5.6 min readBy Published On: November 16th, 2016Categories: Arts and Entertainment, Lifestyle0 Comments on A Review of The Accidental Pope

The Accidental Pope, a 2001 Novel by Ray Flynn, Parallels Current Papacy, and World Events

Review By John Joseph Fahey

Published at the turn of the millennium, the December 2001 release of Ray Flynn’s novel The Accidental Pope (co-written with Robin Moore, author of The French Connection; St. Martin’s Press) seems prophetic given the relatively recent election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy and his emphasis on issues concerning social justice.

Indeed, The Accidental Pope, written by the former mayor of the City of Boston as well as the Ambassador from the United States to the Holy See from 1993 to 1997, brings to the reader an engaging story of one Bill Kelly, a former priest who is, purely accidentally, chosen to lead the world’s Roman Catholics as the successor of Peter; in fact, the name this accidental pontiff choses is Peter!

Pope Peter ll, in the Flynn book, becomes truly a servant of the people; and, because of his commitment to the Gospel, the message of Christ, moves within the world addressing issues that have become controversial as well as politically precarious on the cusp of the new century.

The parallels of The Accidental Pope with the public’s high acceptance of Peter and with that Francis’ large popularity seems almost uncanny, even more so given that events in the book so closely relate to the political and social situations playing out on the world stage now.

In The Accidental Pope, pressing issues such as impoverishment, AIDS and political terrorism provide the backdrop from which Peter ll tries to implement the concepts of Christianity in trying to help his fellow mankind; similarly today Francis, too has taken on the role of the shepherd in trying to gather not only the proverbial lost sheep but to make a difference in a world full of disparity and in need of spiritual direction.

Like Peter ll, Pope Francis travels extensively; Like Peter ll, Francis provides a moral compass; like Peter ll (also the first pope from the Americas!) Francis addresses and moves with the geography of what has become so much a threat word-wide: political terrorism.

The issue of terrorism cannot be overstated in today’s world. This subject plays a salient role in the former Ambassador’s book; and rightly so given that the pope is truly a universal figure (and head of one of the five major world religions,) and the threat of terrorist attacks are feared all over the world. But also the trauma of those suffering from AIDS plays a role. Peter ll makes a pastoral visit to the African continent to help alleviate what was once considered a world-wide epidemic – and is still a serious health concern.

The issues in The Accidental Pope have not changed despite having been more than a decade since it hit the bookstores.

Toward the end of 2015, Francis traveled to Africa, to the nations of Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic; the issue of terrorism being on the agenda. The former French colony of Mali was a particular target of terrorism on November 20 as more than 20 were killed in the capital of Bamako; and one week prior, on European soil, terrorism resulted in over 100 killed in an attack in Paris; and in the current year, terrorist activity and the fear it generates has not abated. Subsequently, Francis has traveled to other locations – several on the forefront of tenuous political situations.

Like Peter ll, Francis is taking the Gospel to the vineyards.

In writing The Accidental Pope, Mayor Flynn, has indeed relied on his own experiences as not only mayor of Boston but also as one who traveled extensively with Pope John Paul ll (now saint John Paul)while serving in the diplomatic Corps.

Flynn accompanied John Paul ll to Africa on the former’s pope’s well received papal visits to the continent. And, as mayor from 1984 through 1993, Flynn had addressed the burgeoning AIDS crises with proposals and implementations, such as developing a pediatric AIDS unit at the then Boston City Hospital (which actually was rebuilt, enhanced and renamed Boston Medical Center under his administration,) and opening a small clinic, as well as with housing facilities to assist people who were living with AIDS.

As well as with the needs of the poor and issues surrounding social justice, the former mayor has addressed another concern; Flynn’s own grandson, Braeden, was born with a rare neurological disorder, and Flynn has become an advocate for parents of children with special needs.

And so it is to those who manage on a daily basis with disability or health, those marginalized due to economy, or those populations struggling within the framework of political disturbance and intolerance that Bill Kelly, as Pope Peter II, directs his mission.

Truly, The Accidental Pope is not an exposition about the responsibility of the leader of the Church or about the role of religion in the world, but rather about the challenges and setbacks people face and in their determination to overcome them.

The Accidental Pope certainly has elements of good story telling, after all, it is a novel and was also on the Best Seller list; however, it parallels events that have shaped, and continues to shape our world. The papacy of Francis is being defined as one in which the Vicar of Christ on Earth focuses his attention not only on inequality in the Third World (comprising both economic and health related concerns) but also on the necessity of social justice and the expansive spread of violence due to radical fundamentalism.

The fictional Peter ll in The Accidental Pope also spoke of these issues – and traveled to locations, while risky, has made a difference. His travels and addresses, and the discourse which they provoke bring to the forefront crucial concerns and topics confronting the twenty first century.

The Accidental Pope would make a great motion picture; Flynn recently completed the screenplay and hopes it will find its way to the screen. The Accidental Pope is a story not unlike events occurring in the world today; it is an entertaining and intriguing account of one man, who because of an accidental election to a most powerful office, becomes not only a moral voice but someone involved with helping to address, and indeed solve some of the problems of the world, and as a result becomes himself an international target.

An international political thriller to be sure – and one that just might make the next cinematic hit!

John Joseph Fahey has been a long time Arts and Theater critic.

The Accidental Pope is available for purchase at Amazon!  Great gift idea for lovers of Boston, history, and the Catholic Church.

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