In Viaggio Shows a Globetrotting Pope At His Most Human

In Viaggio Shows a Globetrotting Pope At His Most Human March 30, 2023

Pope Francis in In Viaggio
Pope Francis in the movie In Viaggio, screenshot courtesy the Magnolia Pictures’ trailer

Traveling can be stressful for most of us. The flights, the hotels, the pressures to see and do everything that we’ve come to that place to see and do.

But whatever we deal with, it’s nothing compared to what the Pope must navigate.

Magnolia Pictures’ In Viaggio—essentially a travelogue of Pope Francis’ decade-worth of trips around the world—shows us just how difficult, and delicate, such travel can be. Pope Francis may not need to worry about lost luggage or missing his connection; the Vatican charters a jet for its jet-setting leader. But when the plane touches down, that’s when things get interesting.

In Viaggio is made entirely of archival footage from Francis’ 37 trips. He visits everyone from politicians to prisoners. He sits in stony silence in government palaces and celebrates Mass in slums. Many of his visits show the Pope standing in his special, largely open Popemobile, the camera capturing the back of Francis as he waves and smiles. In a Brazilian backwater, the scene is almost complete chaos—the vehicle pressed close by people maybe 20 or 30 rows deep. Then, in a swing through Kenya, Francis waves to almost no one but the armed soldiers standing guard.

It’s a movie filled with contrasts, showing the Catholic Church and perhaps even faith itself at a crossroads. And it shows us an intimate picture of a Pope feeling the contrast, and perhaps even confliction, as well. As the (as Catholics believe) God-ordained leader of Catholicism, he’s a guardian of orthodoxy and trustee of 2,000 years of history. But you can see, in almost every trip, his desire to build bridges across the chasms of Christianity and even into other religions as well.

We see him respectfully visit a mosque in Africa in 2015. “Christians and Muslims are brothers,” he says. “Together we must say no to hatred, no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God Himself,” he says—pushing against centuries-old Crusades not just condoned, but ordered by previous popes.

He visits Israel in 2014, placing a prayer in the Wailing Wall, the most sacred site in Judaism. He visits the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of Orthodox Christians around the world. The meeting was significant, given that Catholicism and Orthodoxy have been divided for nearly a thousand years.

“What should I do with a friend, with a neighbor, with an Orthodox person?” Francis said during the meeting. “Be open. Be a friend.”

In Viaggio shows Pope Francis, in some ways, at his most human. We’re witness to controversies and rare papal missteps. In Peru, when someone asked him about the Bishop Juan Barros—a priest then accused of pedophilia—Francis said that he’d respond to the accusations when someone brought him “proof.” The word sparked protests across the country. “My expression was not well chosen,” he admitted later, “and I understand.”

But Francis speaks perhaps most eloquently when he’s not speaking. He’d embrace weeping prisoners with tenderness. He sat next to Turkish leaders (shortly after speaking out against the century-old Armenian genocide in what would become Turkey, which Turkey still insists never happened) in grim silence. Often, the pope would look painfully tired. During his most recent trips, Francis walks with a limp.

Pope Francis leads the Catholic Church at a time when it is undergoing serious change and tremendous scrutiny. The sex scandals that rocked Catholicism still are causing tremors. Though Francis leads a religious body made up of 1.3 billion believers, Catholicism in many areas of the world is shrinking—as is Christianity itself.

It’s not Pope Francis’ responsibility to turn that tide—to draw people back into the fold (even though many hoped that, when he was elected pope, he’d do just that). If the faith is real, that church is under a higher authority.

But you can see, in In Viaggio, Pope Francis’ efforts to somehow represent that higher authority—to show both the justice and love of God, albeit in an imperfect, aging, limping form. I’m sure that many inside and outside the Catholic Church can and do quibble with Francis’ priorities and style, taking issue with his public statements and clucking over these trips themselves.

But there’s something poignant in them—watching a 70- and 80-something-year-old man crisscross the map, speaking for no nation and boasting no army, talk to everyone who’ll listen about charity, kindness and doing what’s right. And even in places where faith slowly slips and the crowd dwindles, still he speaks.

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