Despite the admittedly strange correlation, The Martian and Pope Francis, there is a striking parallel between the most unusual movie adapted from novelist Andy Weir’s self- published novel The Martian and the many speeches made by the Pope during his whirlwind tour tour last week. The power of the person. If there is a single theme that seems to symbolize the insistent messages given by the leader of a billion and a half Catholic souls, it is that; the power, or perhaps the dignity of the person. Not said in a political way but deeper than that and radically so. The person shines out for Francis in words and images. Countless times, cameras caught him stopping to bless a quadriplegic child, a paralytic, a small child.
Just so, this unusual movie, Martian, demonstrates the power of an abandoned astronaut played by Matt Damon in capturing the hearts and minds of the citizens of earth during the attempts to send food and finally risk a rescue of this one person. There are numerous scenes of countless people gathered in China, England, Australia as well as the United States praying, hoping or wishing for the successful rescue of this lone man. Multiple languages, races, political systems and nationalities, each focused on this person.
Stalin is reported to have claimed, “A million deaths is a statistic, a single death is a tragedy.” Francis seems to feel the truth of Stalin’s observation at a visceral level. The US Ambassador to the Vatican once asked this Pope how he saw these children and disabled persons among the many thousands clamoring for his attention. “I perceive them,” was his simple reply.
During his forty-five minute speech, Pope Francis used the statement, the ‘human person’ several times and declared in his opening remarks to the United Nations, that every person possesses a ‘right to the environment.’ Intriguing choice of words for a man who is alternatively categorized, to name only a very few of an increasingly long list, as a communist, socialist, anti-capitalist and advocate of liberation theology. Apparently captivating more of the secular media than some of his more conservative Catholic and Christian followers, the remarks made by this most unusual thinker served as a lightning rod to those expecting a more traditional speaker. His widely publicized remarks about gays, atheists and divorced evoke profound disturbance to Catholics and Christians who live comfortably in and among the rules they grew up with.
While listening to the televised presentation of the UN address, I lost count of his use of the word ‘excluded’ after reaching thirty. And was fascinated by the consistencies in his messages. ‘Stop thinking about populations’, ‘start thinking of people’. ‘Stop thinking in phrases like the marginalized’, ‘start thinking of real people’. ‘Real people with hopes and dreams just like your own’.
While praying the Divine Office this morning, I read the words of St Paul in the first letter of the Apostle Paul to Timothy in a new way:
We know that the law is good, provided one uses it in the way the law is supposed to be used—(italics mine) that is with the understanding that it is aimed, not at good men but at the lawless and unruly, the irreligious and the sinful, the wicked and the godless, men who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, fornicators….
This Italian Argentinian Pope apparently sees past the rules and the boundaries in an appreciation for the dignity of the person in a way not witnessed before. His speeches are composed of simple words and phrases yet leave huge wakes of discord among his followers. Not unlike a former Pharisee Jew turned Christian named Paul.