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CINEMA

New film recalls pope’s darkest moments

The challenges faced by Pope Francis during the dark years of the Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983) are portrayed in a new film, 'Call Me Francesco', which will have its world premiere at the Vatican on Tuesday.

New film recalls pope's darkest moments
Italian director Daniele Luchetti's film "Call me Francesco" will premiere at the Vatican this week. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The film tells the story of the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, from his youth to his election as head of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013.
   
During the 98-minute biopic the audience gets a glimpse into Bergoglio's life as a young man in Buenos Aires, surrounded by Peronist friends and with a girlfriend he came close to proposing to before getting his calling to become a priest.
   
As the military dictatorship's grip tightens on the country, Bergoglio, now provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina, must walk the thin line between staying out of the generals' firing line and trying to protect those being persecuted, as friends, colleagues and acquaintances are “disappeared” and tortured around him.
   
“I didn't want to present him as a saint or make a hagiography,” said the film's director, Daniele Luchetti.
   
“That was the danger. I wanted to respect the history of Argentina and so I listened to all suggestions without trivializing anything.”

Luchetti's film focuses on the character of Bergoglio, depicting him as an authoritarian but sensitive personality.
   
At the height of the dictatorship's repression, it shows the future pope hiding persecuted students in his seminary, helping people escape to exile and consoling the so-called “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” whose children were “disappeared” by the dictatorship.
   
Luchetti insists he has produced a realistic and balanced portrayal of the characters and events covered by the film.

Those who still believe Bergoglio could have done more to speak out against the regime may not agree as the film largely steers clear of the issue of Church silence in the face of the dictatorship's use of torture and extrajudicial killings to silence dissent.

Huge responsibility

In one of the film's key scenes, Bergoglio is portrayed as obeying orders from above when he withdraws Jesuit protection for two priests, Daniel Iorio and Francisco Jalics, after they refuse to stop their work in one of the city's poorest areas.

The Jesuits fear the dictatorship will associate the priests with the extreme-left movement. Without protection the men are kidnapped and tortured and, in real life, later accuse the future pope of betraying them.

Pope Francis, 78, is played by two Latin American actors: the Argentine Rodrigo de la Serna, (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) in his period as a priest and bishop, and the Chilean Sergio Hernandez (“Gloria”) as the pontiff in his more recent years.

“It was a huge responsibility because of the historical and spiritual dimension of the character,” said Serna, adding that while playing the role he got in touch with his own spiritual side and “learnt how to pray”. 

The Italian production cost €14 million and was filmed over 15 weeks in Argentina and Italy.
   
“We want 'Call Me Francesco' to be a film of reference,” said producer Pietro Valsecchi, who commented that they did not have the Vatican's blessing to make the film.
   
“No one gave us advice or read the script,” he said. “It was my biggest challenge to date but in the end they watched it in the Vatican and they liked it”.
   
“Call me Francesco” is the second film to be made about Francis.

“Francisco, el padre Jorge,” by Spanish director Beda Docampo Feijoo and starring Argentine actor Dario Grandinetti was released in Argentina in September.

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HEALTH

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.

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