Last night, I watched the Netflix film – the Two Popes – a biographical gem adapted from a play, starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Price as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who later on succeeded Pope Benedict as Pope Francis.
The narrative is very evocative, comprising a series of intimate and at times confrontational dialogue between two immensely powerful and unique men – on how each perceives the Church, one’s relatedness with God, and the role of the Pope, replete with reflections, old memories, and anecdotes. There are of course many references and nuances that I as a non-Christian may have missed out on, but the movie was poignant and relevant to the times we live in.
In the beginning of the story, Bergoglio states his intention to personally tender in his resignation as the Cardinal – the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and books his ticket for the Vatican. He does so for the Vatican does not seem to respond to his resignation letters earlier. Serendipitously, he gets an invite from Pope Benedict to meet him at the Pope’s summer residence – the Palace of Castel Gandolfo.
Pope Benedict refuses to accept the Cardinal’s resignation in a heated debate, claiming that the Church would sink deeper in turmoil given the context – including accusations of corruption, abuse, pedophilia et al, and the Cardinal’s resignation would only increase the extent of cynicism and lack of faith within the Catholics. However, this initial and quite heated debate ends in a stalemate, with neither man wanting to agree with the other, but the Pope asks the Cardinal to stay over the night at the palace.
Consequently, the two men meet again in the late night, and struggle to find the inner resources within, and put aside their differences – they hesitantly seek to create a dialogue as opposed to a debate. They invest into listening and understanding each other’s life journeys as men and as priests, but to Bergoglio’s irritation, the Pope stubbornly resists to accept his resignation.
The next day, they meet again in the Sistine Chapel (reconstructed in a studio in 8 weeks!) and where Pope Benedict shares his intent to resign the papacy – something that has not happened for 900 odd years, and where he confesses that he has not been able to hear his God for many years except in the last two days – and recommends that Bergoglio can succeed him. In choosing a successor to lead and transform the most powerful organization in the world, Pope Benedict XVI could not have chosen a more different person than himself.
I don’t want to be a plot spoiler, but the intensity of reflexivity and dialogue between the two men is quite captivating. For example, Pope Benedict initially associates ‘Change’ with Compromise in the beginning, and then is willing to look deeper into Change as a process that transforms and heals the stakeholders. The Pope explores how aloneness leads to loneliness in his role-taking as the concerns of the organization and its politics overwhelm his cathect with his calling.
Bergoglio on the other hand, discovers that he has been carrying immense guilt over his collusion with the Junta in Argentina in his younger days, – and in this burden he has unconsciously identified with God as opposed to being a man of God. This realization is swift and powerful as Pope Benedict points out both Bergoglio’s cruelty to self and his desire to being omnipotent.
The narrative poignantly captures how the two men and leaders in their own right, are able to offer each other – meaningful gifts that release them from their respective shadows and captivity.
The line that triggered this blog came from Pope Francis’s words that the greatest thing that ails humanity today is ‘indifference’, making us live in soap bubbles that offer a chimera of localized happiness. Bergoglio or Pope Francis speaks of how fear makes us build walls and swells up as ‘casual indifference’ through his lines – ‘when you cannot blame a particular person or people for something that is ugly and gruesome, we all have to take the blame.’ Bergoglio believes that it is only love that would enable us to win over our fears…
And this takes me to the second theme of the blog – the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and how it seems to be tearing all of us in India apart, calling out our worst fears and pride as we take hard stance.
Citizenship Amendment Act
There is heated debate in every Indian home all over the world perhaps – for what this amendment to becoming a citizen in India is about, and what it tends to provokes / triggers.
25 Indians have died as I write this blog, with thousands of arrests all over the country – there have been a series of protests and crackdowns from the government – some have been peaceful and some aggravated by violence and gunfire albeit from both sides.
I have been quiet about my stance thus far in my circles – perhaps being ‘indifferent’ or worse still collusive. It is time that I change this stance.
Ostensibly the CAA (2019) amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 – granting a swifter path to Indian citizenship under the assumption of religious persecution to individuals belonging to specific minorities of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from three countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before 31 December 2014. As per the IB, the immediate beneficiaries would include 25,000 Hindus, 6000 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis.
CAA triggers and provokes its greatest criticism – it discriminates against the Muslims! Most people see it clearly saying that non-Muslim communities are welcome into the country for they have been persecuted by Muslims in the three Islamic countries; but the Muslim immigrant is not. The Act seems innocuous but only at the surface. For example, given that global warming is likely to submerge a significant part of Bangladesh, India would have to deal with massive migration
In a land, that traditionally held on to the premise that ‘the Guest is to be treated as God’, and that has for centuries witnessed and embraced migration across continents, the CAA seems to be popular with those that are sitting on ‘fear’ of the Other. And the present ruling party can be accused of fanning these very fears, as it deals with the protests and the voice of the people.
There is a certain process of Othering – of rupturing that is happening before our very eyes – I see divided families and divided communities everywhere. This divisive process feasts on our very fears and insecurities, attributing terrorism to one religious community and moral high ground to the other. This process is violative for a country and our society.
All old fears and hurts including the deprivation mindset, post-partition wounds, ‘radical-Islam’, job insecurities, inane liberalism, and political gambits are being hurled at each other as people take stances on this divide. Of course, the fact that the economy of India is really struggling at this moment is a fact that is conveniently swept aside.
The Next Step
It is perhaps time, to look at the ‘divided collective’ as a disease that manifests everywhere in modern Indian society. Even in the gated community where I live, the divided collective manifests with unresolved conflicts and bitter infighting… it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a larger Collective – that offers a sense of belonging and meaningfulness. All collectives are seen as aggregates of smaller groups and subgroups.
Perhaps because the disease is also fuelled by mindless consumerism, existential isolation, and increased indifference to the Other, and thus appears more cancerous and threatening and thus makes the fault-lines difficult to coalesce.
I take hope from Two Popes narrative which repeats a ‘simple’ but powerful message – the Othering as a process happens inside for each of us – fragmenting us, before it appears with reinforced strength outside … and only love – loving the Self despite our impotence and failings, and loving the Other would ever heal the collective.
While I am against CAA, I am also aware that mere intellectual rationalization of merits and demerits would not heal the divide … perhaps the only way forward is to listen to the other and dignify the Others’ fears and desires without judgment, and then love the Other for who he or she is – a priceless being capable of immense love and compassion too!