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The Two Popes

Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq last week prompted me to re-watch the Netflix movie “The Two Popes.” Pope Francis is the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. After his election, he abolished many papal traditions. For example, he has refused to reside in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, and prefers to spend his life in a small house that was intended to receive official Vatican guests. Indeed, he is the first pope in hundreds of years not to make use of the Apostolic Palace as his primary residence. Similarly, Pope Francis continued wearing the iron cross that he wore as archbishop instead of bearing the golden cross worn by his predecessors. The Italian press described these decisions as nothing short of a “revolution” in the history of the church. Pope Francis also has rejected the link between Islam and terrorism. In response to a question posed to him in August 2016 about why he did not refer to Islam every time he condemned a terrorist attack, Pope Francis said: “I do not think it is right to link Islam and violence.” Pope Francis’ election came after his predecessor, Pope Benedict, stepped down in February 2013. Benedict’s decision to voluntarily step down from his role before his death was a rare event. Benedict resigned in light of financial corruption scandals in the Vatican and claims of blackmailing of high-ranking officials in the church, known as the “Vatican Leaks.” This coincided with accusations that the church concealed crimes of molestation by Catholic priests for many years, in addition to the old age of the pope, and his inability to perform his duties as pastor for about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. “The Two Popes,” by Brazillian director Fernando Meirelles, is based on real events, yet it describes a fictional meeting that did not really happen between Pope Benedict before his voluntary retirement and the Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who would become Pope Francis. The film is based on Anthony McCarten’s play titled “The Pope,” which follows the life and experiences of Pope Francis, his rise to the head of the church, his unorthodox views, and his growing popularity. The film avoids in-depth investigation of the corruption allegations, but still provides interesting discussions between the traditional and rigid face of the church represented by Pope Benedict (played by Anthony Hopkins) and its progressive and flexible face represented by Pope Francis (Jonathan Price). The playwright relied on his study of the two men’s sermons, rhetoric and theological writings to inform their portrayal in the play. The film adaptation of the play doesn’t claim to provide a historical review of the Vatican, but rather to humanize the two characters. In one of the funniest scenes, the film imagines the two popes watching the 2014 World Cup finals between Germany and Argentina, with each one of them supporting his own country of birth. Despite the fact that it is completely fictional, this is a movie worth watching — especially for anyone trying to understand the kind of visionary and revolutionary the current pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is. – Abdul Latif Al-Manawi (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)