Pope Francis greets refugees after Vatican screening of controversial documentary

Pope Francis refugees

A group of 200 refugees and immigrants attended a special Vatican screening of the documentary film ‘Francesco’ on Monday night and later met with Pope Francis himself.

The screening was organized by the Laudato Si’ Foundation and the director of the film, Evgeny Afineevsky. Mr Afineevsky personally addressed the audience, recalling his own family’s migration from Russia to Israel and then to the United States.

The film examines the pope’s engagement with the world’s most pressing moral and ethical problems, including immigration and refugees. It also covers the pope’s interest in “climate change, peace and religious tolerance, LGBTQ rights, gender and identity justice, health, and economic equality.”

According to a statement by Matteo Bruni, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, the Holy Father arrived at the atrium of the Paul VI Hall, where he spoke to those gathered for the viewing.

Among those present were 20 people who had recently arrived from Afghanistan. The Pope “addressed words of affection and comfort,” the statement noted.

“When the movie finished, he was downstairs waiting for them,” Afineevsky told Deadline following the screening.

“He wanted to meet everybody and greet everybody. Francis is a human being who cherishes being close to the people, cherishes the moment. He can spread love, joy in their lives–not easy lives. And he always remembers that he can be in their place [as a refugee]. He said it many, many times, ‘It can be you or me.’”

Among the Afghan refugees who met Pope Francis were four siblings who arrived in Italy thanks to the support of the Community of Sant’ Egidio. The siblings have had to leave their parents behind in refugee camps in Iran. They are being cared for by an uncle.

The 84-year-old pontiff was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a mother and father whose families had both emigrated from Italy.

Afineevsky, too, can identify with people who have been uprooted, through whatever circumstance, from their native countries.

“I emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Israel and then came to America. So, for me, this subject is close to my heart,” Afineevsky noted.

“To see people who just arrived–we had 20 people from Afghanistan that 10 days ago arrived in Italy. To see their happiness, they came to me afterwards, and they were shaking my hand and thanking me. I think that’s the biggest treasure for any filmmaker to feel this kind of feeling.”

Released in late October 2020, ‘Francesco’ included a 20-second clip in which Francis said that homosexual individuals “have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.”

The comments indicated that Pope Francis had become the first pope in history to endorse same-sex civil unions. But doubts arose about the origin of the clip.

It was eventually established that the pope’s remarks were not made in a new interview given for the Francesco film, as Afineevsky had claimed. The clip was taken from an interview the pope had given to Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki in 2019. It was then spliced together in a way that seemed like Francis was pushing for same-sex civil unions.


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