Pope Francis’ new book ‘The Name of God is Mercy’ was officially launched at the Augustinian Patristic Institute just across the street from the Vatican on Tuesday. Among those present were the church’s most important cardinals, Oscar-winning actor and Italian comedian, Roberto Benigni from Tuscany and a prisoner from China.
The new book is currently released in 86 countries.
Oscar-winning actor and comedian, Speaking about the pope as a fountain of mercy who is “dragging the whole church toward Christianity”, he said that “mercy doesn’t sit in an easy chair; it’s active, always moving, like the pope,” who, according to him, is the live representation of the book, portraying mercy by constantly going out to those on the outskirts and the poor.
Even though Pope Francis wasn’t present at the event, his book and everyone present was overshadowed by the comedian. Benigni stole the show from the moment he entered the auditorium.
It was his performance during Christmas on the 10 Commandments that won him that phone call from the Pope and an invitation to help launch the book.
“As soon as they called me and said, ‘the Holy Father would like…’ ‘YES!’ I said without letting them finish. Whatever he needs: If he needs a Swiss Guard, a driver for the pope mobile, anything at all for this pope, I am ready. I will never say no.”
“When I was a boy, when people asked what I wanted to be when growing up, I’d always answer ‘pope’,” he said. “Since everyone laughed at me, I understood I had to be a comedian.”
Benigni also said that the fact that there’s no solidarity or joy without suffering is a paradox, and that it’s from here that mercy is born.“Mercy is born in pain,” he said.
Zhang Agostino Jianquing, a Chinese prisoner, shared the story of how “God’s mercy changed his life” while serving a 20-year prison sentence.
He was sentenced to prison for being an accessory to murder only when he was 19. Being the only Chinese person there,he didn’t know how to ask anyone for help.
“The only comforting thing during those days was grabbing a pen to write to my mother, asking her for forgiveness time and time again,” Jianquing said.
His mother traveled 400 miles every week to visit him in prison, “and every time she cried,” he said. Jianquing said it was seeing the “sea of tears” his mother was shedding for his mistakes that led him to want to become a better person.
After some time, he said, he met a volunteer in prison who helped him out and introduced him to a group of Christian inmates.
In 2015 he was baptized, confirmed, and received First Communion. He could have requested a permit to leave the prison for this occasion, but decided against it, instead asking for a priest to lead the ceremony in the prison.
“Jesus came looking for me in prison,” he said.
He took the name Agostino as his middle name, after St. Augustine.
“I was personally touched by the tears his mother shed over his mistakes, like the river of tears my mother cried for mine,” Jianquing said.
Also on hand for the launch, which was moderated by Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi, was Andrea Tornielli, the journalist who interviewed Francis for the book. He told a story about Pope John XXIII, who in 1958 visited a prison, the first time a pope had done so in at least 100 years.
At the end of his prison Mass, an inmate approached the pope crying, falling on his knees, and asking the pontiff if his words of hope also applied to him.
The pope, Tornielli said, helped the prisoner get up and hugged him.
“I believe this hug,” Tornielli said, “is the best synthesis of what Christianity truly is.”
In his book, the pope condemns pride, hypocrisy and the urge to judge others. Sin, he says, is “more than a stain” that can be removed by a trip to “the dry cleaner”, rather it is a wound that “needs to be treated, healed”.