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The first EcuFilm Fest, Cinema for Interreligious Dialogue, was held from 23 to 25 February 2023, in Meanza, the Province of Latina, Italia. At the end of the festival, Fr. Gianmaria Polidoro, OFM – a Franciscan friar who in 1984 met Reagan at the White House and also went to the Kremlin to plead for an end to the Cold War – sent letters to the Russian and Ukrainian Presidents, and to the Patriarchs of Moscow and Kyiv, to invite them to the Umbrian city.

Almost forty years ago, in February 1984, from the International Centre for Peace among Peoples in Assisi, Fr. Gianmaria, with three other Franciscans, including Conventuals and Capuchins, made a pilgrimage to Washington and Moscow to ask, in the name of God, for an end to the cold war. They met President Ronald Reagan at the White House and Vasily Kuznestov at the Kremlin who was to act as the head of state (because Andropov had recently died and his successor Chernenko had not yet been appointed).

Today, Fr. Gianmaria, 90 years old, a friar who is still animated by the spirit of Assisi, who in 1997 founded The Assisi Pax International Association, during the first EcuFilm Fest, Cinema for Interreligious Dialogue, wrote letters to the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine, Putin and Zelenski, but also to the Patriarchs of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill, and the Patriarch of Kyiv, to invite them to Assisi to “restore peace in the world” as Saint Francis did with the Porziuncola and the Church of San Damiano.

Like Reagan and Gorbačëv, the appeal to Putin and Zelensky

“I ask them to come to Assisi to meet – this is how Fr. Gianmaria summarises his message to Vatican Radio – Vatican News – to be able to say to the world: we dream of a peace that can be extended to the whole of Europe, to the whole world”. And Fr. Gianmaria asks the Italian President to guarantee that the political and religious leaders of Russia and Ukraine will be welcomed in Assisi so that “they can find peace that the whole world is waiting for at this moment”.

In November 1985, Fr. Gianmaria, with the group of four friars and with his Association which rewards every year personalities from all over the world who committed to peace with the Golden Palm of Assisi Pax, met the delegations of Reagan and Gorbačëv in Geneva.

And as a man of faith, he turns to the representatives of the Churches of Moscow and Kyiv so that they may help in prayer and exhortation, so that all of us, men of this world, may obtain peace that our Lord Jesus Christ preached when he said: “My peace I give you, not as the world gives peace, but as God gives it”.

The Round Table of Religions for Peace Education

During the three-days event in the medieval castle of Maenza, conceived by the Kosovan director Gjon Kolndrekaj and CrossinMedia as part of the Faith and Media festival, alongside screenings of films with a strong spiritual message presented by the directors and actors, the round table was held on Friday afternoon, on the sad anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine, between representatives of different faiths on the “possible role of religions for peace education”, organised in collaboration with the Religions for Peace Association. At the beginning of the meeting, Fr. Gianmaria Polidoro signed the letters to be sent for the invitation to Assisi. The president of the Italian Jewish Communities (Ucei), Noemi Di Segni, stressed that “as religions we cannot solve the enormous geopolitical problems, but with our actions, even small ones, we can instil a deep belief in civilization, in life, in peace”. Imam Ataul Vasih Tariq, national vice-president of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, recalled that ‘love for one’s neighbour is the path to an authentic life of faith’. While the abbot of the Zen centre l’Arco in Rome, Dario Doshin Girolami said he was convinced that ‘looking at the other with humanity and respect awakens trust’. And Guido Morisco, of the Baha’j National Assembly, said that ‘religions in their diversity contribute to promoting the common good within societies’. During the round table, passages from Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti were read out.

Mogol’s aphorism and Pope Francis’ letter

On Thursday, 23 February, on the festival’s opening night, lyricist Giulio Rapetti, in art Mogol, received the keys to the town from Maenza, Mayor Claudio Sperduti. Mogol dedicated an aphorism on interreligious dialogue to the event: “As two little brothers draw the same mother in two different ways, so men draw God”. Words already sent to Pope Francis, who in a short letter of thanks to the artist wrote: “Thank you for the portrait drawn by the two little brothers, it is good for me”. Along with Mogol, awards were also presented to directors Pupi Avati and Liliana Cavani, who launched an appeal for a cease-fire in Ukraine, actors Kim Rossi Stuart, Massimo Wertmüller and Vittorio Viviani, writer Luca Caruso and composer David Scillia, while for the foreign section the mezzo-soprano Orit Gabriel and Miriam Meghnagi, with actor Timothy Martin.

The films of the festival, from “Chiara” to “Biagio”

The films chosen by director Gjon Kolndrekaj, screened every morning also for schools, were “Brother Where Art Thou?” by the Cohen brothers, the odyssey of three convicts, including George Clooney, who find a blind man who will enlighten them in their search for a hidden treasure. Then “Biagio” by Salvatore Scimeca, the touching story of Brother Biagio Conte, the lay missionary from Palermo who died just over a month ago, “Chiara” by Susanna Nicchiarelli, a beautiful portrait of an incredibly modern medieval saint who walked in the footsteps of Saint Francis. Then “I giardini dell’eden” by Alessandro D’Alatri, the story of the “unknown” Jesus, in the years between adolescence and early youth, and “Rose del deserto” by Mario Monicelli, a poetic evocation, in the wake of Mario Tobino, of the contrasting Italian events in North Africa during the Second World War.

Text and photographs: Vatican News

Translation: General Office JPIC