Lights, Camera, Action!

            I can’t describe my feelings when I saw the video of Pope Leo XIII. He was the first Pope to be filmed and to have his voice recorded. It felt like I’m going back deeper and deeper into history. The video was black and white, it was so melancholic to look at and I felt nostalgic while watching it. Tears wanted to flow from my eyes, I don’t know how to describe what I feel. It seemed like the feeling of the NUMINOUS. Perhaps after all, I can say that I really am a Catholic.

            The first Pope who I knew when I grew up was Pope John Paul II. It wasn’t so difficult to have a glimpse of him for his images abound in literature and in the media. He was a very popular pope and so whenever someone mentions his name I don’t have the difficulty to produce an image of him in my mind. But all the previous popes – I only knew them through the books. They have their images too, but all of them are just portraits. To see the first footage of a pope and to hear the first audio recording of his voice was something different.


            But who really is Pope Leo XIII? Born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci,was the 256th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, reigning from 1878 to 1903 and had the third longest pontificate after Pius IX and John Paul II.

            He is known for intellectualism, the development of social teachings with his encyclical Rerum Novarum and his attempts to define the position of the Church with regard to modern thinking. He influenced Roman Catholic Mariology and promoted both the rosary and the scapular. He issued a record eleven encyclicals on the rosary, approved two new Marian scapulars and was the first Pope to fully embrace the concept of Mary as mediatrix.

            As soon as he was elected to the papacy, Leo XIII worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world. When he firmly re-asserted the scholastic doctrine that science and religion co-exist, he required the study of Thomas Aquinas and opened the Vatican Secret Archives to qualified researchers, among whom was the noted historian of the Papacy Ludwig von Pastor.

            Leo XIII brought normality back to the Church after the tumultuous years of Pius IX. Leo’s intellectual and diplomatic skills helped regain much of the prestige lost with the fall of the Papal States. He tried to reconcile the Church with the working class, particularly by dealing with the social changes that were sweeping Europe. The new economic order had resulted in the growth of an impoverished working class, with increasing anti-clerical and socialist sympathies. Leo helped reverse this trend.

            While Leo was no radical in either theology or politics, his papacy did move the Church back to the mainstream of European life. Considered a great diplomat, he managed to improve relations with Russia, Prussia, Germany, France, England and other countries.

            Pope Leo XIII was able to reach several agreements in 1896, which resulted in better conditions for the faithful and additional appointments of bishops. During the Fifth cholera pandemic in 1891 he ordered the construction of a hospice inside the Vatican. That building would be torn down in 1996 to make way for construction of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Of outstanding significance, not least for the English-speaking world, was Leo’s encyclical Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of the Anglican orders, published in 1896.

            Leo XIII was the first Pope of whom a sound recording was made. The recording can be found on a compact disc of Alessandro Moreschi’s singing; a recording of his performance of the Ave Maria is available on the web. He was also the first Pope to be filmed on the motion picture camera. He was filmed by its inventor, W.K. Dickson, and blessed the camera while being filmed.

            Leo XIII was the first Pope to be born in the 19th century. He was also the first to die in the 20th century: he lived to the age of 93, the longest living pope. At the time of his death, Leo XIII was the second-longest reigning pope, exceeded only by his immediate predecessor, Pius IX. Leo was not entombed in St. Peter’s Basilica, as all popes after him have been, but instead at the very ancient basilica of  St. John Lateran, his cathedral church as Bishop of Rome, and a church in which he took a particular interest.

Facts about Leo XIII from Wikipedia


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