18th Oct 2013
Editor's Note: The following is a review of a new feature-length documentary, Francis: The Pope from the New World which premieres on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 5:00 PM Eastern on the Fox Business Network.
Father Jorge Teaches Christianity 101: Living the Countercultural Call
by Kathryn Jean Lopez
Whatever is the Christian life? It’s radical and it’s powerful. It’s transformational. It’s sacrificial. It’s joyful.
Francis: The Pope from the New World is a documentary that premieres on the Fox Business Channel on Sunday night, produced by the Knights of Columbus (which also runs this website). It serves as a re-introduction to a man we’ve been scrambling to come to know and understand since white smoke was last seen in St. Peter’s Square.
Recent commentary tries to make sense of Pope Francis through our typical political lenses. This documentary is a healthy Sabbath Day reboot on a papacy we could afford to walk with more than debate about — a papacy that may prove to be all about hitting reset on how we integrate our faith into the hours of our lives, with Christ as the power source and with the Holy Spirit guiding the hand of a holy father, bringing humanity to our eternal Father.
“What becomes very clear in looking at the life of Pope Francis is a Christian witness that is focused on great respect and charity for the human person,” says Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, during the course of the documentary. “He does not choose between social justice or social issues because he sees a unity of all of these issues.” And he does this by encounter – with Christ, with our fellow women and men He’s a Jesuit who, it may be said, is walking us through the great treasure of the “Spiritual Exercises” of his order’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Some of the best insights into Pope Francis during Francis: The Pope from the New World come from his spiritual brothers and sons in the Society of Jesus, who knew him as Father Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina, during his years in formation, as a provincial, as a rector, and as a teacher.
Father Angel Rossi recalls the character and routines of Bergoglio during the years he spent as Jesuit provincial and rector at the Colegio Maximo de San Jose in Buenos Aires: “When we would get up at 6:30 or 7:00 to go to Mass, at this time Bergoglio had already prayed and had laundered the bedding and towels for 150 Jesuits. He would have taken them out, hung them up to dry, and we would just be trying to get out of bed.”
It’s a biographical note, but it’s also an aide in understanding what we’re watching. Pope Francis has on his mind the scared woman in the slum; the Muslim risking his life to flee the “Arab Spring” on his way to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa; the young person who sees no hope, who doesn’t know his own worth and dignity; the sinner who does not know there is forgiveness; the elderly woman or man who has been cast aside or forgotten.
“He taught us how to be real friends — not just co-workers, friends,” Jesuit Father Fernando Albistur recalls in the film. This is what Pope Francis means about a “culture of encounter.” We have to look at our brother! We have to be truly Christian. This is not a nice way of life, it is a radical one! “We have to love each other,” Father Albistur continues. “We have to stand together especially in the most difficult moments.”
And so we do not abandon. And we must be vulnerable. Christianity is not a life of comfort. It is a life of sacrifice and joy, even as we suffer, even as we weep for the suffering of our sister and brother, which we must do if we are Christian, the pope insists. Just as Christ was compassionate and empathetic to the plight of the leper and the widow, so must you and I be!
Father Rossi comments that Father Bergolio “was very intelligent. He was academic and studious, but above all he had an intuitive intelligence. He could read people immediately, and he would see through you and you couldn’t hide things from him. And with that, he would help you.” We’re seeing that play out in these phone calls that make headlines — where Pope Francis has reached out to the pregnant woman whose fiancé wanted her to have an abortion, to the rape victim, to the woman who was robbed, to the worried young man, to the atheist journalist.
“He taught us the human dimension of the apostolate, of the mission,” Father Albistur shares. “I can't get the faith across to a boy if that boy is hungry.”
In his initial greeting to the world, Pope Francis referred to himself as “bishop of Rome.” His first Sunday in Rome, at the small parish church of Santa Anna, he presented himself as a parish priest. The Holy Father is addressing the world as a pastor. He is looking at his parish community and giving them what they — we — need.
That parish community is a world of possibility, as his pulpit is not merely Santa Anna on the Vatican grounds, or those who pack the Square for a Wednesday audience or Sunday Angelus, or curia officials in attendance at morning Mass, but the actual world. There are fallen-away Catholics, people hostile to Catholicism, people to whom Catholicism is largely (if not completely) unknown. And, yes, there are the Church-going Catholics who need this examination of conscience as much as anyone. We know… and yet are we living surrender? It’s a question we must ask ourselves every day. It’s the Examen of St. Ignatius. Is there anyone among us who cannot be drawn deeper into the mystery of the Trinity?
With a media welcome to this pope, doors are opening. Whereas the media environment surrounding the Church has been so long been about attacking and defending, now it is more about explaining and understanding. There’s a documentary on Fox Business this weekend, and there was one on CNN last weekend, and they are not attacks! Pope Francis has been a game changer for media coverage of the Church. Is it imperfect? Is that unfair to the teaching and witness of Pope Benedict and others? Sure. But is that as important as walking with Pope Francis as he points to the Incarnation, the Passion, and Resurrection, as he opens doors, getting people to Church, getting people in front of the Blessed Sacrament, getting people back to the Sacraments?
One Argentine senator, in speaking of Pope Francis, provides a preview of what might very well be to come: “He was always a person who had a lot of courage and plenty of bravery to stand before the powerful and say what he thought; the voice of those who had no voice; that was Cardinal Bergoglio.”
Pope Francis is doing that at the Vatican; he’s doing it as a daily preacher; he’s doing it as a world leader. It’s more than letters to the G-20 and calls for peace. It’s the witness of four hours of prayer and days of fasting, reminding us where true power is and how we grow in faith. His first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, a collaborative effort with our pope emeritus, was all about faith as pretty much the answer to everything that ails our world.
In the film, Father Rossi recalls a telling episode from his time with the future pope:
I was doing the Spiritual Exercises, and on the fourth day he called me and said that I was very comfortable praying, sleeping, and eating: “At the door there is a woman with four children without shelter, so stop your retreat and find them shelter. Once they have a house, you can go back to praying.” We came back after we completed the mission, the mission in which he intervened directly. He knew how to help people, and he knew which doors to knock on to find them help.
Prayer and action. Never being of this world. Never being content living in ourselves but always in Christ, seeing the face of Christ.
Cardinal Bergoglio’s good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka describes the man who would become Pope Francis as “a different man, a man who tries to get closely acquainted with his neighbor, someone with whom we can begin walking down a path of deep understanding.” As a bishop he would refuse to live in a clerical bubble, being with people in the world, modeling how to refuse to be of it.
He’s a Christian man who loves the tango and sports, with a deep love for his grandmother, who treasures women, who has confronted tough pastoral and political realities, as a priest, even as the media misunderstands.
“If we read Pope Francis’ writings, we’re going to always see this concern with going to the frontiers of poverty, of exclusion, and of those who are furthest from God,” Father Albistur says during the hour-long documentary. These are people we sometimes ignore, who we sometimes don’t see in front of us, or people to whom we become indifferent as we live our busy lives. This pope is resetting, urging and leading renewal, offering us a model of examination of conscience. Whatever you’ve thought or heard, it’s worth considering Francis: The Pope from the New World. Seven months into his papacy, it’s the introduction we never fully had that night last March when we were all looking to get to know this man whom the Roman streets around us celebrated, the man who chose the name that says so much. He’s a man who identifies first as a sinner, he’s told us: Loved by the Father, saved by the Son, led by the Holy Spirit.
And this Francis may just be a great gift of the Holy Spirit. Speaking of the conclave and election in which he participated, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan observes: “You want a man of good pastoral governance. You want a man with a sense of the Church Universal. You want a good communicator, and he fills those bills. Where he comes from is gravy… You talk about a booster shot to the Church in the Americas. This is going to be a real blessing.”
Let us pray. And let’s walk with Christ, leaning into the tremendous opportunities the Holy Spirit will run with if we only surrender.
The most beautiful scene in Francis: The Pope from the New World may be when Viviana, a woman whose feet Cardinal Bergoglio once washed on a Holy Thursday, shared her reaction to the news in March that the archbishop of Buenos Aires had been elected pope and was staying in Rome: “I had so many goose bumps. Such a good feeling. It was such a joy. A joy because the first thing I thought was: Oh! He washed my feet! Bergoglio! And now he’s Pope.” She did not say it as someone caught up in a news story that hits close to home, or as one in awe of a celebrity to which she has a connection. She said it as a woman who knows the love of the Father, because she saw Christ in a humble Jesuit, and because he saw Christ in her.
Debates will happen. But what Pope Benedict’s resignation and Pope Francis’s pontificate are about is bringing the world to Christ and pleading with the world to see Christ, especially in one another.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large.
(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)