Real-Life 'Philomena': Journey to the Vatican

Subject of the Oscar-nominated film reflects on giving up her son for adoption and forgiveness.
3:00 | 02/06/14

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Transcript for Real-Life 'Philomena': Journey to the Vatican
Imagine 60,000 babies taken from their mothers by the Kath Lidge church and given up for adoption, often to the united States and for a shocking price. This story didn't originate on the silver screen, but one woman's struggle to find her child is now the subject of an oscar-nominated film "Philomena." Cynthia Mcfadden traveled with the real life Philomena to the heart of the catholic church, the Vatican, looking for answers. I am very honored to meet you. Reporter: You might as well say this moment has been more than 50 years in the making. As the two welcomed eye, both committed catholics, trying to reconcile one dark chapter in the church's history. Holy father, it's a pleasure to meet you. We were right there. Philo a's real story and journey, now the subject of film. The latest chapter started 48 hours ago, with her daughter Jane and the movie's writer and co-star as they made their way to Rome at the invitation of the Vatican. Have you figured out what you're going to say? Reporter: Her mission to find closure for herself and help explain why 60,000 children, including her own son, were taken from their unwed Irish mothers and sent by the catholic church to be adopted, many by U.S. Families. Often for a price. The movie tells the story of a naive 18-year-old Philomena who lost her mother at 6 and then became a mother herself long before she was ready. Did you take your knickers down? Answer sister Hildegard. Did you take them down? Yes. I dependent know what pregnant was, of course. Did you feel ashamed? I was frightened out of my life. I couldn't tell you, when she said you're going to have a baby. I thought oh, my god in heaven. I didn't know how this baby was going to come out, you know? You literally didn't know how you were going to deliver the baby? No, dear, no. Her family sent her away to have the baby in a home for unwed mothers. It was a very bad birth. It was a breech birth. Don't let them put the baby in the ground. It's cold in there. It's dark in there. I thought I was going to die. No medicine? No medicine whatsoever. You just get on with it. You suffer for your sins? Is that what you were told? You suffer from your sins? After you have your baby, you have to stay in the Abby for four years in order to thank the sister for taking you then? Was it just. But then you just got on with it. We thought well, we commissioned a sin, very grievous sin, having a baby out of wedlock as we were told. Signed a paper to say we would allow them to be adopted. Where else could I go? Can you find us a job outside where we can take the babies? No, you can't. You've got to stay here until the baby is adopted. And that is what happened. One of the film's most heart wrenching scenes, without letting her say goodbye, Philomena watches helplessly as her son is adopted and taken to America. Oh, my god, I tell you. I was in pieces. You know? I just couldn't -- that little face looking out of the back of the car. Steve kugen read an article about Philomena and the sel self-described lapse catholic decided to tell the story in a film. It made me angry. It made me cry. . As for the casting of Judi Dench -- Whoever you ask in the production, they claim it's their idea. Because it was such a good one. I think I would like to go. There are about three scenes in the film where there's very little dialogue. It's just on Judi's face. And it's all about her thoughts. Her private pain. And it's very powerful, but you can only pull that off if you have an actor with great charisma. Kugen played a journalist who helps Philomena find her son. Her faith throughout is a very moving aspect of the film. The character you play, the journalist is very cynical and skeptical and sometimes even funny about all of it. I think she thinks what happened to her was wrong, but she's not filled with hatred. Well, she has a, I call it a serenity and a grace. But I don't want to seem like she's St. Bernadette or anything. She's a very down to Earth. He learns from her continued faith. Did you feel that you were ever going to be able to live down the shame? Or had the shame just taken -- I didn't. I didn't. For years I still had the shame. For years and years and years. That's why I think I kept it a secret for so long without telling my daughter and my son. I kept it for 50 years. 50 years. I think there's so many women in the same situation as me. Reporter: So you were in your late 60s before your told your own family. I was getting on for 70 before I told anyone pop. Reporter: So it was the desire to find him? I was desperate to find him. Desperate. Reporter: Despite all the nuns took away from her, philomea refuses to hate. You can't go through life being so angry. You've got to forgive. You just have to forgive. Reporter: Perhaps her forgiveness made another extraordinary event possible today. The film was screened at the Vatican as part of a push called the Philomena project, to open adoption records in Ireland. I'm getting the royal treatment. I feel like the pope. Reporter: They laughed at the jokes, but they also got the message. I did not abandon my child. Reporter: Although the pope himself did not attend, he did send one of his closest personal advisers standing next to Francis when he was elected hope. Is your presence here today a signal from the church? From the hope? Of course. The pope, he knows that I'm here. Reporter: Do you see the pope intervening in some way to make the records available? Of. I think. Reporter: You do think so? I think so. Reporter: To open the records would be a sea change for hundreds of thousands of mother and children trying to find each other, who the nuns refused to help. Openness would be an indication this hope want pope wants healing. What was it like to screen the film? I thought it was very emotional. And it was -- it was a very big gesture for the church to do this. I tried to stop the tears coming down. It was very emotional to see it again. Reporter: Do you think your voice was heard today? I think so. I think they were really listening. She's spent his whole life trying to find him. Sometimes the film can open hearts and minds in a way nothing else can. Sometimes one 81-year-old woman's story can change the world. For "Nightline," I'm Cynthia Mcfadden in Vatican City.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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