A new documentary is taking a closer look at the beloved and often challenging figure of Pope Francis, who, in just one year, has captured the attention of the world.
The Francis Effect, which will premiere on Salt and Light Network on May 31, explores a variety of key issues pertaining to this pontificate, from his historic election, to his impromptu press briefings; from his institutional changes to the curia, to his emphasis on the core teachings of the Gospel. Namely, the documentary explores the unfolding of what has become known has the “Francis effect” through the eyes of clergy, prelates, professors, and journalists, with the aim of understanding the unique ministry of the first South American Pope.
“It was very clear early on in the pontificate of Pope Francis that something was different, and people were paying attention in ways that they hadn’t in the past,” said Sebastian Gomes, the writer and director of the documentary.
“As the months went on, we saw that the ‘Francis effect’ was developing. It wasn’t what some people called just the ‘honeymoon’ period. It seemed to us to be something that was here, and here to stay.”
While significant attention has been paid to some of the superficial changes made to papacy – his new shoes, his relocation to the Santa Marta residence, etc. – the team at Salt and Light saw the opportunity to delve further.
“The main purpose [of the documentary],” Gomes said, “was to go deeper and to bring people into the story in a way that they could see, not only the superficial changes, but also the historic, cultural, bureaucratic, structural changes that he’s implementing as well.”
One of the qualities of Pope Francis which the documentary focusses on is his manner of communication. “There’s an old maxim at the Vatican that you’re never supposed to speak without a prepared text,” Gomes said. “That definitely does not apply to this Pope because he speaks all the time without a script. If he does have a script, he deviates from the script a lot. We just don’t know what he’s going to say, and to whom.”
“He’s surrounded himself with people – that’s a change – and he’s communicating directly, and in simple language that people understand. You don’t have to be an educated person to understand what this Pope is saying. You can be anybody. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand what this Pope is saying. That’s part of his broad appeal around the world, and it’s also something that demands a certain investigation on our part in doing the film: What does this mean?”
The Francis Effect explores some of the more well-known examples of the Pope’s off-the-cuff remarks, such as those delivered during the press briefing on the plane returning from Rio de Janeiro, and in last year’s interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro for La Civilta Cattolica.
Many of the comments that have been made by the Pope during these encounters, moreover, have been very personal, he said. “People didn’t really know how to interpret them because we had never heard things like this before [from a Pope]. He was making some very significant comments that we, as a Church, didn’t necessarily know how to apply, to interpret what this meant.”
Another issue explored in The Francis Effect is the internal reform of the Church proposed by Pope Francis. “It’s becoming more and more apparent that this is a Pope not only for the Catholic Church but for the whole world. We’ve seen that in the way he’s called for peace, the way he called for the day of prayer for what was happening in Syria almost a year ago.”
“There are many people in the world who are not Catholic and not Christian who recognize that he is the most authoritative moral voice on the planet today,” he said. “That has significant implications for the Church.”
Finally, the documentary explores whether Pope Francis’ unique approach is merely one of style, or if it is one of substantive change. “People tend to say that it’s just style,” Gomes said. “However, it’s becoming more and more apparent that, in a way, the Pope Francis style is substance. That’s an important thing to consider.”
One of the central qualities of Pope Francis’ pontificate, Gomes said, is the emphasis on the idea that the “entire mission of the Church is not for the Church,” but for the whole world.
“The world needs the Church to be the Church at its best,” he said, “and the Church is at its best when it’s talking about the very fundamental attributes of the Gospel and of Jesus: Love, acceptance, openness, mercy, forgiveness. That’s what the world needs. That’s what the Gospel is about. Francis, incarnating that in the way that he is, is turning a lot of heads, drawing a lot of attention, and opening up a lot of hearts and minds. And that’s a beautiful thing.”