“God started it.”
That’s what Carl Granieri, 56, said of the Hearts Afire 4 God multi-dimensional lay ministry he runs with his wife, Martie.
Hearts Afire, based in greater Atlantic City, is a Catholic organization working to win the world for Christ by responding to the call of the late Pope John Paul II to evangelize. The couple, supported by a board of directors and dozens of volunteers, works to spread the Good News via musical performances, all forms of media, youth evangelization and Christian unity outreach, according to Carl.
“The Lord placed this ministry on our hearts in 2000, while on a pilgrimage in Medjugorje,” Martie recalled.
“We had been active in parish ministry for 10 years prior and praying to move toward full-time ministry,” Carl said. “While on a Jubilee Year 2000 Pilgrimage to Medjugorje and Rome, we felt a strong call to take things further.”
“On Aug. 15, 2000, during the plane ride home, Martie and I were praying. In the midst of gratitude we were also expressing frustration that this ministry would never happen, because we were just too busy,” he said. “We felt God say … ‘This ministry will happen … and it will begin within a year.’”
The first Hearts Afire concert took place on Aug. 15, 2001, a year after the Egg Harbor Township residents committed to the ministry and a special day to the former high school sweethearts. “The feast of the Assumption means a lot to us because our marriage is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” Carl said.
“So the ministry began within one year to the day,” said Martie, who with her husband is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Somers Point. “God is so amazing and faithful.”
The Granieris include among Hearts Afire’s goals presenting high-quality, professional concerts filled with the Holy Spirit as a means of uplifting and evangelizing; bringing youth musical retreats into every Catholic high school and CCD program; and offering prayer-filled evenings of music, witness and Eucharistic Adoration to parishes throughout the Camden Diocese.
“We started Hearts Afire because Catholics are too often asleep in their faith, and we need to wake up the sleeping giant; because our youth have a right to know that God is the coolest thing out there; because Catholics should have more high-quality, uplifting contemporary Catholic music in their iPods,” Martie said.
She and her husband also felt Catholics need to be uplifted and feel wonderful about being Catholic; that non-Catholics deserve to be uplifted through the faith and joy of committed, believing Catholics; and that Catholics deserve to be uplifted by other Christians who love God deeply, Martie noted.
Currently they spend about 20 hours a week on the ministry and are praying to go full time with it. Their ministry also includes recording and editing a radio show, “Hearts Afire 4 God: Christian Unity Outreach,” that airs 6 to 7 a.m. on Sundays on WOND 1400 AM and WOND 1580 AM. The program is currently the number 1 rated Sunday a.m. radio program in the state of New Jersey, they said, and can be heard live online at www.wond1400am.com.
Carl and Martie met at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pa., where they graduated in 1972.
He went on to attend the Philadelphia Musical Academy/Philadelphia University of the Arts, where he studied piano, trombone and composition. He has worked as a musician and entertainer and currently is president of Carl Granieri Orchestras, which appears throughout the Delaware Valley, and he is a showroom orchestra conductor backing stars at a variety of Atlantic City casinos. Carl also spent 12 years as musical director for the Sands and Showboat casinos in the Shore town.
Martie, also 56, earned an A.S. in nursing from what is now known as Atlantic Cape Community College and a B.S.N. with a specialty in psychiatric nursing from Regis University, in Denver. She works as a community health educator for the Linwood-based Women’s Center, a non-profit community organization providing services to women and children who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, as well as offering transitional housing, job training and child care resource and referral services.
In addition to Hearts Afire, the couple is active in other ministries as well. Carl is a member of their parish’s liturgy committee and music ministry, for which he serves as choir director. The Willow Grove native also is part of the music ministry at Our Lady’s Residence, Pleasantville, and performs regularly at area nursing homes.
Martie, originally from Southampton, Pa., also serves as a Eucharistic minister and in the parish nursing ministry at St. Joseph’s.
Married for 35 years, Carl and Martie are the parents of Carl, 31; Andrea, 28; and Briana, 26. They are expecting their second grandchild in the winter. They also have been foster parents to Chrissy and Michelle.
Hearts Afire recently finished a series of major events, including The Camden Diocese Tent Crusade; The National Marriage Encounter Convention in Atlantic City; Hearts Afire for Haiti, a five-hour radio-thon sponsored by the Tropicana Casino; and Jazz for Jesus, a Spirit-filled ecumenical praise concert that was held on Pentecost Sunday at The New Hope Baptist Church in Atlantic City.
As for the future, Carl and Martie plan to continue presenting their radio show, as well as offering a series of full-day concert retreats called Catholic Joy/Catholic Fire! They are seeking a large parish to host the event in spring 2011. Additionally, the Granieris are contacting high schools and CCD programs to offer youth retreat services, Catholic parishes to offer evenings of Adoration and music, and Protestant churches to share with them their Christian Unity concerts.
Their ministry is grounded in their faith and has brought them great happiness. “What really gives us the most joy,” Carl said, “is when good things happen from (Hearts Afire) and they’re focused on God.” Those “good things” have ranged from children flocking to a school retreat to Protestants attending Adoration after enjoying a telethon.
What they find truly satisfying, Martie said, is to see people “grow more in a personal relationship with Jesus. . . .”
“That builds up the Body of Christ,” her husband added.
(To learn more, about Hearts Afire, visit www.heartsinunity.com.)