You can find one answer in the impressive and absorbing final episode of the ambitious DVD series, “John Paul II: The Man, The Pope and His Message,” released earlier this month to coincide with the newly beatified pontiff’s feast day, October 22.
The producers asked me to take a look at one episode of this 10-part documentary, and invited me to write about the final segment, “Visiting the Pope: A Day with John Paul II.”
So: what’s it like to be pope? Exhausting.
A typical day for John Paul began at 5:30 a.m., in his private chapel (shown above), deep in prayer. Then came mass, usually with a few dozen visiting priests or special guests. After that came meetings, meals, audiences, speeches, travels. You get the distinct impression that being pope is probably a daunting paradox: at once, the loneliest job in the world, and also one absolutely crowded with people, most of whom you’ll never really see more than once. It’s both intensely public, and intensely private — John Paul’s days were bracketed with private prayer at the beginning and the end, and at many places in between — and it doesn’t end until late in the evening. Having seen a typical day in his life, I can’t imagine anyone would really want the job, since once you get it, you can’t get away from it, ever.
And now, as never before, the camera catches everything. John Paul was a particularly public pontiff, and he knew and valued the power of the media. He warmly welcomed cameras into his life, and this series benefits from that immensely. There’s the pope, climbing a mountain in his white sneakers; there he is, striding over a hillside; there he is, greeting the throngs in St. Peter’s Square, thousands straining forward to to be brushed by his passing hand.
While this series, directed by Alberto Michelini, doesn’t tell us much about John Paul that we didn’t already know, it does present his life and work in 10 brief 30-minute episodes, divided into varying themes — such as Youth, Family, Human Rights, Mary, the Working World — and therein lies its real value. Here is the vital and enduring legacy of the most important pope in recent history, told in a way that is not only accessible but engaging and educational. This series could be a welcome tool for parishes on many levels — for RCIA, for adult education, for discussion groups (there’s even a helpful guide to facilitate that).
In the episode I watched, John Paul is quoted as describing his own “geographical spirituality” — visiting places in the world in prayer, carrying them with him in his intentions. In a similar way, this documentary series invites us to take the journey with him, to key thematic destinations in his papacy. For anyone curious about this pope’s life, this is a journey well worth taking.
You can find out more about this documentary and how to purchase it at this link. Meantime, check out the trailer below.