NEW YORK — An El Salvadoran countryside, a Canadian mosque, a carpenter’s workshop on the small Italian island of Lampedusa and a family home in Minnesota serve as the setting of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation’s latest documentary, The Francis Impact.
Unlike most Vatican or papal-themed documentaries, there’s little footage of Rome. Instead, the documentary — released May 5 — aims to turn the viewer’s attention to the often forgotten regions of the world, much like the mission of its protagonist.
Pope Francis “is a person who transcends his official position,” says the founder of a mosque in Quebec, where 6 worshipers were killed and another 20 wounded after an anti-immigrant attack in January 2017.
“The pope, for me, is a great man,” says the Muslim leader through tears, who in the aftermath of the violence forged a close bond with Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix after he reached out to the community to convey the pope’s personal condolences.
Lacroix says that his friendship with Quebec’s Islamic community is just one example of what Francis means what he speaks of a “culture of encounter.”
“Interreligious dialogue will not happen in high places, it will happen between people first,” he says.
In his latest documentary, writer and producer Sebastian Gomes aims to look at the often-unseen ways in which the Roman pontiff has managed to transform the lives of ordinary Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“This is not a film about Francis changing the Church,” says Gomes. “It’s a film about the Church changing the world.”
In El Salvador, the film surveys how Catholics took to the streets alongside environmental activists to demand that the government ban metallic mining, which was destroying the country’s water supply. The action was inspired largely by the pope’s 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, in which he calls for global action to protect creation.
On the island of Lampedusa, an avowed atheist describes how the pope’s spotlight of migrants has awoken the consciousness of the islanders to the reality that the world is often divided between “first-class people and second-class people” — and that the pope is demanding an end to such divisions.
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, who is interviewed in the film, describes Francis’s emphasis on migrants and refugees as signifying the “future of a reborn or a reinvigorated Christianity,” specifically because of the hope that they have come to represent.
In Minnesota, the documentary chronicles the experience of a Catholic couple seeking to marry whose plans were initially foiled by a complicated annulment process and how they came to benefit from the reform process initiated by Francis, which eventually allowed them to marry in the Church.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Francis’s point man for marriage and family matters, describes the reform efforts as an attempt to steer away from “rules and regulation,” and instead to be guided by the “love and mercy of Jesus Christ.”
After clocking some serious mileage with interviews throughout the Americas and in the Mediterranean, the film crew finally lands in Rome, where Francis himself is invited by Gomes to offer a summation of his ministry and mission.
Francis recalls that when Jesus gathered his apostles before ascending into Heaven, they all met in Jerusalem — the center of the world at the time. That meeting in the center, says Francis, was only for a short period before being commissioned to go out to the entire world and preach the Gospel.
“The Holy Spirit always has that double movement,” says Francis. “It sends out and unites.”
“That is why the Church is always a church that goes forth,” he continues. “It goes to the peripheries which is where the Kingdom of God must be sown.”
The peripheries, Francis insists, are physical, intellectual, and ideological, and must be that of the mission of the Church today.
“Going to the peripheries is going to touch reality,” he concludes. “Brothers and sisters, let us go to the periphery.”