SYNOPSIS OF THE MINI-SERIES "POPE JOHN PAUL II"
POPE JOHN PAUL II, a new four-hour mini-series event based on the remarkable life of Pope John Paul II, will be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 4 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) and Wednesday, Dec. 7 (8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Cary Elwes portrays Karol Wojtyla in his adult years prior to being elected Pope on Oct. 16, 1978, and Jon Voight portrays him during his extraordinary 26 year reign that ended with his death on April 2, 2005. James Cromwell plays Polish Archbishop-turned-Cardinal Sapieha, Ben Gazzara plays Vatican Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli and Christopher Lee portrays Polish Cardinal Wyszynski.
On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II (Voight) enthusiastically greets the masses as he is driven through St. Peter�s Square. Among the crowd is Mehmet Ali Agca, a man with a mission to kill the beloved man of God. Gun shots ring out and the pope is critically wounded. From the hospital, in flashback, his story begins.
On September 1, 1939, the Germans invade Poland. At that time, many years after the death of his mother and several years after the death of his elder brother, a young Karol Wojtyla (Elwes) makes his home in Krakow with his ailing father (Robert Mazurkiewicz). Karol had been studying at the university and, though it is dangerous and forbidden under Nazi occupation, he continues with actor friends to put on plays as a means of preserving and saluting their Polish culture.
The horrors that pervade their everyday lives under the Nazis shake Karol to the core. He is aghast at the random killings, the treatment of the Jews and the arrest and deportation of the university professors. While making a confession to Archbishop Sapieha (James Cromwell), he reveals that he doesn�t know how to respond to the anger he feels in his heart toward the Nazis. The Archbishop cautions that violence will only lead to more violence and that he must choose faith and intelligence instead. It is during this time that Karol begins to move toward the priesthood.
In the meantime, Karol�s father urges him to get work papers to avoid being deported, after which Karol begins the hard work of splitting rocks at a quarry. On breaks he reads poetry and discusses the perils of communism with fellow quarryman who initially yearn for the Soviets to free them from the Nazis.
Meeting with German Governor-General of Krakow Hans Frank (Harald Posch), Archbishop Sapieha brazenly warns him that prohibiting worship will make the Nazis� stay in Krakow more difficult. Frank reluctantly agrees to allow Mass to be held twice a week, but rules that the Catholic Church must cease the training and ordination of priests. After his father dies, Karol surprises his theater friends with his plans to become a priest. He joins Sapieha�s underground seminary and assists in Sapieha�s peaceful resistance movement. Despondent over the arrest of a female member (Vittoria Belvedere) of the movement and the murder of his seminarian friend (Fabrizio Bucci), Karol, who miraculously survives a serious hit and run accident, wonders why he has been spared.
Meanwhile, the Germans leave Poland but are quickly replaced by the Communists who try to convince Krakow�s leaders that the Polish culture, which was undermined by the Nazis, will be reinvigorated. Archbishop Sapieha meets with the Andrezej Czerzy (Krzysztof Pieczynski), the Head of Security of the Polish Provisional Government and is told that 16 leaders of the Polish underground are to be tried in Moscow as Nazi collaborators. Knowing Czerzy was born in Poland, Sapieha tries to appeal to his sense of decency, to no avail. A Russian security advisor (Marcin Sibiga) suggests that Sapieha should be removed from power, but Czerzy knows that he is �the light of Poland� and thinks the move is unwise. Karol is finally ordained a priest.
Karol is assigned to be pastor of Krakow�s St. Florian�s Church to minister to students. He is an open, approachable priest and takes his young parishioners, such as Teresa (Valeria Cavalli) and Gapa (Ettore Bassi), on kayaking trips where they can talk about any subject, even sexuality which he says is dear to God as long as it�s an expression of true love. He holds Mass for them along the riverbed and it is a joyous time for all.
Karol visits Sapieha on his deathbed and is told by Sapieha to trust God who has placed a gift in him and has a plan for him. The Holy See appoints Karol auxiliary bishop of Krakow and, at 38-years old, he is installed. He continues to cultivate faith with the people of Krakow despite the restrictions imposed by the communist leaders. After talking it over with Cardinal Wyszynski (Christopher Lee), Karol holds Christmas midnight Mass in an open area of the communists� newly-built church-free city, Nowa Huta.
Communist leaders are enraged that Czerzy didn�t foresee how Karol would behave in his new position. After appointing Fr. Stanislaw �Stascui� Dziwisz (Wenanty Nosul) to be his personal assistant, Karol decides to have a public religious procession with a picture frame that once held an image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. This is another act of defiance, as it is illegal to exhibit religious images, but processions can still take place.
Karol attends the Second Vatican Council in Rome in 1964 where he continues to impress influential bishops and cardinals within the church with his views, his charisma and his knowledge of multiple languages. He reconnects with Roman, a Jewish friend from his youth (Daniele Pecci), and, later, continues his assent in the church, becoming a cardinal. Karol is saddened to learn that the woman from the resistance movement who had been arrested is dying from the long-ago medical experiments that the Nazis performed on her. Karol visits her and is greatly relieved to hear the miraculous news that her test results are now normal.
In August, 1978, he attends Conclave I with Cardinal Wyszynski during which Pope John Paul I is elected. When the new pope dies only 33 days later, Karol attends Conclave II. At that time, the cardinals discuss the possibility of electing a pope who is not Italian for the first time in 455 years. Karol is told that he is being considered for the position and is advised by Wyszynski that, if he�s elected, he should accept � for Poland.
Karol Wojtyla becomes Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978. As is the custom, the new pope speaks to the crowd in St. Peter's Square and is met by overwhelming enthusiasm. But not all are happy with the selection, especially members of the Communist Party in Poland and the Soviet Union who blame Jimmy Carter's Polish advisor for the selection.
Pope John Paul II feels strongly that he must remain in contact with people and not be cloistered in order to serve them, and he is determined to remain a pastor. He also believes that it is better to have strong, opinionated people around him, not just those who agree with his every thought and, to that end, appoints Agostino Casaroli (Ben Gazarra) to be the Vatican Secretary of State.
He also doesn't back down from confrontation, especially with Soviet Minister Gromyko (Cyrus Elias), whom he challenges regarding the Soviet policy about religious freedom. And, though he is not invited to attend the Latin American's Bishop's Conference in Mexico, he goes anyway and is warmly embraced by people there.
He also visits Poland, though he is unwelcome there by the Polish Communist government who conspire to insight violence during his visit in order to discourage future visits. He is enthusiastically welcomed home by the people who throng into the streets and discover the feeling of freedom that they have been denied for nearly 40 years. Before he leaves Krakow, he visits the cemetery where his family is buried.
Shortly after these trips, John Paul II visits the United States where he speaks to the United Nations and embraces youth in Madison Square Garden. He is seen throughout the world as a "superstar" and appears on the cover of Time magazine.
In Poland, Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement gains momentum and the pope publicly encourages it. His words inspire the people of Poland to support the movement, despite the risks of angering the Communists. The Kremlin ultimately permits Solidarity to become an official trade union on August 31, 1980.
On May 31, 1981, Pope John Paul II is shot by an assassin in the crowd. In the hospital he talks with Archbishop Wyszynski, who is on his deathbed, and thanks him for his friendship and unwavering faith. As John Paul recovers from his injury, he follows the late Archbishop's advice and declares that his purpose is to lead the church into the new millennium, into a world without war, without social injustice and where Christians are unified.
He vows to work with the United States to eradicate Communism in Europe and decides to visit Poland again to see Lech Walesa who, under Marshall Law, has been arrested. At that meeting, the Pope instructs Walesa to continue to fight for freedom but to avoid bloodshed at all costs. He also visits his assassin in prison and prays for him.
He meets with Catholic youth and declares an annual World Youth Day. Though he is happy when Lech Walesa is freed and believes that peace is possible, he is discouraged when Iraq invades Kuwait. He is also discouraged when hundreds of women demonstrate against him. He responds by writing a letter to women, reminding them that God loves and respects them, and that he, as Pope, honors their place in the world. As he writes, he notices a trembling in his hand, the first of many physical ailments that will surface.
After John Paul falls and fractures his leg, he learns that he will be in constant pain for the rest of his life and will never ski again. The tremors continue and he is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In spite of his physical frailty, he continues to be a strong voice for the things in which he believes. He struggles with the notion of suffering, wondering how God could allow him to have such physical problems at a time in history when people need to see and feel their Pope close to them.
His desire is to live to the year 2000 and fulfill his mission to lead the church into the new millennium of peace. That year, he receives the blessing to lead the opening ceremonies of Jubilee 2000 and in March, he goes to Jerusalem where, on behalf of the Catholic Church, he asks for forgiveness and brotherhood with the Jewish people.
In 2002, he summons American bishops to Rome to tell them how saddened and outraged he is about the scandal that has occurred in the Catholic Church there. He is also saddened by the events of September 11.
In March, 2005, a gravely ill pope feels compelled to speak to the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square, which would be his last public appearance. However, he is so moved by the sight of the loving, supportive crowd that he is literally unable to speak. The next day it is announced that his health has taken a turn for the worse and that he is ready to go to the Lord. Pope John Paul II dies on April 2, 2005.