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Since taking his place at the Vatican five years ago, Pope Francis has labored to open wide the doors of the Roman Catholic Church. He’s reached out to homosexuals, divorced individuals, and non-Catholic faith groups. In Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, producers Wim Wenders and David Rosier, past Academy Award nominees, document this effort, assembling clips from the pope’s public speeches. Pope Francis also pontificates (fittingly) on important issues for the filmmakers’ camera. The pope’s (subtitled) words often convey love for the outcast and reveal political acumen, but at times might cause viewers confusion, even consternation.
The greatest concerns on the heart of Pope Francis (or Wenders and Rosier, at least) seem to be poverty and the environment.
“As long as the church is placing its hope on wealth, Jesus is not there,” Francis says. “Poverty is at the center of the gospel.” Well, Jesus, who fed the hungry and blessed the poor in spirit, is the center of the gospel, but the pope’s point is well-taken.
Figuring out the pope’s point can sometimes be challenging. He asks, “Who’s the poorest of the poor?” and responds, “Mother Earth.” Throughout the documentary, the pope laments the “culture of waste” that has produced a “sick and polluted earth.” OK. But he calls the Biblical story of Creation “obviously a mythical form of expression.”
The 90-minute film includes Pope Francis’ comments addressing immigration crises and the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal (briefly), though not abortion. Of “gay seekers,” he says, “who am I to judge?” The documentary won’t dissuade critics who charge the pope with relaxing the church’s moral standards. Supporters, however, can maintain he’s merely finding common ground with outsiders who might, thus, be drawn to the church.
Pope Francis does draw a crowd wherever he goes, but it’s disconcerting to watch many practically swoon at his touch. Still, the pope’s remarkable attentiveness to the sick and imprisoned, as segments show, is worthy of emulation.