Peter's Blog

Habemus Papam!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Pope on the run

This morning I was a-wandering doing the itinerant preacher bit and leading worship in Kingswells Parish Church meeting a lovely group of folks there. Returning home I saw that a disk had arrived yesterday from Lovefilm which I just had a wee look at. A charming, poignant wee film called Habemus Papam: the famour phrase used to announce "We have a new pope!" from the balcony above St Peter's Square in the Vatican.

A couple of days ago I read a few in the Guardian series "What I'm really thinking" which are very perceptive little articles. One of which is the view of the "Vicar's Wife". There is also the removal man, the dinner lady, the ghost writer, and so on. Having an insider view on something that is a different world is always fascinating. The opening scenes of Nanni Moretti's film give us a similar insider view as we follow the Cardinals into the Sistine Chapel following the death of the previous Pope. As the Cardinals, dressed in their splendid red garb, start to ponder the next Pope, the camera focusses in on different faces. These faces come from every continent, all different, but the inner voices we hear are all the same: "Not me, Lord, please not me! It is too much for me!" And who would indeed choose to be the Pope? 

Of course, with my cynical hat on, and knowing a few things about internal church politics, I am sure that while most would indeed be thinking "Not me!" there would be a few who would be inwardly screaming, "Yes, let it be me! My time to shine!" 

In Moretti's film, after a number of rounds of voting, the Cardinals settle on Cardinal Melville, an unassuming Cardinal played with great sympathy by veteran French actor Michel Piccoli whose face is a mixture of surprise, shock, amusement and fear. In a daze, he accepts the election and dressed in the papal attire follows the Cardinals ready for the announcement: Habemus Papam. At this point, however, it all goes badly wrong. As the announcement begins we hear a scream and the camera cuts from the view of the balcony back inside to the pontiff head in hands in the middle of a panic attack. 

Unsure what to do, the film plays out as firstly a psychoanalyst is brought in to counsel the pontiff, then, when he is unable to work under the conditions of scrutiny imposed (therapy with all the Cardinals watching over his shoulder), he suggests the Pope is smuggled out of the Vatican to meet with another psychoanalyst who does not know who he is. This happens, but the pontiff manages to elude his minders after leaving the psychoanalyst and for most of the remainder of the film is seen wandering amongst the people of Rome, meeting people, befriending a troupe of actors, and working through his own issues and thoughts.

There have been an awful lot of films recently that have justifiably torn the Roman Catholic Church to shreds (Mea Maxima Culpa being the most powerful I have recently seen), but this film is very sensitive to the traditions of the Catholic Church and shows a much more positive dimension to the church while at the same time exploring the huge burden that it must be to take on a role such as pontiff, or Archbishop of Canterbury. The Kirk's Moderator of the General Assembly is not in the same league, and is manageable due to its one year term, though, as we have seen this year, sometimes those nominated to serve in this role have to turn it down. 

The assumption is that "big people" need to be in these big roles. I wonder if, turning from the fictional world of Moretti's film, to the real world of the 21st Century Vatican whether Pope Francis is one of those exceptional people who grow into the big roles, without leaving behind the person they are, and the gifts that God seeks to use in them. 

Here is Andrew Sullivan talking about Pope Francis last year: