A new documentary, John Paul II in Ireland: A Plea for Peace, begins airing this month on public television stations across the country. Narrated by Jim Caviezel, the feature-length film tells the largely unknown story of John Paul II’s historic trip to Ireland, September 29 to October 1, 1979 and his remarkable plea for peace at Drogheda.
“On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and return to the ways of peace.” – Pope John Paul II, at Drogheda, September 29, 1979.
Many believe these words sowed the seeds of peace that would help to end the Northern Ireland conflict some 19 years later.
Emmy award-winning filmmaker David Naglieri sat down with uCatholic to discuss his newest documentary.
Q. What was the significance of the pope’s words at Drogheda?
A. The power of the pope’s words at Drogheda was undeniable. Protestant leaders, Rev. Harold Good and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, for example, shared with us how the pope’s words helped to dispel some of the harmful misbeliefs that people held – in particular, that the Catholic Church and the IRA were one and the same.
John Paul also made a significant contribution to the international understanding of the conflict by stating, unequivocally, at Drogheda, that the violence was not the result of a religious conflict. The “Troubles” period was sometimes oversimplified as a Protestants vs. Catholic conflict, but the fight was not over the real presence in the Eucharist or Papal Authority—it was about who would determine the political destiny of Northern Ireland.
The homily at Drogheda penetrated deeply into the hearts of many, especially Irish civic leaders. Overall, the messages of the pope during his entire trip spread widely across all of Irish society. By the end of the visit, a third of the entire population of Ireland had turned out to see the pope.
Q. What is one way the pope’s appeal helped inspire those seeking peace?
A. The pope’s words influenced Fr. Alec Reid, a Redemptorist priest who went on to play a supremely important role in kicking off the peace process. Reid was one of the first to realize that while attention focused on the pope’s appeal for peace, equally significant were his words to political leaders to remove the injustices that gave rise to violence, and his call to search for “a different way.” That second, lesser-celebrated appeal, helped inspire the secret talks that Reid set up between rival leaders John Hume and Gerry Adams. Those talks subsequently become the basis of the peace process, culminating in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement.
In your previous films, you have tackled many heavy historical topics ranging from Pius XII and the Holocaust to the Cristero War. In what ways does the search for historic truth influence your approach to documentary filmmaking?
People who are cut off from their roots can quickly become driftless. There is a great need to educate Catholics and non-Catholics alike about the richness of our heritage and the great contribution faith and spirituality have made to Western Civilization. I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to produce films that help viewers more deeply appreciate the power and dynamism of the Christian faith lived authentically and fearlessly. John Paul II in Ireland: A Plea for Peace is a film I am really excited about because it brings an important moment in 20th-century history to life, revealing how faith and moral conviction can help construct what John Paul termed “a civilization of love.”