P eter had seen Jesus in person, broke bread with him, learned from him, and preached in his name. But the same Peter doubted he could walk on water with Christ, denied his Lord thrice, and was nowhere near his cross when Jesus was crucified.
Peter had such an riveting life story that I always thought it would make a very good film. Thus when I learned that RaiUno would broadcast a film about the first pope for two nights (24-25 Oct at 2100), I went to the TV room on the dot. San Pietro (Saint Peter) was directed by the Italian filmmaker Giulio Base. In the title role is the septuagenarian Omar Sharif.
The opening scene is Jesus’ crucifixion. We first see a long shot of Golgotha and a few seconds later we realize we are looking at the crucified Christ through the eyes of Peter, who is watching the crucifixion incognito and from afar. The camera deftly moves to reveal tears swelling from his eyes and for thirty minutes or so, the story focuses on how guilty Peter is for betraying Jesus three times and deserting him during the most needful moment in his life.
The 200-minute film presents a very human, fragile Peter and the growth of the Christian community he founded. It also recounts his encounter with Paul, his preaching ministry, and his sojourn in Rome to spread the Christian message and lay the foundations for the new Church. While the film began with Jesus’ crucifixion it ends with Peter’s own execution on a cross.
The part that I liked the most is the boat scene. Peter invited the other disciples to join him on his boat. Matthew, the tax collector, did not want to board the wooden craft because he was dead scared. When they were already in the deepest part of the lake, Peter asked Matthew to take the rudder. This greatly surprised Matthew and the other disciples, so Peter explained to them that they needed not only to trust each other but also to guide each other. Afterwards, Peter called the other disciples one by one and gave each the opportunity to steer the boat.
That for me defined who Peter was – a person who had deep faith in God, yet also believed in others, and allowed himself to be guided by his friends. Jesus chose him to be the first leader of the first Christian community not because Peter was perfect but because he was willing to learn and to let go. Jesus chose him to be the foundation of the Church not because he was as solid as a rock but because he was soft enough to admit his own mistakes and change himself for the better. Jesus chose him not because of who he was but because of who he could become – a man who would give his all for Christ.