By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Wednesday met Martin Scorsese after a special screening in Rome of the Oscar-winning director's new film "Silence," about Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan.
For the-74-year-old Scorsese, who spent a year in a "minor seminary", a high school for boys considering the priesthood, the meeting came almost thirty years after his film "The Last Temptation of Christ" outraged many conservative Christians.
The encounter held significance too for the 79-year-old pope, a member of the Jesuit order who as a young priest in Argentina had wanted to go to Japan as a missionary but could not for health reasons.
At the meeting in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, the pope told Scorsese that he too had read the 1966 novel on which the film was based, "Silence," by the late Japanese writer Shusaku Endo, who was a convert to Catholicism, the Vatican said.
The Italian-American director attended a screening of "Silence" on Tuesday night for more than 300 Jesuit priests. A second screening was planned for a smaller audience in the Vatican on Wednesday afternoon, though it was not clear if the pope would attend.
The film, due to premiere in United States in December, is about two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan in the 17th century to search for their missing mentor, who is rumoured to have renounced the faith under torture.
There the missionaries face a choice: they can save themselves and Japanese converts from death by crucifixion, burning and drowning if they trample an image of Jesus known as the "fumie" to show they renounced their religion.
Christianity was banned in Japan at the time but many Catholics continued worshipping underground. Scorsese gave the pope a painting by a 17th century Japanese artist of a Madonna that was venerated by the so-called "hidden Christians".
Father James Martin, a Jesuit who was a consultant for the film's script said Scorsese stayed for an hour after Tuesday’s screening to answer questions from the Jesuits.
"He was very engaged and energetic and really impressed the Jesuits in the audience with the depth of his spirituality," he said.
"You could not make a spiritual film like that without being a spiritual person. It would come off as empty," Martin said.
"The Last Temptation of Christ" caused uproar in 1988 because of a dream scene in which Jesus marries and has sex with Mary Magdalene. The film was met by protests and condemnation by conservative church leaders, and a cinema in Paris was fire-bombed.
But many Catholics at the time also defended Scorsese, who made landmark films such as "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "Gangs of New York", and "The Departed", the 2006 movie that won the Oscar for best film.
"('The Last Temptation of Christ') was not about Jesus renouncing the faith but about being tempted, and that is part of his humanity," Father Martin said.
(Story has been refiled to add dropped word "after" in second paragraph)
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)