A couple nights ago Roger and me from SCUPE went with our Swiss friends to Columbia College for their screening of the new documentary (10 years in the making) about Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger. The 58 minute film, entitled “Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger“, was begun under the vision of David Axelrod (yeah, the White House Senior Adviser) who passed the helm on to Evanston filmmaker Bob Hercules in 2005 when attention was turning to a young presidential hopeful by the name of Barack Obama.
Pfleger is the pastor at Saint Sabina’s Catholic Church in Auburn Gresham, a church with a long history of fostering urban transformation within their community as well as working toward policy change on the city, state, and national level. As Father Pfleger has worked on various movements during his 29 year tenure at the church he has become a public figure of sorts, love by some and reviled by others, particularly through his fearless use of the news media in the church’s campaigns.
The stakes for the event were heightened by the fact that both filmmaker and film-subject were present at the screening and afterwards would take questions. Even having met and worked with Father Pfleger I must admit there is a certain level or oddity when watching someone’s life story with them present. Especially, in tense moments that dealt with some of the controversy that has surrounded Father Pfleger there was an odd sense of his presence being misplaced at a viewing of his own life. Still, the film dealt quite evenhandedly with the controversy that undoubtedly follows public figures and, to its credit, the film often sought to get beneath these issues to a sense of what compels and inspires Father Pfleger in his drive for social change.
This is the real heart of the story: uncovering the inner spiritual fire that fuels the activist priest who is consistently ambitious enough to believe that real change is possible and then to work towards it.