Martin Scorsese meets pope as film on Jesuits screens in Rome

As well as an interview with the pope, Scorsese held a screening of his film Silence for 300 Jesuit priests and answered questions for an hour afterwards

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 7:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 7:34pm

Pope Francis met Martin Scorsese after a special screening in Rome of the Oscar-winning director’s new film Silence, about Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan.

For Scorsese, who spent a year in a “minor seminary”, a high school for boys considering priesthood, the meeting came almost 30 years after his film The Last Temptation of Christ outraged many conservative Christians.

The encounter held significance too for the 79-year-old pope, a member of the Jesuit order who as a young priest in Argentina had wanted to go to Japan as a missionary, but could not for health reasons.

At the meeting in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope told Scorsese that he too had read the 1966 novel on which the film was based, Silence, by the late Japanese writer Shusaku Endo, who was a convert to Catholicism.

The Italian-American director attended a screening of Silence on Tuesday night for more than 300 Jesuit priests. A second screening was planned for a smaller audience in the Vatican afternoon, though it was not clear if the pope would attend.

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The film, due to premiere in United States in December, is about two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan in the 17th century to search for their missing mentor, who is rumoured to have renounced the faith under torture.

There the missionaries face a choice: they can save themselves and Japanese converts from death by crucifixion, burning and drowning if they trample an image of Jesus known as the “fumie” to show they renounce their religion.

Christianity was banned in Japan at the time but many Catholics continued worshipping underground. Scorsese gave the pope a painting by a 17th century Japanese artist of a Madonna that was venerated by the so-called “hidden Christians”.

Father James Martin, a Jesuit who was a consultant for the film’s script says Scorsese stayed for an hour after Tuesday’s screening to answer questions from the Jesuits.

“He was very engaged and energetic and really impressed the Jesuits in the audience with the depth of his spirituality,” he says.

“You could not make a spiritual film like that without being a spiritual person. It would come off as empty,” says Martin.

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The Last Temptation of Christ caused an uproar in 1988 because of a dream scene in which Jesus marries and has sex with Mary Magdalene. The film was met by protests and condemnation by conservative church leaders, and a cinema in Paris was firebombed.

But many Catholics at the time also defended Scorsese, who made landmark films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Gangs of New York, and The Departed, the 2006 movie that won the Oscar for best film.

The Last Temptation of Christ was not about Jesus renouncing the faith but about being tempted, and that is part of his humanity,” Father Martin says.