News 11 Special Report: God's Theme Park - Toledo News Now, Breaking News, Weather, Sports, Toledo

News 11 Special Report: God's Theme Park

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This is a special report by News 11's Brad Harvey:

Its name certainly conjures up images of Cedar Point and Disneyland. But FamilyLand is designed as a different kind of family fun place: one that thrills the soul.

We caught up with Jerry Coniker of the Apostolate for Family Consecration shortly before he met with Bishop Leonard Blair in Toledo.

"If we're going to save the family, we have to empower the parents. We have to form the parents so they can form their children," Coniker says about his mission.

It's been a passionate message for Coniker for three decades. He's shared the message many times, with both the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVII. His history with both goes back many years.

"John Paul was primarily a philosopher and Cardinal Ratzinger is primarily a theologian. When we send our young men to seminaries, they first take philosophy to teach them how to think and then they take theology to put it together," Coniker says.

The Apostolate for Family Consecration is located in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio. Every year, hundreds of families, thousands of people travel, some across gravel roads to one of its initiatives: FamilyLand -- a sort of camp for families.

There's even a television network beaming from dishes nestled in the hills. The apostolate is active on every continent around the world and was just granted pontifical status, which means it has the "official recognition and explicit approval" of the Holy See.

"Our movement is all over the world, now," says Robert Conker, Jerry's son.

Robert is taking on more of a leadership role, as is Jerry's daughter, Theresa Schmitz. They're two of 12 children raised by Jerry and his wife, Gwen. It was after Gwen's death in 2002 that Coniker looked to his own family for the next generation of leadership.

"It was just something we grew up with as a family. We were involved since we were very young, from shredding paper to helping with the ministry," Schmitz says.

Today, the room in which Gwen died has been preserved exactly as it was. She's interred in a chapel on site. Pope Benedict recently opened Gwen's cause for beatification, one of the first steps toward sainthood.

Coniker walked away from a successful and lucrative company he owned to start a movement in the Appalachian Hills of Ohio. Now the organization he and his late wife founded is recognized by tens of thousands around the world.

"You're a person made in the image of God, and that's where your dignity comes from. It's not what you have in the bank account," Coniker says.

The apostolate also has one of the largest religious video libraries in the world, in which reside some of the most rare and even the final interviews with Mother Teresa.

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