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The Passion

Mel Gibson has been and will continue to preview his upcoming movie The Passion of the Christ (if you follow that link, you can see some images and excerpts from the film, put out by Icon Distribution) to people around the world. Three thousand priests representing an international range of parishes will view the film at the meeting of the Global Pastors Network in Orlando on January 21 (see Priests to Run Eyes over Gibson Film, December 25, from The Age). Rev. Billy Graham had a private screening with Mel Gibson and said he was "moved to tears" (see the Associated Press report here, from December 2). I happened to see some clips of the movie, along with Mel Gibson himself, back in August (see my post on August 7, Mel Gibson).

Still from The Passion of the Christ, Icon Distribution Inc. All Rights Reserved
Last Supper from The Passion of the Christ, Icon Distribution Inc. All Rights Reserved
Probably the most important viewer of all, the Holy Father, saw the film recently in a private screening in the Vatican. Initial reports (see John L. Allen, Jr., Pope Gives "The Passion" Thumbs-Up, December 17, from National Catholic Reporter) claimed that the pope "watched and enjoyed the film" and said afterward, "It is as it was." However, another unnamed "senior Vatican official close to the pope" has clarified the reports about the Pope's reaction (see Cindy Wooden, Vatican Officials Say Pope Didn't Comment after Viewing "The Passion,", December 24, for Catholic News Service):
"The Holy Father saw it, but he made no comment. He watched in silence," the official told Catholic News Service Dec. 24. "The Holy Father does not comment, does not give judgments on art," the official said. "I repeat: There was no declaration, no judgment from the pope." The official was replying to a request for clarification after numerous newspapers reported that the pope had watched the film and said, "It is as it was." The purported quote was interpreted as papal praise for the movie. The official, who insisted that his name not be used, said the pope made no such comment. He also said that he, too, had seen the film and felt charges that the movie was anti-Semitic were "an exaggeration."

Another well-informed Vatican official, responding Dec. 24 to an e-mailed request for information, said, "The Holy Father saw this film, but did not express any opinion about it."
Even if the pope never actually made such a statement of endorsement, releasing it to the public has certainly caused quite an uproar (see Eric J. Greenberg, Questioning Pope's Nod to "Passion," December 26, in The Jewish Week). It is not surprising that some fence mending is being attempted by Vatican officials.

In October, the film picked up a distributor in the United States, Newmarket Films, and has just signed with Equinoxe Films, which will distribute the movie in Canada (see this announcement from BBC News). In both countries, the film will open on February 25, 2004, chosen because it is the date of Ash Wednesday this year.

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