By Sister Hosea Rupprecht, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Anyone who has followed the pontificate of Pope Francis will know that he consistently encourages the young to learn from their elders and to remember their roots.
That message is front and center in the series “Stories of a Generation With Pope Francis,” which begins streaming on Netflix Christmas Day.
Based on the pope’s 2018 book “Sharing the Wisdom of Time,” published by Loyola Press, the program showcases stories from people over 70 from all quarters of the globe, including the pontiff himself, as they impart their life experiences to youthful filmmakers. Each of its four hourlong episodes is devoted to a central theme: “Love,” “Dreams,” “Struggle” and “Work.”
There are a few famous names in the lineup, such as Martin Scorsese and Jane Goodall. But most of those who appear on screen, under the overall direction of Simona Ercolani, have never lived in the limelight.
Under the heading of “Love,” we’re introduced to Estela Barnes de Carlotto, a 90-year-old woman from Argentina who spent decades looking for her grandson after her daughter was killed during the unrest of the 1970s in that country. More recently, Vito Forino, 72, went for a sail from his home in Lampedusa, Italy, in 2013 and ended up rescuing 47 people from a sinking refugee ship.
One of those classified as a dreamer is New Zealand climate scientist Dave Lowe. Together with a group of other scholars, Lowe won a Nobel Prize for being the first to measure increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere in 1972.
Costa Rican Danilo Mena Hernandez, 76, has a more personal dream. He yearns for his blind and developmentally disabled twin sons to be able to feel sand between their toes and the ocean waves lapping at their feet.
Sports enthusiasts are not left out — as shown by the stories of an 88-year-old skydiver who learned the skill from her son and a 77-year-old surfer who thought he could ride a tsunami.
Remorse finds its place in the show as well. Asked by his youngest daughter what his greatest regret is, Scorsese responds, “I would have liked to help raise my other daughters,” thus acknowledging that his film career often took precedence over his family life.
The episode on “Struggle” is particularly moving. Gisèle Assoud Sabbagh, 87, for instance, was born in Aleppo, Syria, but was forced to flee to Beirut. Now, she faces yet another upheaval, having to leave her home and the friends she’s made in Beirut to live with her daughter and grandson in France.
As for “Work,” Mexican midwife Natalia Echeverría Fuentevilla reflects on the satisfaction she derives from knowing that she has helped bring thousands of babies into the world during her lifetime. Ninety-year-old Vietnamese cobbler Trinh Ngoc recalls making shoes for the king of Cambodia in the 1950s. And Nike Okundaye, 70, a Nigerian artist and fashion designer, discusses the freedom her profession gave her.
With its sometimes-mature themes, “Stories” is not suitable viewing for kids. Teens and grown-ups, by contrast, will find it warm, uplifting and inspirational.