Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Karol: A Man who became Pope//The Pope, the Man

     When Pope John-Paul II (formerly Karol Wojtyla , pronounced Voy-tee-wuh) died ten years ago, April 2005, I really had no idea who the man was, other than he was the head of the Catholic Church. Being a Protestant, I was never raised to believe in one leader of the church. However, that week was one of the most fascinating weeks I’ll ever remember.

     There was already in a great deal of hype due to the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles who were to marry that Friday. Then the whole world (Catholic, Protestant and non-believers alike) sat in silence during the televised funeral of the longest reigning pontiff in history, then in anticipation of the Conclave at St. Peter’s Basilica and the impending decision of the new chosen Pope.

     So, fast forward four months later and we see a preview on Hallmark promoting a movie about the life of Karol Wojtyla, simply titled Karol: A man who became Pope. Our first reaction was, “That was fast!” Then later on we found out that the movie had been made almost two years before and had even been screened at the Vatican. So, my family and I decided to sit down and watch it. By the end of the three hours I honestly never felt such an understanding of any person (real or fictional) in my life. It was that good.

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Karol: A man who became Pope

     On September 1, 1939 in Poland, Hitler launches his attack on the Polish people. 19 year old Karol Wojtyla (Piotr Adamczyk), a young college student, finds all he holds dear being torn away from him as the war progresses. Jews being dragged to concentration camps, priests being shot, innocent people being murdered if they resist the laws of the diabolical governor general Hans Frank (Matt Craven); one by one, Karol must watch as his friends are killed for no other reason than they are believed to be a degenerate race of people.

     In the midst of this horror, Karol questions how he survives and if there is some purpose for him. Eventually, he comes to see that God is calling him to the most unlikely vocation, the priesthood. Sworn to absolute secrecy, Karol studies for the priesthood and by the time the war ends, he believes that that this as truly God’s calling for him.

     With the ending of Nazism, came the beginning of Communism. While there is a strained relationship between government and religion in Poland, the Communist Party has given the Poles more freedom of religion than most of Soviet Blok countries. Now Father Karol is teaching at Lublin University as a professor of religious ethics and becomes a favorite among all the young students.

     However, not everyone is impressed with the up and coming priest, most especially, Julian Kordek (Hristo Shopov) a law-bound government official (think the Polish version of Javert from "Les Miserables") becomes aggravated by Karol’s religious intellect and spiritual insight on every matter in life. While Kordek does everything in his power to bring the young priest down, Karol continues to gain more popularity and power through his theological teaching, generous nature, risk-taking motives and understanding of human suffering.

     In 1979, following the unexpected death of Pope John-Paul I, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla (age 58) finds himself far from his beloved homeland and sitting at St. Peter’s Basilica voting for a new Pope. Suddenly, his mentor, Cardinal Wyszynski, comes and informs him of his belief that God has chosen Karol to be made Pope. Shocked and frightened, but obedient, Karol wins by a landslide and is made the first Polish Pope in history and is named Pope John-Paul II. At the end of the film, actual footage is shown on the real John-Paul addressing the crowds in Vatican Square for the first time, beginning his legacy as one of the greatest Popes in history.

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Karol: The Pope, the Man

     April 2005 - As Pope John-Paul II lies in his Vatican apartment; ill and dying, while people stand out in Vatican Square praying for the beloved Pope whose dignity, courage and humanity changed the world. In his twenty-seven years as Pope, John Paul remained a man of the people, someone who wasn’t unattainable, a man who spoke to the human heart and understood loss and suffering, a Pope who preached love and lived it every single day.

     1979-2005 - After John-Paul’s election, the Communist Party is anything but thrilled as the idea of a Pope from behind the Iron Curtain (a term used for the Soviet Blok countries). After a failed assassination attempt and the assassin, Ali Agha, caught and in prison, they realize that they have created a living martyr that has only brought him closer to the world. By 1989, John-Paul has helped to end Communism and give back to Poland and other Communist countries the freedom they so desperately fought and died for.

     Being the Pope is not easy and is often times a lonely life. For John-Paul, though, he made every minute count through traveling to foreign countries. He journeys to Mexico where he condemns the Catholic Church for aiding the corrupt government, to India where he visits Mother Theresa in her hospitals and Uganda where the people suffer from the rebel armies, but where one young priest refuses to back down from their terror.

     While back in Italy, he remains a priestly character when he comforts a mother who lost her young son, visiting sick children and remaining a voice of reason in world and social issues. Yet, his health from the assassination attempt, eventually paired with Parkinsons begins to slowly drain the physical life out of him until he is finally bed-ridden and left to recount his extraordinary journey as a Pope, a leader, a friend, a counselor, an ally and above all, a man who obeyed God.

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     I love good accurate biographies, but these two films went beyond good. They gave such a sense of reality and personal feeling to a great man who the world owes a great deal of gratitude to. Filmed entirely in Poland and Rome with an exceptional international cast and music done by the legendary Ennio Morricone, the Karol series tell the story of a man who answered God’s call from an early age and remained faithful to that call till the day he died.

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