by Elisabeth Hellenbroich

Pope Francis-a man of his word” is a challenging film which recently got produced by the German film producer Wim Wenders in cooperation with the Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, Dario Edoardo Viganó and other Vatican related film studios. With support from the Vatican Wenders was able to conduct over a span of two years several extensive interviews with Pope Francis, as well as study the Vatican archives and use exclusive footage. What fascinated the film producer is that he got to know a man who “means all that what he says by living what he says”, which in our contemporary world is something unusual. The film was not supposed to be a biography about Jorge Bergoglio but to present us the “biography of his ideas”. And it is these “words” and “ideas” that are the “central element” of the film, Wenders said in an interview with Vatican News Service. This is somewhat “paradoxical” since we talk about a film which is based on “images.” We see film clips from the different papal trips to Latin America, Africa, USA, Mideast, Philippines, Greece and Italy and we get in direct contact with the Pope in the interviews, who talks slowly and articulate, looking straight into our eyes. It is as if he addresses each of us individually while speaking about the most urgent challenges and concerns which mankind is facing.

One of those major challenges is the fact that we live in a period where famine, earthquakes and poverty confront mankind in such a way that from 8 billion people in the world , more than 1 billion suffer from hunger, poverty, lack of food, education and decent living. What should be done? The film at the beginning sketches out the history of St Francis who – being a revolutionary of mankind- presented more than 800 years ago radical answers. We see one of the beautiful Giotto Frescos in the St Francis Assisi Basilica, which shows Francis praying to Christ on the Cross. At that time – it is reported- he heard a voice from the cross, telling him “Francis go and renew my house.” St. Francis took these words seriously and radically changed his life by founding a beggar’s monastic order, by living in poverty preaching the gospel.

From this introductory scene about St Francis the film shifts to the evening when the newly elected Pope in the year 2013 presents himself to the waiting crowd at St Peter’s Square. He is a real surprise just greeting the crowd with “Buena Sera. As you know it’s one of the duties of the Conclave to elect a Pope, who this time has come from the end of the world.” It’s the first Pope who chose the name of St Francis, Wenders comments. A man who as a person is humble and courageous. In the first interview, the Pope confronts the viewer with what deeply concerns him: One of the problems according to him is “deafness”. There are many people, even priests, who are “deaf.” Yet we need people who can “listen” to others “who can look into our eyes. The proximity to people produces real affection.” The other major concern is “poverty” and social justice. Why is it that so many children live in poverty without being responsible? the Pope asks in the interview. He calls poverty a “scream of our times” and states that three years ago he presented the idea of a “Church for the poor.” If we follow the gospel and the ideas of Jesus, “we cannot serve two masters at the same time. Either we serve God or Wealth”, the Pope states. Wealth has always been a “major temptation”, and several men are succumbing to it. The Film shows clips taken from the Pope’s Address to the Curia in which the Pope explains to the gathered Cardinals that he considers the Curia as a “dynamic body”. He complains in front of them that this “body” is suffering however from several diseases – one of them being the disease that someone feels “immortal” and “irreplaceable”. The other disease is “to live in closed circles”, while the strongest disease is the suffering from the “disease of spiritual Alzheimer.” That time this sharp criticism produced a major shock wave within church circles particularly among those who self-righteously claim that they follow in an orthodox way everything that the Church teaches, while personally blocking away the fundamental challenges of our time. The Pope underlines in the interview that a church which hopes to become rich is not what it is supposed to be. It’s not an NGO for charitable and cultural purposes. “Poverty is the center of Jesus.”

In another Film scene we see Pope Francis during his trip to the Favelas Varginha in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. It’s a crowd which is mostly composed of poor people that he addresses. He tells them that we must “receive all those who knock at our door. We are open for them” and he uses the famous proverb – provoking a lot of cheers from the crowd that “to receive somebody, you can always prolong the beans with a bit of water.” We also watch the scene showing the Pope during his visit to Scampia – Naples- where he is received by workers, old and young people, many of them unemployed. At that occasion the Pope deplores the fact that it’s a scandal that among many of today’s 25 year old young people in Italy – 40% are unemployed. He emphasizes at that occasion that “the right of man to work is the most essential for man and taking his work away is like taking man’ s dignity away”. The Pope uses this reference in order to reflect also in the interview with Wenders about what concerns him today: Consumerism, corruption and to see man getting enslaved by money; this all while it is clear to every healthy minded person that what each individual mostly needs is a Family, Work and a Living. “Work is the noblest good of man and the capacity of man to work and create in the image of God, is one of man’s fundamental rights,” the pope says.

Work is human dignity

The subject of Work and Man’s dignity stands in contrast to our contemporary world, which confronts us with a society that is deeply divided – where only a few amass wealth and money to the detriment of other people. Wars, famine and poverty are produced by a society which- as Pope Francis reflected in in his Encyclical “Laudato Si” by quoting from Pope VI speech to the FAO (1970) who had stated that the “most extraordinary Progress, the most astonishing technical achievements and wonderful economic growth is directed against man, if it is not accompanied by social and moral progress.”

In the interview Pope Francis underlines that one of the poorest of all is our planet Earth, mother earth, given the ways in which it is exploited. Reflecting about the “theology” of the encyclical Laudato Si the Pope underlines what he considers one of the most essential aspects, namely the need to have “a productive dialogue between religion and science.” God gave us the spiritual capacity to create and fulfil and subdue his creation. By way of “technology” man transformed non- culture into culture. Yet what we see is a society which has become a “waste society”, a throwaway society which excludes the poor. If we take a closer look at the Encyclical ( 102) , we see in what way the pope wants to overcome the crisis of, the roots of which are entirely human. He stated that “we have inherited from two centuries enormous changes: the steam engine, railway, the telegraph, electricity automobile, airplane , the chemical industry, modern medicine, informatics and the recent digital revolution, robot technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology. It is correct to be happy about such progress and to get enthusiastic about it, because ‘science and technology are a fantastic product of the God given creativity’ (Pope John Paul II to the scientists and artists at the university of UN 1981). The transformation of nature, and making this applicable for the use of mankind, has been since the beginning one of the key characteristics of mankind and technology is expressing the ‘tension of the human mind that tries to step by step to overcome the material conditions’ (Benedict XVI Caritas in Veritate 2009).”

The importance of the family

At one point in the interview the Pope addresses the problem of the youth, stating that young people are “all idealists.” Even if at times they are disoriented, the Pope wants them to take essentially a “non-conformist attitude in respect to our world.” Even a young drug addict may deep down in his heart be dissatisfied about the way things are and look for ways out. The way shown by St Francis 800 years ago was a radical change of life style. We should not become indifferent to the suffering of other people and the Pope also bemoans that people are too hectic in the day to day routine, trying to accelerate to get things done, being incapable to find inner rest which according to the Gospel God had ordered for the 7th day of his creation. The drama which accompanies this restless hectic drive of people is showing in the family life. “We forget human gesture,” the pope said. “Parents forget to caress their children or to caress the grandparents of the children, since they don’t have the time for this.”

The film shows a clip from the Festival of the families- during Pope Francis’ trip in the US in Philadelphia: He jokes with them and uses the image that there is always a lot of quarrel in the families-between parents and children but also with the “mother- in- law “.”You can however overcome those fights with love,” he states. And he tells those families present never to end a day, without having made “peace in the family.” In the interview he tells at one point the story that during his time as young priest he listened to a lot of confessions. Often young men or women came to those confessions and at one point he interrupted them with the question

Do you play with your children? Do you spend time with them?”

At one point in the interview the Pope comes back again to the burning question: Why it is that “innocent children have to suffer? Why does God allow suffering?” He makes reference to man’s “freedom” which was given to man by God. Man has the freedom to do Good but he can also do the contrary and destroy. He states in the interview that “without freedom we cannot love.”

A shocking example of man’s abuse of “freedom” is his total aberration and destructivity which the Israeli Memorial Yad Vashem documents. During his visit the Pope just cried out loudly: “Adam, where are you? (cf. Gen 3:9)Where are you, o man? What have you come to? …Of what horror have you been capable? What made you fall to such depths?”

During his visit to Moria – at a refugee camp in Greece (Island of Lesbos) the Pope deplored that many migrants are “victims of global injustice, driven away by wars and persecution; in a world where 80% of the wealth is owned only by a few, by 20%. We must build “bridges of dialogue.” Dialogue with migrants and with other religions such as with the Grand Mufti of Egypt with whom the Pope said in the interview, he had a “fraternal dialogue.” Pope Francis was the one who invited Abu Abbas and Shimon Peres from Israel to take common steps to end the Israel /Palestine conflict. There was a gathering in Assisi with religious leaders from all over the world for a “prayer of peace”. The Pope in the interview emphasized that he is deeply convinced that God- irrespective of what religion people come from “loves them all: He loves Mahatma Gandhi as much as he loves Martin Luther King and he even loves the Atheist.” At the end of the Film Wim Wenders underlines the paradox which the film is itself: Pope Francis has no “weapon” except his “word.” He has no “status symbol” except to tell the “truth”, promote “dialogue” and bring “peace.” A very important advice which the Pope gives us at the end is what he calls “the capacity to smile and have a good sense of humor”. Every morning after the morning Laudes he prays to St Thomas More to give him a good sense of humor: “Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest.”


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