Pope Francis holds up Argentina’s flag as he greets a crowd of World Youth Day pilgrims outside the cathedral in Rio de Janeiro July 25. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Salt+Light doc introduces pre-papal Francis

  • November 23, 2013

When Pope Francis was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he would often pass by Estevina Sánchez, a beggar in the streets of Buenos Aires. Before leaving, the last thing he’d always say to her was “Pray for me. Alleluia.”

This small but telling detail of Pope Francis’ former life comes from just one of the many interviews that make up Francis: The Pope from the New World, a documentary created and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus airing on Salt + Light Television Nov. 24. It repeats Nov. 27 (see www.saltandlighttv.org).

“When we see him embracing a homeless person or a disfigured person today, this was par for the course in Argentina,” said executive producer Andrew T. Walther, vice-president of communications for the Knights of Columbus.

Walther, who was part of the production team that travelled to Argentina for filming, says the idea for the documentary came to him while standing among the crowds in St. Peter’s Square when Pope Francis was elected.

“It occurred to me that it might be a good idea… to put something together that could introduce him to the world so that people would understand this man, where he came from and how he came to be Pope,” said Walther.

An in-depth look at the details of the Argentine Pope’s life — including the fact that Bergoglio was raised by his maternal grandmother — the film includes interviews with those who rode the subway with him on a regular basis along with close friends, co-workers, fellow priests and his biographer, among others.

“The people that really want to get to know the Pope and understand him in a broad context of his own life, his own words, his own friends and his own experiences will find this documentary very helpful,” said Walther.

Among the many powerful interviews is one with Fr. José Maria di Paola, a former priest who worked to rejuvenate the famous slum Villa 21 (a neighbourhood where taxis won’t travel and police won’t enter). After hearing of his good work, di Paola was threatened by drug lords.

Taking action, Cardinal Bergoglio raised di Paola’s profile by alerting media of the death threats.

“They really were difficult moments but you never felt alone because your friends, the people in the villas… the people in society in general and most of all the bishop were standing side by side,” di Paola explains in the documentary.

For senior editor Richard Valenti, watching countless hours of footage during the post-production editing process made him feel like he knew the Pope.

“It was great to have that perspective that this is not a show,” he said. “This is the real thing. And this is the way he was before he was Pope.”

Valenti, a senior editor at Salt + Light TV, describes the documentary as a first glance at where Pope Francis came from.

“It shows the transition of going from one life to another. A transition from the man who could take the subway by himself and then go to all of a sudden not having a moment of privacy.”

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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