Advertisements ad

March 29, 2009

North American premiere of John Paul film slated for May 8

By Michelle Martin


What could bring together a religious order that has been around more than 1,000 a years, the words of a Polish cardinal, the church in Cuba and Catholics in Chicago?

A movie. In particular, “Testimony,” a documentary about the life of Pope John Paul II, which will have its North American premiere May 8 at the Copernicus Community and Civic Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., under the auspices of the Order of Malta, an ancient religious order and non-state sovereign entity. The Order is sponsoring the premier to raise funds for some of its humanitarian efforts.

The movie is based upon a book by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who for 40 years was Karol Wojtyla’s personal secretary, first when he was archbishop of Krakow and later as Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Dzwisz now has succeeded his late friend as archbishop of Krakow.

“Testimony” includes documentary footage of John Paul II, reenactments of some scenes from his life and narration by the actor Michael York. Producers enjoyed unprecedented access to Vatican locations and to archival video and film.

Ticket prices for this premier are undetermined but proceeds from the benefit will go towards the humanitarian works of the order, especially in Cuba.

That’s because the film’s producer, Przemyslaw Jan Häuser, is ambassador of the Order of Malta to Cuba. Häuser, Polish by birth, visited Chicago in December for a private screening and met with local members of the Order, who were impressed both with the film and with the work the order was doing in Cuba.

Ancient order

The Order of Malta is the fourth-oldest Christian religious order, behind the Augustinians, Cistercians and Benedictines, and its early members were literally “warrior-monks.”

Now it includes about 40 professed religious knights and more than 12,000 lay knights and ladies, all of whom live “in the world.” Like the Vatican citystate, it is a sovereign entity that maintains diplomatic relations with some 102 countries, including Cuba — even though the Catholic Church does not enjoy formal recognition in the Communist island country.

“The Order of Malta’s Embassy in Havana, especially our diplomats on the ground, face formidable challenges everyday with the highest degree of professionalism, courage and apostolic zeal. Their accomplishments in the last two years, since the diplomatic mission was fully established, have been equally remarkable. Mr. Slawomir Wronski, the Embassy’s First Secretary and his wife, Ewa also a diplomat of the Order of Malta have been very supportive of the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference by reaching out to all 11 dioceses throughout the Island Nation,” said Heriberto López Alberola, a local Knight of Malta.

Humanitarian needs in Cuba are significant. Bloomberg reported that every section of the island was affected by the three hurricanes that struck last year, destroying an estimated half-million homes.

Alberola said “Testimony: is a good fit for the order’s mission, defense of the faith and service to the poor “on bended knee.”

“This film is an excellent example of the celebration of faith and culture,” Alberola said. “No one in our time has been a stronger champion and witness to the culture of life than Pope John Paul the Great.”

Sharing his life story through film is a way to evangelize and educate the popular culture, presenting the story of Pope John Paul II — the poet, the playwright, the actor who became a priest and then pope — to those, especially the young, who might not be familiar with it.

Pope’s memorable life

According to its producers, the film is a testimony of John Paul II’s life, presenting many new facts and interpretations, including from Karol Wojtyla’s youth and his private life. The film’s most poignant themes include the assassination attempt on the pope and the moments immediately thereafter, when his life was being saved, according to the film’s Web site.

Cardinal Dziwisz’s memoirs are illustrated with documentary footage, as well as dramatized material. The filmmakers used the Vatican archives and yet-unpublished photographs. The various themes and forms are brought together by the narrator, Michael York. York was selected for the film by the Vatican from a “short list” presented by Häuser.

Häuser said the film could not have happened without the cooperation of Cardinal Dziwisz, who was known during his time in the Vatican for keeping his own counsel.

“When talking about many events, he lost his reserve,” Häuser said in an interview on the film’s Web site. “You could see very strong emotions, especially when he was talking about the attempt to assassinate the pope and about the pope’s last moments. The crew would leave the set with tears in their eyes.”

Cardinal George also has supported the film, attending its world premier at the Vatican during last year’s Synod of Bishops in October and then viewing it again at the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore in November.

For ticket information visit or call 1-800-300-5892.