‘In Viaggio’ Tracks 10 Years of Pope Francis’ Papal Travels (But Only the Usual Issues)

‘In Viaggio’ Tracks 10 Years of Pope Francis’ Papal Travels (But Only the Usual Issues) March 5, 2023

Words 'In Viaggio' over a picture of Pope Francis
Pope Francis in ‘In Viaggio’/Magnolia Pictures

In the 10 years since Pope Francis was introduced to the world on March 13, 2013, he’s become the most interviewed pontiff ever. But as much as news cameras love him, filmmakers have loved him, too.

Multiple documentaries have come out over the last decade, and even one scripted film (Netflix’s The Two Popes).

On March 31, another documentary joins the list. In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis simultaneously hits theaters and every major Video-on-Demand portal (details here)

The Many Travels of Pope Francis

Academy Award-nominated director Gianfranco Rosi (Fire at Sea) blends his own footage shot in Malta and Canada, with archival news footage — but no narration — to follow the pope on 37 international trips, visiting 53 countries.

Considering Pope Francis was 76 when he took the job, it’s a testament to his dedication and endurance.

St. John Paul II visited 129 countries, but he started at age 58 and was in office for 27 years (and didn’t lose two years to COVID-19 shutdowns).

As Usual, We Hear About Some Things But Not Others

In Viaggio resembles just about every other secular Pope Francis documentary, in what it talks about and what it doesn’t.

We hear about the pope’s views on immigration, women’s rights, poverty, climate, war and of course, the sex-abuse scandals, but nothing on the life issues (abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment), or any of the theological pronouncements and disputes that have captured the attention of much of the Catholic media over the last 10 years.

The closest the film gets to talking about any of that is showing Francis’ efforts to reach out to the Orthodox churches.

The Mainstream Press Gives a Thumbs-Up to In Viaggio

Since the film sticks to the sort of topics that transfix the modern media, it’s gotten generally good reviews.

Deadline said:

Pope Francis comes across as a gentle man who is troubled by the modern world but hopeful about humanity, perhaps qualities that Rosi himself shares. The pair certainly share a passion for travel, as the title suggests.

And from IndieWire:

The film is most interesting when it explores the full weight of what the Pope is up against, be it climate change, war, poverty, or pandemic.

Here’s a look:

But So Much Is Left Out

To me, In Viaggio just came off as a travelogue. And frankly, I’m tired of films that just feature the pope talking about things that fascinate the secular media. The last really Catholic documentary done on the pope was Francis: The Pope From the New World, which came out from the Knights of Columbus in Oct. 2013.

Secular documentaries aren’t interested in the life issues — especially abortion, which the pope has discussed frequently — or in the perils of Satan (another favorite Francis topic), the synods, Vatican finances, or even the recent suppression of the Latin Mass.

Catholic media has provided news coverage and print/video commentary on these, but they’re noticeably absent from mainstream, feature-length portrayals of the pontiff.

It’s not because these issues aren’t important, it’s just that they’re not important to everyone.

In March 2021, Discovery+ premiered Francesco, from Russian-born Israeli-American documentarian Evgeny Afineevsky. His film, while lovely, dealt just with the environment, illegal immigration, refugees, women’s rights, the sex-abuse crisis, and the pandemic.

In a virtual press conference, I got to ask Afineevsky why he chose to focus on what he did.

He said:

For me, it was more important to not focus on the Catholic Church but to focus on the global issues that relate to the entire civilization, to humanity. That’s why I kind of tried to tackle more global-scale issues and not just to focus on abortion.

For me, there is nonstop issues that Pope Francis is tackling. Initially, the first cut of the movie was eight hours but, for me, as the filmmaker, I needed to create a comprehensive story for less than two hours.

That’s why I tried to focus only on essential global issues that related to every human being in the world and not just to the Church.

The Importance of Telling Our Own Stories (Which Didn’t Happen With In Viaggio)

It may be flattering to have major filmmakers and networks feature the pope, but there will always be something missing when a non-Catholic tells our story.

But what about Gianfranco Rosi? From Catholic Outlook:

He has always been a “non-Catholic, but not an atheist”, he insists. “My spirit is always guided by an interior spirituality,” the filmmaker says. Then, almost effortlessly, he allows his deep admiration for Pope Francis to shine through. “I am always looking for a guide. And perhaps with this pope, I have found a spiritual guide, in the strongest sense of the word,” he says.

Rosi, who sees his documentaries as depicting many “inner journeys”, says Francis’ journey in biblical lands is the sign that we must take a close interest in this extraordinary traveler who is the pope. Throughout his 38 foreign trips since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis “has never traveled to proselytize”, says Rosi, who insists he wanted to make a film “without theology or ideology”.

If you’re profiling a Catholic pope “without theology,” then there’s a giant hole in that story.

Image: Magnolia Pictures

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About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is a veteran entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Family Theater Productions and a rookie screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.
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