A year in the life of what it calls “the Catholic world’s biggest theater of faith” is chronicled in the documentary “Inside the Vatican,” a BBC production premiering on PBS Tuesday, April 28, 9-11 p.m. EDT. Viewers should check local listings, though, since broadcast times may vary.
Over the course of 2018, filmmaker Silvia Sacco and her camera crew followed Pope Francis and many of the 2,600 employees who work inside the world’s smallest sovereign state. From security guards, cleaners and gardeners to diplomats, interpreters, choristers and priests and nuns as well, “Inside the Vatican” goes behind the scenes to witness the ebb and flow from Lent through Christmas.
At the main employee entrance, Pope Francis has placed an icon of the “Virgin of Silence” as a stern reminder that idle gossip should find no foothold inside the workplace. All labor stops at noon every day, so everyone can gather together to pray the Angelus.
The best moments feature those not wearing clerical garb. There are the Sediari, for instance, who once carried the sedia gestatoria, the now-disused portable papal throne, but who now welcome thousands of daily visitors and direct traffic with aplomb.
The Gendarmerie is the Vatican police force, always on the watch for terrorism, still haunted by the assassination attempt on St. John Paul II in 1981. Among other duties, miles of tunnels and passageways must be checked regularly for bombs.
The workers who clean, repair and move the furniture in St. Peter’s Basilica are called the Sanpietrini. Viewers will marvel as they scramble to the top of the massive baldacchino over the main altar, dusting and polishing the angels and cherubs of Bernini’s masterpiece.
The Sanpietrini see themselves as heirs to the original craftsmen who built the basilica 500 years ago. “For me, as a believer, to work in God’s house is the greatest honor,” says Andrea Benedetti, one of the supervisors.
The communications team makes full use of social media for papal promotion: @Pontifex on Twitter and @Franciscus on Instagram. Evidently, many of the followers are nonbelievers.
The film goes deeper than the Vatican’s daily routine and deals at length with the controversies that have arisen within the Church under Pope Francis’ pontificate.
“Making reforms,” the pope confesses, “is like cleaning the Sphinx of Egypt with a toothbrush.” —CNS
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.