What's it like to be pope?

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.

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5 responses to “What's it like to be pope?”

  1. No wonder when ratzinger realized he would Probably be elected on the next ballot, he prayed, “lord, don’t do this to me!”

  2. Praying the entire series will re-habilitate his image as an ultra-conservative who cared only about theological orthodoxy and refusing ordination to women and opposed genuine liberation theology when he only opposed a fake version of it.

  3. As much as I love and respect Pope Benedict XVI, I miss Pope JPII each and every day. He is part of my daily rosary as I pray it along with his CD of the Rosary.

    Fr Francis, not sure Pope JPII will need to have any rehapilitation because his speaking the truths of Church teaching and his battle to end socialism for the evil it brings the world have not changed nor will they ever change. I didn’t realize there was different types of liberation theology and think that his efforts along with those of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, were fairly consistent and remain so. Of course he also had some issues with modernism and excesses found in Catpitalism, but was far more friendly toward the US system than any other in the world. What troubled them all including Mother Theresa beyond any of that was the culture of death in the US fed by the lives of innocent babies each and every day.

  4. Apparently, as Pope, you have to also tolerate being called a nazi by Hollywood as happened a few days ago and the media nor Catholic bloggers mention it.

  5. Dave #4:
    I read about it on the Huffington Post.

    A Jewish friend visited Rome a few years ago. At the Vatican he asked his tour guide a question about the pope. The tour guide answered: “That Nazi… .”

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