Popes: Julius II, John XXIII and Francis

A few days till the visit of Pope Francis and the Philippines is in a state of Papal Fever. Everything is being prepared from itenerary, security and the meal of the Pope. Also active are the hawkers eager to profit from the visit. And the enthusiasm is not only limited to street vendors and small to medium scale enterprises (SMEs) , oh a number of Pezzonovante or Pezzaonovanti have also made their presence felt. I prefer giving business to SMEs the big businesses and politicians do not need the money nor attention. Not surprising Media and Social Media is getting into the fever of the Papal Visit. There will not be shortage of coverage of the Papal visit for sure. And like most Filipinos I would be monitoring the visit through the technology of Radio, Television and the Internet. His Holiness visit though sparked thoughts on Past Popes. Two in particular seem to stand out in my mind. Both are famous and some might say infamous. And both have been depicted in culture – films in particular. the Renaissance Pope Julius II and the other a boy once called Pope Saint Nicholas.

THE RENAISSANCE POPE: JULIUS II – Guilliano della Rovere

One of the Renaissance Pope once called Guilliano della Rovere came from a noble family and a nephew of a recent Pope at that time.Before he became Pope, he was a Cardinal who fathered a daughter; He was the enemy of the Borgias: and He worked with the French King against Pope Alexander (A Borgia). The Cardinal who would become Pope Julius II was able to outwit the Borgias, Cesare Borgia in particular, and the French King. Julius II was known as the Warrior-Pope and the Fearsome Pope. Often he would lead the Papal Armies into battle. The standing unit of Pontifical Swiss Guards were due to Julius II request to the Swiss Diet. He fought several political enemies of the Roman Catholic Church. His enemies have called him an Anti-Christ and a sodomite. Like all Renaissance Popes he had all the vice and virtues of a Renaissance Prince.

Like any Renaissance Prince, Julius II was a patron of the arts. Often bringing his feared management skills into handling his artists.

He was the one who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, and true to form Julius II was able to force more than motivate Michelangelo an artist at home with sculpture to paint frescoes. When Julius II wanted you to paint you paint.
The story of Michelangelo and Julius II was dramatised in Irving Stone’s novel the Agony and the Ecstasy and its film adaption with Rex Harrison as Julius II and Charleston Heston as Michelangelo, Heston is almost a staple for religious and epic movies but the closest he came to be in a film with Jesus Christ was in this film with the film version of Christ’s Vicar Julius II – Harrison also known as Professor Higgins from My Fair Lady. Come to think of it Harrison did not depart much from the role of Henry Higgins in this film. The cinematic Michelangelo called Julius II the Medusa, again not far from the Devil of Wimpole Street. Indeed Julius II was politically astute and a fierce Vicar of Christ and for that he will be remembered by all and cursed by others.

POPE SAINT NICHOLAS: Pope Saint John XXIII – Angelo Guiseppi Roncalli

If you were too look at Pope Julius II and Pope John XXII they could only be similar in one aspect: In all others they were dissimilar. Roncalli came from more humbler beginnings, His father parents were farmers. He rose within the Roman Catholic Church not because of family relations but through skill, hard work and patience. He was a modern man in an Old Institution. Through out his life he worked for a more open Roman Catholic Church. He was friends with people from several religions. He opposed Nazism and was able to save several Jews from the concentration camps. The rotund, jolly and humble Cardinal became Pope John XXIII. He was one of the prime movers of the Modern face of the Roman Catholic Church. Initially, assessed as a care taker Pope, John XXIII spearhead the Vatican Council that laid down the seeds of reform for the Roman Catholic Church.

In doing this he was not as fearsome as Julius II but he was equally politically astute and patient. It would seems his greatest adversaries came from within the Roman Catholic Church – Career Clerics who were attached to the old ways of doing things. He was not a cloistered Pope: trapped within the Vatican enclave. He walked and walked about mingling with this flock; much to the chagrin of his officials. He did so much walking around that an American journalist called him Johnny Walker. This Pope who had laid down the seeds of reforms within the Roman Catholic Church has been portrayed in films by Edward Asner – in Pope John XXIII: Pope of Peace and Charles Durning – I would be called John. And both film shows the modern and internal struggles in the Roman Catholic Church. Durning’s portrayal, more than an hour monologue, paints the personality of John XXIII. The Pope called Johnny Walker and Pope Saint Nicholas is much beloved.

Julius II, John XXIII and Francis

Both Popes, Julius II and John XXIII were politically astute and both seem to be at opposite side of spectrum when it comes to means and patience. There are of course other Popes and what we get is mix set of humanity – a reminder to us that all Popes are human. How I wish Pope Francis would continue the work of Pope John XXIII, and so far it seems that he is. To paraphrase what the cinematic John XXIII said, “ We should not aim to be above human nor should we be satisfied by being below Human.”

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