On September 12, the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life hosted a screening of Pope Francis: A Man of His Word featuring a faculty panel of Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, associate professor Theresa O’Keefe, and Fr. Peter Folan, S.J. Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale is associate professor of theology and sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She specializes in feminist theology and ecclesiology. Theresa O’Keefe is the associate professor of the practice of youth and young adult faith. Her specialties also include educational and ministerial formation, as well as feminist theology. Fr. Peter Folan is a Jesuit doctoral candidate in systematic theology. His research pertains to the use of scripture for theological reflection, as well as the importance of ecumenical dialogue.
Pope Francis: A Man of His Word was directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders and sponsored by the Vatican. Though Wenders had to go through the Vatican for access to the pope, he states he was given total freedom. It should be noted that this movie was made years before the recent scandals.
The movie focuses around the main themes of Wenders’ eight cumulative hours of interviews with Pope Francis, as well as the major events during the first five years of his papacy. These themes include poverty, the environment, immigration, family, death, and the importance of dialogue. Between these interviews, Wenders displays footage from Pope Francis’s notable public appearances around the world. Additionally, Wenders inserts black and white dramatic scenes highlighting the life of St. Francis of Assisi, a source of inspiration for Pope Francis. The purpose of the movie is clear from the title, to show Pope Francis as a refreshing, radical shift in the church whose words reflect his actions and policies.
After the screening, the panelists shared their first impression of the movie. Sr. Hinsdale expressed an appreciation for the energy and passion of Pope Francis during his speeches and interviews. O’Keefe also admired the boldness of his speech, referencing a similar style to Pope St. John Paul II. Fr. Folan shared a similar sentiment, stating he was captivated. Sr. Hinsdale noted that the movie reflects the “role of papacy we sometimes forget”, as the focus is on pastoral service rather than bureaucracy. O’Keefe also mentioned how the role of the pope has changed as the world becomes more connected, with the pope now acting as a moral voice from a global platform. All of the panelist agreed that the movie was incredibly dense, packing five years into 90 minutes. They also commented that the style of the movie was hagiographic, mirroring someone telling the story of a saint.
One of the questions posed was what additional points should Wenders have addressed. Fr. Folan addressed that the movie only devoted about three minutes to the pope’s position on handling past sexual abuse scandals, and even those three minutes were vague. He elaborated by stating that the movie should have defined the abuse as episodic rather than systemic. O’Keefe agreed that the important issues of the church, like its stance on female priests, were limited to short cameos. Similarly, Sr. Hinsdale wished Pope Francis had elaborated more on the ecclesiastical role of women and felt that the movie lacked a female voice at times. All of the panelists expressed gratitude at the Pope’s dialogue centric approach and his emphasis on listening, especially in situations where not everything was clear or understood.
Overall, the audience reaction to Pope Francis: A Man of His Word was positive. Members of the audience appreciated the emphasis of Vatican II in Pope Francis’s papacy, as presented in the movie. One audience member commented that the movie might have been improved by showing some of the struggles Pope Francis has undergone, in order to humanize him. Most viewers left Higgins 300 with a reinforced view of support for the pope, as well as new topics of contemplation as his papacy continues.
Image courtesy of The Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life