German film maker and practicing Catholic Wim Wenders’ documentary shows the current Pope to be both an eloquent man of words and of action. Where politicians hang back, or make cursory photo-opportunity visits to scenes of suffering humanity, Pope Francis is there. He stands in the wind and the rain, sharing their pain.
‘A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just’, he has said. At the pinnacle of the Catholic Church, surrounded by the pomp of the Vatican, Pope Francis’ empathetic face remains his most compelling visual aid. He looks everyone in the eye – and listens.
Addressing a gilded baroque room of Cardinals in
Washing – and kissing – the tattooed feet of Philadelphia high security prisoners, or stepping down from the Pope Mobile to embrace an old childhood friend (now a nun) in the crowd: these are moments of endearment.
Embracing a new liberalism and social engagement, Pope Francis visits barrios, prisons and refugee camps. He stands in the wind before victims of a typhoon in the Philippines – losing his cap in the gale. While he chooses his words simply and carefully, he is able to stand without words, when he knows his presence alone must reflect his sympathy. Words would be merely trite.
Pope Francis condemns the arms trade in Congress; he calls ‘Mother Earth’ the most suffering, down trodden part of our world, and highlights climate change. Whether addressing the rich and powerful or the world’s poor, his attitude does not change: twinkling and humorous, yet uncompromising and firm.
‘When 20 per cent of people own 80 per cent of the wealth, how can there be justice?’ he demands. There are occasions of real anger and deep feeling.
Wenders' face-to-face interviews offer a more satisfying insight into the current Pope’s priorities and concerns. His film has been criticised for its intercutting black and white depiction of the austere life of Francis of Assisi, whose name is adopted for the first time in history by the current Pope; his questions avoid abortion and a woman’s right to choose, and only skate over homosexuality (‘these people should be embraced not shunned').
However, compared to the paternalism and conservatism and remoteness of his two predecessors, Pope Francis is a fascinating figure whose ministry is seen in his willingness to embrace poverty and disaster – and to show by example, presence and words – that he cares.
‘A smile is the flower of the heart’, the Pope tells the camera. That, and a sense of humour are responses we can all share.