Page 2, 4th May 1984

4th May 1984
Page 2
Page 2, 4th May 1984 — Finding faith on a film set

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Locations: Rome


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Finding faith on a film set

A FILM on a Franciscan who saved more than 300 Jews during World War II will be completed in Assisi by mid-May.

A young Franciscan, Rufino Niccacci arranged for 22 monasteries and convents to hide more than 300 Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation of the Umbrian city.

In June 1944 a Polish Jew, Alexander Ramati, arrived in Assisi as a war correspondent and decided he would write on Fr Rufino's salvage work. Ramati has American citizenship but founded the cinema department at Tel Aviv University. The book he wrote is the basis of the film which he had directed.

It tells the story of 20 of the refugees who were hidden in the San Quirico convent. In fact there was a clash between the mother-superior of the convent who did not want her nuns disturbed and the Bishop of Assisi who had been convinced by Fr Rufino to shelter the Jews. Irene Papas plays the parts ot• the mother-superior and the bishop is played by James Mason.

Maximilian Schell is the "good" German, an intellectual art-lover who appreciated Assisi and was liked by its inhabitants, while Karl Heinz Hackl, who played a hateful role in Sophie's Choice, is the Nazi villain.

The protoganist Fr Rufino is played by Ben Cross, best remembered, perhaps, as Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire.

In an interview for the Rome daily la Repo/Attica, Ben Crossr confessed his admiration for the "saintly simplicity" of Fr Rufino who probably never travelled beyond Umbria. It seems Fr. Rufino did not even go to Rome. Cross said he was from a Catholic family with a cousin a Friar but had returned to confession, after 22 years, only during the making of the Fr Rufino film.

UMBERTO Ortolani, accused as a key figure of the secret Freemasonic lodge P-2, no longer appears in the Vatican Annuario. Ortoiani, who is in hiding somewhere in Latin America, previously was listed among the "gentlemen of his holiness" a title which is maintained even during the interregnum between one Pope and another. P-2 members are accused of participating in a conspiracy against the Italian state. Previously he, Ortolani had been close to Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro. Hereby hangs a tale which is rather sad but may also be instructive.

In the letters written from Rome during the Vatican council, Lercaro, a leading exponent of the ideal of the church of the poor, described his life to the 50 young boys he maintained in his Bologna Archbishopric. He described many banquets and visits to politicians, all designed to raise money to maintain his young charges.

The man who arranged many of these occasions was Umberto Ortolani. Lercaro mentions many "working lunches" with Ortolapi in his Rome home or in his villa just outside Rome where the Cardinal met "good people": Government ministers,. directors of large firms and others who had money or influence.

Shortly after the opening of the second council session, Lercaro heard of his brother's death. Ortolani put a jet at the Cardinal's disposal to take him to Genoa as his brother had died nearby.

For Lercaro's 72nd birthday, Ortolani gave him a "splendid ring and a fine pastoral cross". For Lercaro's 50 years of priesthood, Ortolani had a special medal, designed by a fine artist, coined.

Lercaro described the birthday party given him by Ortolani in 1965: "a beautiful service of plates with my crest stood out on the table. It was a chic present from Ortolani who gave me also a silver bas-relief of the nativity".

Lercaro died shortly after the Council but there is a statue of him by Giacomo Manzu in Bologna Cathedral. A plaque says it is a gift of Ortolani.

Perhaps Ortolani's devotion to Lercaro was disinterested but the whole story, with the P-2 epilogue, suggests the problem of where the money comes from for the church of the poor.

GIULIO Andreotti, the Christian Democrat who is Minister for Foreign Affairs, recently said that Archbishop Paul Marcinkus has been an ingenious but not a ' crooked banker. Repeatedly Marcinkus expressed gratitude for Andreotti's comment. If so, it is. the first time in living memory that a high Vatican official has thanked a politician implying that he is a fool rather than a fraud.

The long-running MarcinkusVatican Bank saga continues. The latest development is that some shareholders in the Ambrosiano Bank have charged the Vatican Bank with responsibility in the Ambrosiano's bankruptcy. (The shareholders, predominantly Catholic, are the only ones to have suffered in the whole affair). The result is that ilifarcinkus has been convoked by the investigating magistrate and any property held by the Vatican Bank in Italy can be placed under judicial control until the issue .is settled. The continual problems over the Vatican Bank embarrass the Vatican while the financial details of the new concordat with Italy are being negotiated.

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