Why Oscar Winner Roberto Benigni Is Helping Promote Pope Francis Book

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Roberto Benigni

The ‘Life is Beautiful’ star and director jokes that as a child he wanted to be pope himself and says "I would do anything for Pope Francis: Swiss guard, Popemobile driver, anything!"

Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni, a devout Catholic, on Tuesday joined the launch of Pope Francis’ new book, lauding the pontiff and saying he felt moved to be part of the promotion for the book.

He appeared with Vatican secretary of state Pietro Parolin to unveil The Name of God Is Mercy, which is based on an interview between the pope and journalist Andrea Tornielli.

"The Vatican is the world’s smallest state, but has the biggest man living there,” said Benigni, according to Catholic paper Crux. "When they called me for this, they started, ‘Pope Francis wants you.' I said yes. I would do anything for Pope Francis: Swiss guard, Popemobile driver, anything!"

He also joked: "When people asked me what I wanted to be when I was older, I would say: the pope. But everyone would start laughing, so I understood that I had to become a comedian."

The Name of God is Mercy is being launched as part of the Vatican’s special Jubilee Holy Year, dedicated to mercy. According to Benigni, Pope Francis is “so full of mercy, you could sell it by the pound.”

In the new 150-page book, Pope Francis explores the virtue of mercy in depth. He calls on people not to marginalize minority groups, including homosexuals. And he discusses a number of issues that have come up during his papacy, such as divorce and corruption.

Calling the new book "beautiful," Benigni told the assembled press: "Mercy doesn’t sit in an easy chair; it’s active, always moving, like the pope."

Benigni won Oscars for best actor in a leading role and best foreign-language film for Life is Beautiful in 1999. The film also picked up an Academy Award for best score.

Recently, Benigni has entertained Italian audiences on state broadcaster RAI with dramatic interpretations of Dante and the Ten Commandments.