invite people to a magic show than it is to a church thing if they’ve never been before. It’s a lot, for me, about familiarity,” Bernini said. 
Bernini’s magic show is more than merely getting people into a church building. For him, doing magic is evangelizing. 
Drawing on his Catholic faith, bachelor’s in religious studies and love of apologetics, the Texas-based Catholic uses illusion to explain what it means to seek truth, help his audience to be open to the mysteries of the faith and to encourage them to embrace awe and wonder. 
He said, “I think that any kind of art, anything where you can find truth, beauty and goodness, is evangelistic in nature. … I try to focus on what it is about the art of illusion and performing illusions that has elements of truth, beauty and goodness. And that’s where I can draw or tie in to the faith. 
“Even if it’s not even a faith-based show, I’m hoping that presenting art well has some grains of evangelism. But also in shows like this where I can show the faith with people and I am able to share a message, then doing a magic show is really good at engaging people who might otherwise not come to a faith-based event.
“It’s a good outreach opportunity,” he said. 
And it works. 
He engaged the students from the start with a balloon to toss around the crowd. Each student who caught the balloon was asked to call out any number. The last student to catch the balloon found that something was inside. At Bernini’s encouragement, he came up to the stage and popped the balloon — revealing one lottery ticket with each number printed on it. 
The student’s responses — Huh? Wait, what? How? — and their open-mouthed surprise set the tone for the rest of the show. As he performed more tricks, including mind reading and guessing games that he called “psychological illusion,” the group was drawn right into awe and wonder.
That’s Bernini’s favorite part of performing — seeing how magic brings the community together. “When you see something you can’t really explain, it kind of breaks down a wall. People don’t know how to react to a magic show. It’s a very genuine reaction. It’s awe and wonder.”
After performing several illusions, he explained illusions to the students through one of his favorite tricks, a trick with interlocking silver rings. As he talked, he continually passed the rings through each other so that they linked, or turned to reveal them separated. 
He told the students that the rings, though they are solid and tangible objects, seem to melt through each other like they were made of shadows.
The rings couldn’t be both metal and shadows, he said. But a point was made: it’s easy to believe illusions. 
He told the students about an illusion he believed when he was their age. His friends all had something they were good at, he said, but he didn’t have a specialty. That changed when he learned a magic trick. He became known for doing magic, and he learned tricks every night to “stay relevant.” As he grew older and turned magic into a job, he said, “I started to feel like I didn’t really know who I was.”
He asked the students to raise their hands if anyone had told them that their identity was in being a child of God, and they did. He said that was good — he had heard it a lot as a kid too. “I heard it a ton. And in fact, I heard it so much that it completely lost all meaning.”
If everyone is a child of God, he wondered, what made him uniquely “me” and not someone else? Did his talent make him unique?
It was his relationship with God, he learned. He told the students about “a father-son, father-daughter relationship you have” that “forms every aspect of who you are.”
Our self-identity is often an illusion, he said. “A lot of times, the way we see ourselves, we think we’re not good enough for something. Maybe we’ve messed up too much and God can’t use us. Or things are going great and we don’t need God. Or that, you know, we’re only worth what we can do for other people or we’re only worth what we’re skilled at. These are all just illusions. 
“’Cause the reality is, your worth comes from being a child of God and the relationship you have with Him that’s unique.”
As the students sat in reflective quiet, some noticed that Bernini had solved a Rubik’s cube during his talk … and then they were back to awe and wonder for the remainder of the show, including while watching a mug and rope trick that fooled celebrity magicians Penn & Teller and a card trick that he gave to one of the students. 
The students were buzzing. “It’s amazing because you can’t just guess that randomly,” said fourth-grader Charles Quinn about the card tricks that ended the show. 
Fifth-grader Natalia Bruscato enjoyed the ring trick. “I was just, like, surprised … at how they went together … ’cause, usually you can’t just do that with two rings.”
The afternoon show closed with a blessing by Father Kaim and a nod to St. John Bosco, the patron saint of magicians who inspires and guides Bernini’s shows. 
And, Father Kaim noted, the older students are approaching Confirmation. Perhaps some of them will find a guide in St. John Bosco, too. 
St. John Bosco, patron saint of magicians, pray for us! 
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