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Benedict touched by John Paul II film
BY FATHER ALFONSO AGUILAR, LCRegister Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — Once, then-Msgr. Stanislaw
Dziwisz and Polish Sister Tobiana were looking for Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Palace. John Paul was recovering from
one of his hospitalizations and should have been in bed. He was found at work
in his private chapel.
The Polish nun was the first to
speak. “Holy Father, you are still recovering,” she said. “We are concerned
about Your Holiness.”
“I, too,” the Pope replied, “am
concerned about my holiness.”
This funny scene from the Italian
movie “Karol, Un
Papa Rimasto Uomo” (Karol, a Pope Who Remained a Man) evoked to the viewers
John Paul’s most outstanding characteristic: his fidelity to God’s plan.
On March 30, Pope Benedict XVI and
5,000 people watched the premiere of this film in the Vatican’s Paul
VI Hall. I had the privilege to sit four yards to the Holy Father’s right.
Starring Piotr Adamczyck — who sat
next to the Pope during the preview — the 2½-hour movie was produced by the
Italian studios Taodue and Mediaset. It is the second segment of a two-part
series. The first part, Karol, a Man Who
Became Pope, ends with the Polish cardinal’s election to the See of Peter.
Benedict watched the first segment in the same hall on May 20, 2005.
You could tell the Pope was
looking forward to this screening. He arrived at 5:45 p.m. — 15 minutes before
scheduled — with a big smile. He sat on a white chair in the center of the
hall, as the lights went off and weeping people were seen on the screen praying
the Rosary in St. Peter’s Square at night.
Then we see John Paul in his
deathbed on April 2, 2005. In a quick flashback, he recalls the solemn inauguration
of his pontificate some 26 years earlier. An energetic John Paul invites all
peoples to “open the doors to Christ.”
Scriptwriter Gian Franco
Svidercoschi and director Giacomo Battiato magnificently portrayed the late
Pope’s capacity to endure suffering and give himself to every person.
The Pope travels to countries
devastated by war, social injustice and poverty, as we see, in brilliant
flashbacks, Bishop Oscar Romero’s assassination in his cathedral during El Salvador’s civil war, the 1984 martyrdom of
Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko, the abduction of children in northern Uganda, the killings in Sarajevo.
John Paul is deeply moved by the
destruction of the Twin Towers in New
York City on Sept. 11, 2001. In his speeches and meetings,
he vigorously condemns the Mafia killings in Sicily,
the wars in Iraq, the
exploitation of the Third World by wealthy
nations, the U.N. attempt to legalize birth control at the 1994 Cairo
Particularly touching are his
visits to African people infected by AIDS and to the dying in Mother Teresa’s
hospice in Calcutta.
The well-depicted clash between
the Polish Pope and the leaders of the Soviet Union
reaches its peak in the 1981 assassination attempt. The scene depicting Ali
Agca’s actions was, in fact, filmed in St. Peter’s Square. “It was very hard to
get the permission,” said the Italian director. It was worth getting it.
“Petrified, as if we were present,
we heard again the shots of the tragic attempt in St. Peter’s Square on May 13,
1981,” commented Benedict after the preview.
John Paul’s agony that May marked
only the beginning of a long chain of physical sufferings. We see him breaking
his femur and his right arm and hardly breathing. His personal doctor, Renato
Buzzonetti, provided the filmmakers with many inside stories, such as the way
the tracheotomy was performed in John Paul’s throat to allow him to breathe.
John Paul is shown, above all, as
a man concerned for every person. From day one in office, he tries to learn the
name of the first Swiss Guard he meets. In his audiences and trips, he is
attentive to individual stories.
The images reminded me of the days
you could shake hands with the Holy Father in the midst of thousands of people
— he looked at you as if you were the only one there. I believe he never saw
“crowds” of people. He saw, rather, many souls staying together.
The film brings out the special
relationship between John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The two, indeed, were united “by an
intimate spiritual harmony,” Benedict said.
In Rome’s Gemelli hospital the Pope visits a few
sick children he knows by name. He will end up consoling a mother who rejects
God after witnessing her little boy dying in bed.
At one point, a prominent cardinal
warns the Holy Father about the French bishops’ fear that the 1997 World Youth
Day to be held in Paris
would be a fiasco. “It will be in August,” the cardinal says. “Besides, this is
“In one of my trips to France,” John
Paul replies, “a young man yelled at me saying that he was an atheist and
didn’t find any meaning to life. I have to go to Paris to give an answer to that young man.”
In the next scene, he tells the
same story to one million youth gathered before the Eiffel Tower.
In this film, Benedict XVI said in
his remarks afterward, “stands out the figure of a
tireless prophet of hope and peace, who traveled the roads of the planet to
communicate the Gospel to everyone.”
Most watchers couldn’t restrain
themselves from weeping. After the last two scenes, showing the Pope dying and
Cardinal Ratzinger celebrating the funeral, we clapped for two minutes.
Benedict also clapped, tears silently rolling down his cheeks.
John Paul II became a man for all
seasons precisely because he was holy. That’s what the real story of Karol
Wojtyla teaches us.
“May our beloved Pope accompany us
from on high,” Benedict concluded, “and obtain for us from the Lord the grace
to be always faithful, like him, to our mission.”
Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy at Rome’s