In the Shadow of Your Wings by Julie A. Ferraro

In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis
Written and directed by Gianfranco Rosi
21 Unofilm/Stemal Entertainment/Rai Cinema
NR   1 hour, 13 minutes

The documentary In Viaggio spans the first nine years of Pope Francis’s pontificate, with images from the 37 trips he’s made to 53 countries during that time. Archival footage, both audio and video, is combined with images shot by the director, Gianfranco Rosi.

The opening scenes recount the desperate pleas of migrants in a boat, seeking help as their craft is sinking in the Mediterranean Sea near Lampedusa in 2013. When the voice cuts out, it’s not difficult to imagine what has happened. Visual images then show the migrants on the hull of the overturned boat, falling into the sea.

The audio of Pope Francis during his visit to Lampedusa—and throughout the film, whether he speaks in Spanish, Italian or other languages—is subtitled in English. In his homily at an outdoor Mass, he compares the tragedy of the migrants to a “painful thorn in my heart that brings suffering.”

Indeed, Pope Francis addresses his key pastoral priorities: solidarity, poverty, dignity, war, clergy sex abuse, and the migration crisis. The cheers when he proclaims to the residents of a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janiero, “The Pope is with you!” as well as the “close encounters” with people in the hovels where they must exist, receiving hugs and pleas for assistance, are quite moving.

There are moments of sublime humor, as when the Pope’s zucchetto blows off his head as he deplanes. In a very human way, he encourages young people to dream, to open themselves to great things in their lives.

A clip that is somewhat embarrassing to the U.S. Congress is included, where Pope Francis enters the House of Representatives chamber, introduced thusly: “Mr. Speaker, the Pope of the Holy City.” Somebody didn’t research the proper protocol on that one.

While Pope Francis is definitely multilingual, when he speaks in English, there are no subtitles, and it is difficult to understand him with his accent.

The film makes it clear that Pope Francis isn’t afraid of challenges, willing to mingle with people in driving rain and all types of weather. His ecumenical efforts, his outreach to prisoners, to astronauts on the International Space Station, to children, to the indigenous tribes of Canada, to victims of human trafficking, show he truly feels for all God’s people.

Perhaps the most poignant images occur from 2020, when Pope Francis walked through an entirely empty St. Peter’s Square in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. While people were confined to their homes, he joined with them in their isolation and suffering.

A bit disconcerting is how the footage is not organized in chronological order, jumping forward then back between the years.

Some of the cuts between footage are, sadly, rather awkward as well. At other points, the clips run too long, as with the sight of fighter jets escorting the papal aircraft, as seen through the plane’s window. Bombs being transported, violent protests, members of military units wielding weapons are, supposedly, included to offset the message of peace preached by Pope Francis. They are, however, given too much screen time.

“War is madness,” Pope Francis proclaims during his visit to Iraq in 2021. Yet war and injustice persist, with his voice calling for nonviolent solutions.

When the pope is shown in silent moments, there is a definite sadness in his eyes, his anguish over the state of the world, and his faith that God will soften the hearts of human beings to eventually make things right.

All in all, In Viaggio is worth viewing, if only to gain a deeper understanding of the gentle heart of the man who has been entrusted with the church. ♦

On a Wing and a Prayer
Directed by Sean McNamara
Written by Brian Egeston
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer LightWorkers Media
PG   1 hour, 42 minutes

It’s probably everyone’s worst nightmare and, oddly, it’s happened in real life—including recently.

The pilot of an aircraft falls ill during a flight, and someone else must step in to land the plane safely. That is the premise of On a Wing and a Prayer, the new film available on Amazon Prime.

The tale is based on the true story of Doug White who, on Easter Sunday 2009, was traveling with his wife and two teenaged daughters from Marco Island, Florida, back to Louisiana in a chartered Beechcraft Super King Air 200 twin-engine aircraft, a retired jet pilot at the controls. The pilot fell unconscious—and died. White, with three months’ flight training, was only accustomed to flying smaller, single-engine planes. He had to take over and make an emergency landing in Fort Myers, Florida.

Dennis Quaid plays White, with Heather Graham as his wife, Terri. While elements of faith play into the plot—as when White encourages his family to pray during the ordeal—the story is more about the goodness of humanity and the willingness of people to help one another.

When White radios for help after the pilot dies, the air traffic controllers and other support staff jump into action. That includes contacting a pilot with experience flying King Air planes in Connecticut, who talks with White via phone as the process of landing the plane progresses.

Some of those involved in the production promote the film in interviews as a “nail-biter,” but the spoilers are already in play, since it is known that White and his family survived the crisis.

The action begins on a comic note, with one of White’s flying lessons where he unsuccessfully attempts to land a Cessna, with his brother, Jeff (played by Brett Rice), acting as back-seat driver, sarcastic remarks in abundance. White’s daughters are presented as typical, discontented teenagers during the BBQ cookoff that follows. After the White brothers win the competition, they share some of the extra ribs with those inhabiting a homeless encampment.

White receives a call the next evening that Jeff has died of a heart attack, and the family travels to the funeral in Florida. White admits to being tired of losing people in his life, including his father and uncle, also to heart attacks. While he professes to be a “believer,” his faith is shaken, and he doesn’t agree when his wife proclaims that God will always be with him.

Other key characters interspersed with this action have their own issues: one air traffic controller is a heavy drinker, at risk of losing his job; the car enthusiast with experience flying King Air craft has relationship problems and a bad attitude.

As White’s family prepares to fly back to Louisiana, Joe, the pilot of the chartered aircraft (played by Wilbur Fitzgerald), makes a point of praying prior to takeoff, holding the crucifix of a rosary in his hand as the song “Spirit in the Sky” plays. A heart attack claims him shortly thereafter, which White initially believes is a prank—a very unwelcome one after just burying his brother.

A still from “On a Wing and a Prayer.” Courtesy of Prime Video Boris Martin © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES

Briefly, from that point, the narrative shifts to an almost documentary style, with the air traffic controllers’ names and positions scrolled across the screen and the elapsed time.

In the meantime, Donna (Raina Grey), a girl who wants to be a pilot, likes to monitor air traffic on her computer. She homes in on the situation and offers a running commentary on what’s happening with White’s troubled plan to her astonished friend, Buggy (Trayce Malachi). She serves as a translator, of sorts, explaining the technical language used by the air traffic controllers in terms the audience can readily understand.

Overall, the emergency brings the diverse characters out of themselves, demonstrating the human capacity to overcome nerves and uncertainty to save those in danger—and repair their own lives.

“Sometimes you gotta trust in things you can’t see,” the character Cory (Jesse Metcalfe) tells White over the phone.

The prayers as the plane comes in for its eventual landing are rather campy, but indicative of human reflexes in times of need. Anyone who’s ever known fear will be able to relate to those moments.

What we need to remember, though, is the importance of the prayers offered earlier in the film, when things are going smoothly. Faith isn’t just for tough times, after all, but for each moment of each day. ♦

Julie A. Ferraro has been a journalist for over 30 years, covering diverse beats for secular newspapers as well as writing for many Catholic publications. A mother and grandmother, she currently lives in Atchison, Kansas. Her column, “God ‘n Life,” appears regularly in Today’s American Catholic.

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