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article imageCardinal, clown and convict back Pope's mercy mission

By AFP     Jan 12, 2016 in World

Italy's best known comic, a cardinal and a Chinese convict teamed up on Tuesday to launch a book-length interview with Pope Francis.

"God's Name is Mercy", which has been produced in some 20 languages and released in 86 countries, is intended to highlight the defining theme of both Francis's papacy and the ongoing Catholic Jubilee Year.

Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni was the star attraction at the launch, starting his presentation in stand-up style: "There was a Venetian cardinal, a Tuscan comic and a Chinese convict..."

The cardinal was Vatican number two Pietro Parolin and the convict was Zhang Agostino Jianquing, a Chinese national currently serving a 20-year prison term in Italy.

Having converted to Catholicism during his incarceration, he said he had wanted to pay tribute to the interest Francis had shown towards the plight of prisoners.

"I am here with my story to witness how God's mercy has changed my life," said the young Chinese, who moved to Italy as a boy and went off the rails, ultimately committing a "grave error" at the age of 19 which landed him with his lengthy prison sentence.

Benigni also paid a glowing tribute to Francis, describing him as the "pope who never stops" and as someone "leading the Church to a certain place: Christianity."

In the extended interview with Italian Vatican specialist Andrea Tornielli, Francis explains what the concept of mercy means to him and why he has made it the central theme of his papacy.

In concrete terms, Francis's emphasis on mercy has led to him seeking to make the Church more concerned with both the poor and the disadvantaged in all walks of life and more understanding towards its own followers who are not able, in their daily lives, to comply with Church rules on issues such as divorce, cohabitation and homosexuality.

Italian actor Roberto Benigni smiles as he shows a copy of "God's Name is Mercy" duri...
Italian actor Roberto Benigni smiles as he shows a copy of "God's Name is Mercy" during the book launch at the Vatican, on January 12, 2016
Alberto Pizzoli, AFP

In the book, Francis, 79, explains his "special relationship" with convicts as being the product of his awareness that he too is a "man who is in need of God's mercy."

And he sums up his credo in these terms: "The church condemns sin, because it has to tell the truth: this is a sin. But at the same time, it embraces the sinner who acknowledges what he is."

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