So from now on my focus for crash time will be inspiring movies of the saints. (I think I had a St. Ignatius of Loyola experience -- medieval romances left him empty, lives of the saints filled him with admiration and zeal..) One of my favorite movies in the genre of holy men and women is The Reluctant Saint about St. Joseph of Cupertino. We've probably watched that half a dozen times at least. Maximilian Schell as Joseph is sweet and dear and his whole body professes simplicity and humility. A Man for All Seasons about St. Thomas More is another favorite and Paul Scofield is magnificent. I saw him play the same role on stage years ago and he was equally compelling. The courtroom scene gives me goosebumps every time I see it.
But last night we added another work to the repertoire of fantastic films, Pius XII, Under the Roman Sun.
The film would make a good companion piece to The Scarlet and the Black since both films cover the same period, the occupation of Rome during World War II and the Vatican's involvement in rescuing Jews and others targeted by the Nazis.
James Cromwell gives a stellar performance as the stately Pope Pius. He reflects well his vocation as the "rock" during a horrifying time. Pope Benedict watched the film in 2010 when it came out calling Pope Pius the "pope of our youth." He went on:
“With his rich teaching he was able to speak to the men of his time, pointing out the way of Truth, and with his great wisdom was able to direct the Church toward the horizon of the Third Millennium.... I must, however, stress particularly that Pius XII was the Pope that, as father of all, presided in charity in Rome and in the world, above all in the difficult time of World War II.....“Charity is the reason for every action, for every intervention. It is the global reason that moves thought and concrete gestures, and I am happy that also in this film, this unifying principle emerges. [It is] "the key of reading” [the film] “in the light of the genuine witness of that great teacher of faith, of hope and of charity that was Pope Pius XII.”This film puts to rest many of the unjust and malicious accusations against Pope Pius XII for his "inaction" against the Nazis. It particularly reminds viewers what happened in Holland when the bishops spoke out en masse and, in retaliation, the SS rounded up over 40,000 Dutch Jews and deported them to the camps. Venerable Pope Pius XII is surely a saint of the 20th century whose love and charity shine especially bright in that very dark time.
Ironically, the chief rabbi of Rome labeled the film as "junk" and revisionist history, but the fact of the matter is that revisionist history is the condemnation of the pope for doing nothing. The chief rabbi of Rome during the actual events, Israel Zolli, was so moved by the actions of the Church that he and his wife converted to Catholicism after the war. Zolli now has also become a target for revisionists who paint him as a coward who betrayed his people and his faith.
You can watch Pius XII on Netflix and it's also available for sale at Amazon and Ignatius Press.