the two popes

I was eagerly awaiting the release of The Two Popes on Netflix. The choice of actors was brilliant, Anthony Hopkins as Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Francis. The story was intriguing. The movie lived up to its expectations.

Masterful actors inhabit a character so deeply that we forget the actor and become engrossed with the person and story being told. Hopkins and Pryce are masters. Many times during the movie I forgot that they were there. It was Benedict and Francis on the screen.

The movie is “inspired by true events”, a term I learned more about while working on my screenplay. It allows the writer to weave fiction with fact without fear of liability. Several articles have been written about the accuracy of the movie, including The Two Popes; what’s fact and what’s fiction from America Magazine. It’s helpful to know the basic facts behind the story. With this movie, though, it’s best to sit back and allow yourself to be immersed in the dialogue between the two protagonists. The writing portrays the human struggles of both popes while emphasizing their differences. And, the differences are hard to avoid.

The contrasting liturgical fashion tastes of the two popes became an instantly identifiable symbol of their different pastoral styles. Benedict’s love for traditional finery and red Prada shoes became a caricature to be mocked by liberals. (Guilty!) Yet, for most of the movie the two men are dressed simply. Two men, one a pope and one a future pope, talking to each other. The dialogue identifies the deeper differences, and I think this is where the movie shines.

Hopkins brilliantly portrays Benedict as a man who spent his entire adult life in an academic/theological bubble. There is an innate awkwardness about him. He tries to impress Francis (Pryce) with his piano skills, side-stepping topics of conversation that he knows nothing about. He eats by himself. He knows little about popular culture. He has few, if any, friends outside his clerical circles.

It is a sympathetic portrayal and one that is often used to defend the emeritus pope. Ah, but he was simply too sensitive. Too gentle. Too intellectual. Too much of an introvert to be loved by the masses.


Joseph Ratzinger truly was “God’s Rottweiler”. As head of the Doctrine of Faith, his attacks on liberal theologians, priests and religious were harsh and unjust. Punishments were meted out for anyone who dared question the doctrine of the church, especially her teachings on a male-only priesthood. In contrast, ecclesial sanctions were light or non-existent for sexual abusers.

Clericalism and its defence was at the heart of Ratzinger and then Pope Benedict. His was a narrow vision of church focused on black and white doctrine, clerical power and a mythical, holier church of the past. His lack of personal experience with “the world” was not a sign of contemplative holiness. It was a sign of a person sadly out of touch with the people he was called to serve. His liturgical style, over-the top vestments surrounded by similarly dressed attendants, emphasized to the great-unwashed in the pews their great-unwashedness.

The movie scenes that stayed with me the most, were the close-ups on Francis while he listens to Benedict bearing his soul. Pryce looks piercingly into Hopkins’ eyes. Honest compassion and confusion mingle on his face. He is trying to understand this man, so unlike himself.

Francis, of course, is not perfect. The controversies around his actions as Jesuit Provincial during the Dirty War years in Argentina still haunt his legacy. The movie shows that they still haunt the man. What does he do? He tries to make reparation with his life. He eschews clerical luxuries to live and work closer to those he served. In Argentina, as Archbishop, it was the slums. In Rome, it is Santa Marta where he can dine and worship with residents and visitors alike. He speaks unceasingly of mercy, compassion and social justice and matches his actions to his words.

Two Popes. Two men with two contrasting visions of church, talking and trying to understand each other. Perhaps, the simple lesson to take from this movie is this.

Two men talking and trying to understand each other.

history is not bunk

It was the first day of grade five. My history teacher wrote on the black-board in big, bold letters,


Here is the source of the quote.

Say, what do I care about Napoleon? What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? I don’t know whether Napoleon did or did not try to get across and I don’t care. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.

Henry Ford, 1916 interview with Charles N. Wheeler for the Chicago Tribune

My teacher went on to explain that history is not only NOT bunk, it’s vital to understanding the present. It is also a guide for discerning right and just action for the future.

Fast forward a few years, and I was choosing History as my major study. Liberal Arts was often looked down upon as “lesser than” the more empirical scientific studies . It was Artsy Fartsy. A self -indulgent pursuit of knowledge with no practical use unless you became a teacher.

I beg to differ.

In a recent conversation with our younger son, he bemoaned the way history was taught when he was in school; focused on memorization and regurgitation of names, places and dates. It was not only boring, he said, it was indoctrination. Agendas wrapped up in seemingly indisputable facts. It would have been more valuable if the focus was less on details and more on the meaning of past events.

Our conversation then moved on to philosophy and the importance of logic. We agreed that rational, critical thinking should be taught at an early age. How do you judge a source? How do you test an argument? How do you spot the fallacies in a heated discourse? Logic should be a compulsory course in High Schools and Universities, regardless of your area of studies.

The Enlightenment era glorified human reason and the pursuit of knowledge. Today, belligerent voices fill the airwaves. Academics and intellectuals are mocked as elites. Rational dialogue is increasingly unattainable. And, the blatant ignorance of history is not only sad. It’s terrifying.

The lessons of two World Wars followed by the Cold War years are forgotten. Nationalism is on the rise, threatening to destroy the ongoing work of international cooperation and unity in Europe and across the Atlantic.

White supremacy and racial intolerance is coming out of the shadows. Hatred gains courage when like-minded leaders support it, and good people remain silent.

An increasingly mad, unhinged, egomaniacal president rallies crowds of blind followers, feeding them lie after lie. Repeat the lies often enough and loudly enough, and they will be accepted as facts. Individual thought and critical thinking isn’t needed when the great leader is your sole source of truth. George Orwell’s dystopian “1984” is unfolding before our eyes.

Winnipeg is home to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. The purpose of the museum is to “enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue.”. Historical displays of past atrocities are a sombre reminder of humankind’s capacity for evil. As you begin your journey from the roots of the museum, the architecture wraps you in darkness. Slowly you move toward the light at the top of the museum, the Tower of Hope. There you find a display of human rights work around the world.

I follow the Auschwitz Memorial on Twitter (@AuschwitzMuseum). It’s a difficult follow. They regularly post photographs and short biographies of men, women and children who were killed in the death camp. One person wrote that he forces himself to stop scrolling, look deeply at the photo and say the name out loud. It is a simple way to remember.

Lest We Forget.

Never Again.

christmas k.i.s.s.

Each year, the same resolution.

This year we’re going to keep Christmas simple!

Each year, a slow descent into the madness of the season. Advent stillness and pondering is pushed aside for frantic shopping, preparations, parties, and family squabbles over where everyone must spend Christmas Day…or it won’t be Merry.

Here in Canada, we’ve succumbed to Black Friday craziness even though we celebrate Thanksgiving in October. On the one hand, we don’t have to wait for our traditional Boxing Day sales to get great deals. On the other hand, we’re bombarded with flyers and online announcements flogging prices too low to ignore. And, we’re off. Credit cards in hand.

I struggled with Christmas when our own five children were young. We lived in a small, rural town with few stores and no online shopping. The marathon trip to the city to get presents stressed me. Hoping that each child was happy on Christmas morning stressed me more.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the gift giving was over. Took a big breath. And began work on a turkey dinner for twenty plus.

Each year, during my annual Christmas melt-down, hubby offered this advice. “Christmas doesn’t have to be a big production”. (I’m still married to the man.)

Our children’s families are growing. This is the advice we’re giving them.


Do your own thing on Christmas day. Enjoy the wee ones. Start your own traditions. RELAX!

Christmas is more than one day. We have the whole Christmas season to get together and have raucous fun – and we will. Our focus will be on the gathering, not the feasts. The playing not the work. The joy not the stress.

The presence, not the presents.