“The pope has rock star qualities”

For her, it's her first role as a pastor; he's never been a priest before. Actors Birge Schade and Martin Gruber, can be seen on Friday evening in the ARD film "Frau Pfarrerin und Herr Priester" (Priest and Priestess). An interview about religion, celibacy and Pope Francis.

Catholic News Agency (KNA): Mr. Gruber, you presented your film on DVD to Pope Francis during a general audience in Rome. What was your impression of him?

Martin Gruber: This pope has real rock star qualities. It was almost like being at a Robbie Williams concert – except there weren't knickers flying, but rosaries. He is simply close to the people, he stands for what he sells.

CBA: What did he say about your film?

Gruber: Whether he has seen the film, I do not know. He came to the fence and shook my hand – a very firm handshake, by the way – and I handed him the film. Then he said: "Pray for me." That did surprise me; I thought it was the other way around, that the pope prays for you.

CBA: What attracted both of you to the role of a pastor and a minister, respectively?. of a priest fascinates?

Birge Schade: For me it was an unusual role, but still just a role. I do not fulfill any mission in my life. When I read and played the film for the first time, I liked my character, Pastor Rieke, very much. It shows the determination to go even into unpleasant situations. But it's not that the church or the Christian aspect particularly appealed to me.

Gruber: I felt reminded of my role as a mountain rescuer. He also saved and I saw in my character, Priest Toni, the savior of souls. I liked Toni because he is very clear. He stands behind what he does 100 percent. And while playing, I realized what incredible power a priest can have if he wants to – in a positive sense! In a sermon, he has ten minutes of speaking time and can then deliver a great message.

CBA: The Catholic and Protestant rules of the game for pastors are not always easy to understand. How did you prepare for the roles?

Gruber: I have a good friend who is a priest in the Vatican, and he taught me the basics of being a priest: this is how you break the host, this is how you curtsey before the tabernacle, this is why we have 33 buttons on our cassock. So I was able to look behind the scenes a little bit.

Too bad: I was interested in the job description of a pastor, and that's why I met with a pastor here in Berlin before filming – a very, very great woman. It's such a social profession that covers a lot of areas, I didn't realize that before. That it is also a profession with the highest burn-out rate, I can fully understand. They are never off duty. Like any person who has a mission, pastors put private concerns to the back burner. One's own family, one's own need. And that eventually backfires.

CBA: Are you yourself religious?

Gruber: I am baptized and confirmed Catholic and also go to church from time to time.
Pity: I was baptized and confirmed as a Protestant. But I left at some point in my rebellious phase as a young adult. And that is because I had problems identifying with institutions. I also think that the church doesn't make it easy for women. I also told that to the priest. And she could understand me.
CBA: In the film, priest Rieke and priest Toni become friends – and there's also a bit of a sizzle between them …

A pity: Yes, but that is as far as it goes. And that's what makes the role interesting: when you say that sexuality is a taboo, that's out now. Where then does closeness begin and where friendship, and how do you deal with the longing for each other? That fascinated me.

Gruber: Exactly, the strongest drive between man and woman – sexuality – is shut down here. When you gamble, you have a limit and you have to keep to it. It was a bit like "The Model and the Snoop", one of my favorite series from the 80s, it never comes to that either… and that was also the attraction.
Pity: I also asked the priest about the celibacy of catholic priests. She has said that she draws her spirituality from celibacy. That is a decision for which I have a lot of respect. Nevertheless, I think that one can be friends and also desire each other. They are only human. But it depends on how you deal with it.
CBA: In the final scene of the film, four religious representatives – in addition to the two of you, an imam and a rabbi – play cards peacefully with each other. Why this ending?

Pity: It is a utopia of the director. There are four people who want the same thing – for their people to do well. Maybe some people find that naive. But one can also simply put this in the room.

Gruber: Yes, it is the principle of hope: that different religious representatives with really strong views sit at the same table and play peaceably with each other, that is a step that all mankind is dreaming of at the moment.

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Christina Cherry
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