Pope declines to meet with people behind ‘Noah’

VATICAN CITY — Actor Russell Crowe and the makers of the big-budget film “Noah” attended Pope Francis’ general audience Wednesday but didn’t get what they most wanted: a papal meeting and photo-op.

Crowe had lobbied hard for a papal thumbs up for his film and the ensuing publicity a Francis blessing would bring. The film has been banned in much of the Muslim world because of its depiction of the prophet, while U.S. conservatives have complained it took liberties with the Biblical account of the flood.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the request from Noah’s producers for a private audience was immediately turned down.

In an email Wednesday to The Associated Press, Lombardi said there was similarly no scheduled “meet and greet” after Wednesday’s general audience, when VIPs can often get a quick word with the pope.

“They could have been at the audience like anyone else,” Lombardi said. Wednesday’s audience drew an estimated crowd of 80,000.

Francis is loath to lend such blessings for publicity. Given his sensitivities to the Muslim world — and his upcoming trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories — it would seem natural that he would decline any public endorsement of a film that might offend Muslim viewers.

Variety reported that the Noah delegation, including Crowe, director Darren Aronofsky, producer Scott Franklin, and the vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, Rob Moore, had met with the pope. Variety cited a spokeswoman for Universal, which is distributing the film in Italy.

But in an email to AP, Paramount merely said the delegation “went to hear” Francis’ address at the audience.

Crowe was spotted in the VIP section of St. Peter’s Square, but was too far back to reach the pope.

After the audience, Crowe tweeted: “Thank you holy father @Pontifex for the blessing,” and “What a privilege, attended the Udienza with the holy father @Pontifex.”

Crowe had avidly sought Francis’ blessing for the film, tweeting in recent weeks: “Holy Father @pontifex, it would be my deepest pleasure to bring the @darrenAronofsky film to you to screen. That this may happen Inshallah.”

Despite his general aversion to papal publicity, Francis did make an exception and greeted Philomena Lee and the makers of the Oscar-nominated film ‘’Philomena” during a recent general audience. The film is based on Lee’s story of being sent to a Catholic-run boarding house in Ireland where she was forced to give up her son for adoption.

Francis’ fear of lending his blessing for publicity dates from his days as archbishop: He generally declines to give Communion to the general public during Mass, fearing that people might use it as a photo-op. Instead, he lets other priests give out the hosts.

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