Filmed over an historic year, with unprecedented access inside the Vatican, we follow Pope Francis and the people who live and work inside this independent city state.
Follows the build up to the most sacred celebration in the Church calendar, Easter – when Pope Francis takes centre stage in the world’s biggest theatre of faith.
No film crew has ever had such access to the inner workings of the Vatican. From Pope Francis himself to his head of security, the nuns who cater for the homeless, the choristers of the Sistine Chapel, the papal gardener, the chief of the diplomatic corps and many others, we get a unique and exclusive insight into the lives of those who live and work in this independent city state.
Every Wednesday, Pope Francis invites pilgrims to meet him at his general audience. Marking his fifth year in office as the Vatican’s first Latin American pontiff, Pope Francis believes the Church should be close to the people. For centuries, popes have lived in the Apostolic Palace, but Pope Francis has moved to a modest apartment in the Casa Santa Marta.
Every January, diplomats from all nations gather in the Sistine Chapel for the Pope’s annual State of the World Address. The Vatican is one of the oldest diplomatic institutions in the world, and the head of their equivalent of the Foreign Office is Archbishop Paul Gallagher, originally from Liverpool.
At the heart of the Vatican is St Peter’s Basilica. As Easter draws near, the Sanpietrini – skilled craftsmen responsible for the upkeep of St Peter’s – are hard at work. For them, this is not a routine job but a tradition that has been passed down from the original craftsmen who built St Peter’s, the most important Church in the Catholic world. The Vatican gardeners also have a key role to play, preparing the olive branches to decorate St Peter’s Square and palm leaves to adorn the columns of the basilica.
Meanwhile, the Vatican Police Force makes stringent security checks in anticipation of the arrival of tens of thousands of pilgrims.
After the festivities of Palm Sunday, the early part of the Easter week is given over to quiet contemplation inside the Vatican. This is when Pope Francis follows a very personal Easter ritual: he visits inmates of the Regina Coeli prison to wash their feet. This Easter one of the chosen twelve is a Muslim prisoner, Ali.
Charts a time of change as Pope Francis appoints 14 new cardinals and a sex abuse scandal erupts just as the Pope embarks on a historic visit to Ireland.
Pope Francis is a reformer and he is shaking up the clerical establishment. He is questioning attitudes to divorce and homosexuality, and he is not shy about confronting his opponents. Every year Pope Francis gives his annual address to the Curia Romana, the cardinals, bishops and priests who make up the central governing body of the Church.
One of the most important tools of reform the Pope possesses is his power to appoint new cardinals. This is the closest he comes to succession planning because the college of cardinals will elect the new Pope at the next conclave. This year, Pope Francis is appointing 14 new cardinals and he is breaking with tradition by choosing men not only from the centres of power in Europe and North America, but also from countries such as Iraq, Madagascar and Pakistan. Not everyone is impressed. Sandro Magister, an influential journalist who has been reporting on the Catholic Church for over 50 years, is critical of the Pope’s choice of new cardinals.
Pope Francis has been outspoken on the subject of climate change and he is leading by example. He has set up a recycling centre inside the Vatican. They still have a way to go. Today 49% of Vatican waste is recycled; the aim is to recycle 80% by 2025.
The Pope’s influence is felt in the smallest details, even in the simpler fabrics the Vatican tailor now uses for the Papal cassocks. For some of the Pope’s newly appointed cardinals, like Cardinal Coutts, from Pakistan, it is an ordeal to visit the tailor for a fitting of the red ceremonial costume which cardinals wear for the big day of the consistory.
But it is not all work. The Vatican has its own football league, fielding teams from different departments such as the Swiss Guards and the gendarmerie. Don Luigi, a priest who has lived in the Vatican since he first arrived as a 12-year-old altar boy, is a keen player for the telecoms department.
At the end of August, Pope Francis goes to Ireland in the first papal visit for 40 years. Two weeks before the Pope’s trip, the church is rocked by scandal. An explosive report issued by a grand jury in Pennsylvania alleges the cover up of Catholic priest sex abuses dating back decades. The report includes evidence of more than 300 priests accused of abusing more than 1000 child victims.
This episode follows Father Hans Zollner, a psychologist and one of the leading experts on sexual abuse working in the Catholic Church. He has served on the Pope’s special commission for the protection of minors since 2014. At the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Father Zollner and his colleagues have set up a post graduate training course in child protection to try to prevent abuse from occurring in the future.
For journalist Christopher Lamb, the sexual abuse scandal is a challenge to his own faith, but he also draws comfort from this Pope.