Thursday, March 7, 2019

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. A Review (Review #1190)


It should be noted that there is a pun in the title Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. 'His Word' has two meanings: both as referring to His Holiness as someone to be trusted and as someone motivated by Christ and the Gospels ('His Word'). This documentary has some words of wisdom within it, but it also has an idealized version of the Holy Father, more a set of homilies than an intimate portrait.

Director Wim Wenders (whom I figure also does the narration that tries to outdo Werner Herzog's soft, mournful Teutonic tones) first gives us a bleak picture of our world run by environmental devastation. We, however, have a visionary named Francis, but it's not POPE Francis.

It's St. Francis of Assisi, whom we learn and see via silent film-like reenactments. Then we shift to the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's elevation to the Throne of St. Peter.

After that, we get a series of sessions with His Holiness, not so much interviews as we never see or hear the questions asked. Rather, we have Francis speak to us directly, offering his words of wisdom. This is intercut with scenes of his travels, speeches and more reenactments of St. Francis.

Image result for pope francis a man of his wordA Man of His Word displays one side of the Holy Father: that of the Pontiff As Activist. He speaks openly and passionately about two of his great concerns: income inequality and the environment. He laments that nearly 80% of the world's riches is in the hands of less than 20% of humans. He declares that 'Mother Earth' is 'the poorest of the poor' and is constantly horrified and appalled at the woeful destruction and polluting of the planet.

I do not know what solutions His Holiness offers, though he does what he can to lead by example: using smaller cars, eschewing the luxury of the Papal apartments for smaller quarters. These are deep concerns for the Holy Father, one he in his quiet and generally non-confrontational way addresses.

Of particular note is when he addresses the Roman Curia, which he gently condemns for its various maladies and sins ranging from 'spiritual Alzheimer's' to hoarding, the latter tying itself to his belief in the wealth gap.

The film even touches, if perhaps more gingerly than one would have liked, the rampant child abuse crisis the Catholic Church finds itself in. He takes a daring step in saying that pedophile priests and those who shielded them should be removed from office.

I imagine A Man of His Word has little interest in giving us the man in full. This version of Francis, one devoted to the causes of income and gender inequality, of workers rights, of environmental concerns, will please some people. The version of Francis who will under no circumstance shift his views opposing both abortion and female ordination never appears.

Image result for pope francis a man of his word
There are extremely wise words in Francis' various talks, mostly in Spanish or Italian. "Talk little, listen a lot, say just enough and always look people in the eye," he tells us. After a while though, one is almost exhausted by the routine of the homilies and the vaguely obscene comparisons between Saint Francis and Pope Francis. It makes one wonder whether A Man of His Word is meant to be an insight into this seemingly contradictory pontiff or a case for Pope Francis' sainthood.

Moreover, we sometimes get little hints of a greater agenda, such as his visit to the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem, along with a joining of then-Israeli President Shimon Peres and still-Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Is he working for world peace as well as Earth restoration?

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is worth seeing if to get a glimpse into the thinking of the current successor to St. Peter. It is not a full portrait and at times the nobility of the man can be almost dull. The comparisons to St. Francis, subtle as they are, can also appear too heavy-handed. On the whole though, for those who wish to find some Christianity within the environmental movement and not some hippy-drippy New Age mysticism, you may have found your man.


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