Pope Francis and former Cuban President Fidel Castro hold hands at Castro's residence in Havana Sept. 20, 2015. A new documentary, premiered Sept. 8, chronicle's the Pope's 2015 visit. CNS photo/Alex Castro, AIN handout via Reuters

Documentary premiered at TIFF chronicles Pope's Cuban trip

  • September 15, 2016

TORONTO – A blockbuster lineup headlined the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year, but among the lesser known films drawing attention was one featuring Pope Francis, Fidel Castro and Barack Obama.

Renowned Italian journalist Gianni Minà premiered his latest documentary, Pope Francis, Cuba and Fidel: A Historical Visit, on Sept. 8. The screening, hosted by the Italian Contemporary Film Festival in partnership with TIFF, follows the Pope’s four-day visit to Cuba in September 2015 which triggered renewed talks that opened relations between Cuba and the United States.

“The fact that the Pope is a pope from the south was a great thing for this diplomatic conversation between these two countries,” Minà told The Catholic Register. “This was very, very important because it could’ve been another pope, but the fact that he knows perfectly of the Latin American situation really helped him with this.”

Minà said the Pope’s 40-minute conversation with Castro was friendly and intimate. Minà recalls watching the exchange between the two world leaders and marvelled at Pope Francis’ integrity and simplicity.

“When he went to (Castro’s home) he went just himself, a priest,” he said. “He is a man without political or religious prejudices. He went there with the idea that I think that the man that’s in front of me is a man that merits my respect and I’m going to know him personally.”

The Vatican later described the meeting as informal and familial. Castro shared with the Jesuit Pope how much of his upbringing was owed to what the Jesuits had taught him in high school.

Minà said the Pope’s Latin American roots provided him with a personal connection to former Cuban president Castro, but the conversation to renew U.S.-Cuba relations had been a long time coming.

In the past 20 years, Cuba has been host to three popes — John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012 before Francis last year. The film examines the Vatican’s history as a diplomatic mediator.

“If you analyze many diplomatic relations between countries that want to reach peace, the Vatican always has a very important role in these relations,” said Minà. “For example, in the ’70s, when Argentina and Chile had a very difficult relationship... the Vatican sends archbishops as diplomats to try and mediate between the two countries.”

As tensions between Chile and Argentina in the Beagle Channel conflict flared up, Pope John Paul II offered to mediate and sent Cardinal Antonio Somaré to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Historians agree that the mediation defused the situation and prevented a military crisis. The Vatican then crafted a six-year process that led to both countries signing a peace treaty in 1984.

Minà said the Church’s outreach allows the Vatican to achieve what other political leaders cannot. The Church’s reputation as an advocate for unity has helped in creating peace in several conflicts.

Minà firmly believes that just as Pope John Paul II helped bring the end of communism in Poland and Eastern Europe, so too will Pope Francis help restore peace in Latin America.

“I am a Catholic, but I don’t go to Mass, but this was very important for my journey,” said Minà. “For the first time, there was a Pope, a man, that talked straight to my heart and this is maybe one of the reasons that brought me to make this documentary.”

The film is the latest in a series of Minà’s documentaries on Latin America. Minà’s famous 16-hour interview with Fidel Castro in 1987 was the primary source for his documentary, Fidel Racconta il Che (Fidel Talks About Che), and was published as a book in 1996.

Minà has more than 50 years of experience as a journalist and television host for RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana). He has interviewed several historical figures, including Che Guevara, Muhammad Ali, Silvia Baraldini and Subcomandante Marcos.

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