Jon Voight on John Paul

The actor discusses what it's like to portray one of the most beloved--and most recorded--figures in recent history.

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen


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I've read that you've explored other religions, too. Which ones?

Many religions: the Eastern religions, the Hopi religion. The Hopi religion is a very elaborate, sophisticated religion. They have ceremonies and dances continuously. It's very social, but also full of beautiful symbolism born of the interaction with the natural world and prayers to the creator. It's not unlike the Hindu religion, the meditation.

I had a friend, Thomas Banyacya. He was a representative of the Hopi prophecy, a testament that came down through word of mouth for the secret societies of the Hopi.

Jon Voight on
the Hopi "Bean Ceremony"
He told me about the "bean ceremony," where the elderly Hopi take the young children into a kiva, a building with a ladder coming out of the top. It's like a holy room. They then plant a seed together in the soil in the kiva.

Then they come back and chant and pray with that seed-the elder and the little child. My friend would say if there was something going on, some drama in the life of the elder, the tree would grow stunted or crooked. If the person was in right behavior, the bean plant would grow straight and healthy. That's amazing to me. It is about purity, character, how that affects our environment. It speaks so eloquently.

I've read that you're interested in Judaism, too--you read Hasidic writings and seek out Chabad centers when you're on location in different places. Is that the case?

That's true of native people too. When I'm near a native community, I visit it. If I hear there's a spiritual person in the neighborhood, I'll seek them out. No matter who it is, if I find someone who might be helping their community, if I'm working there I'll call them up and say, "Need any help? Can I put some focus on something? Can I visit the kids?"

Do you see a connection between Catholicism and the different religions you've explored?

I'd say that all nations have contact with the truth, and all religions have admirable people. One of the things John Paul II did was have meetings, in Assisi, of religious leaders. They would all gather and interact. There's a remarkable speech he made in English to them that I have on tape.

The gist was, "We are thought to be the spiritual heroes of our communities, and we must respect each other. We can see that in the past, we have not always been peacemakers. If we turn away from each other, we will be injuring ourselves, our own communities." I'm saying it in my own words, not the pope's words. "We must all admit where we have been wayward as in our individual communities, and must go forward and offer our hand in friendship to each other." We're more alike than not.

Having done the movie, do you feel differently towards Catholicism?

I learned that throughout the lineage of the great priests and archbishops of Poland, there are many great people. They were great because they stood against lies, cruelty. They stood in front of their people as protectors, using their faith as a weapon, an armor against injustice and cruelty. They really were warriors, not physical warriors, but warriors of spiritual commitment and understanding. They were tempered in very challenging times.


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