The world reacted to the election of Karol Wojtyla to the papacy in 1978 with surprise and hope. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian elected pope since the fifteenth century. He was a young poet, skier, actor and playwright, a media savvy intellectual, and a man who had lived through World War II and the invasion of his homeland, Poland.
In the more than 25 years since, as this documentary clearly shows, this pope has emerged as a man at war with the twentieth century. Pope John Paul II speaks vehemently in this film against communism, feminism, capitalism and consumerism. He opposes many secular ideologies and believes that the 20th century is the most evil and tragic of all centuries, that the devil is active and within each of us. He decries the exalting of the individual, and believes that humanity has lost its sense of the sanctity of life.
This is a very intimate portrait of a man of seeming contradictions. One example: Poland welcomed him home in celebration one year after his election to the papacy and he told crowds there that Poland was a beacon in its stands against communism. Since then, he has scolded Poland and its people for becoming westernized and "buying into capitalism."
The film covers what many consider to be the pope's mishandling of the liberation theology movement in Central America, which came to the attention of the world with archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination. The church, John Paul II said at the time, is not a force for social and political change. Yet he is viewed as the most political pope to date, a pope who worked closely with the Solidarity movement to bring down communism in Poland.
John Paul II: The Millennial Pope focuses in detail on the influence of Karol Wojtyla's childhood on his later religious life and beliefs. Friends from his native Polish village, including Jewish friends, are interviewed. His friendship with some of the Jewish children of his youth led the pope as a priest, bishop and archbishop of Krakow, to return Jewish children hidden by Catholics to their Jewish parents after World War 11. Faith is the issue, he told his followers then, not conversion.
The documentary suggests that the profound influence of his mother's death when he was young influenced how he worships the Virgin Mary, whom the pope believes saved his life after an attempted assassination. He is adamant that women submit to their biological destiny and bear children. Birth control is wrong, he says, and he is opposed to feminism and female priests.
This thought-provoking film about a man of great power who has stood up to some of the strongest forces of the last fifty years leaves the audience wondering: "Are we lost for not hearing him?" Or is the pope out of touch with the times?