Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Here's a piece from Catholic News Service....

European church leaders mixed on 'Passion'; Other Bishops Praise it
By Jonathan Luxmoore

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Church leaders in Eastern and Central Europe voiced mixed reactions to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," while in Mexico and the Philippines bishops praised the movie.

Warsaw Cardinal Jozef Glemp described the movie as a "great, decisive film" and predicted it would assist better knowledge and comprehension of Christ's mission.

"This film speaks about overcoming hatred with love for one's enemies -- about struggling with an evil which is cruel and cynical, which can jeer and then wash its hands," the cardinal told Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI.

The editor of Poland's leading Catholic weekly, Tygodnik Powszechny, said "The Passion" suggested "the secret of redemption consists in Christ's suffering as much as possible."

Editor Father Tadeusz Boniecki told Poland's mass-circulation Gazeta Wyborcza March 8: "The Romans here are even more sadistic than the Jews, although the mechanism of hatred is set in motion by the Jews. Although this conforms with the Gospel, the Gospel also shows the drama of the archpriest who, facing a real dilemma, defended the religious reality he believed in. That this isn't shown here could fuel the kind of anti-Semitic stereotypes the church has been distancing itself from for 2000 years."

The movie opened March 5 in Poland.

Bishops in neighboring Germany criticized the film's excessive violence and warned against its use "as an instrument of anti-Semitism."

"With its drastic portrayal of atrocities, the film reduces the Bible's message in a problematic way," the bishops' conference said in a March 4 statement. "Since this could lead to misunderstandings by viewers not familiar with Christianity, we believe accompanying information is needed."

On March 18, the day the film opened in Germany, Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, head of the German bishops' conference, issued a statement with Protestant and Jewish officials that criticized the film for its excessive violence.

The joint statement also said the film could promote "anti-Semitic propaganda." It said the film was particularly dangerous "at a time when an increase of anti-Semitism can be seen in Europe."

In Scotland, Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell, president of the Scottish bishops' communications commission, said "The Passion" was "the most powerful (film) I have ever seen."

In a letter to Scottish pastors, Bishop Devine said they should promote the film and urge Catholics to see it when it opens March 26.

Catholic bishops in Austria warned the film could leave non-Christians with a "total misunderstanding of the Christian faith's foundations."

The secretary-general of the Hungarian bishops' conference, Bishop Andras Veres of Eger, called the film accurate and "infinitely enriching."

"The film permits a profound sympathy toward the bloodied and martyred figure of Christ, presented in a very -- perhaps even excessively -- naturalistic way," the bishop told Hungary's MTI news agency March 5.

"I didn't find it anti-Semitic," he added.

Several prominent Mexican bishops praised "The Passion," and one even recommended his parishioners see it.

The film was to open in Mexico March 19 and was expected to be a blockbuster in the predominantly Catholic nation.

"This is very well done and of great artistic value," Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera told reporters March 11 after a special screening of the movie for church officials.

Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera Lopez said the film's graphic depiction of Jesus being brutally beaten probably would not shock many in Mexico, where figures of a bloodied Christ are found in most churches.

"All of us are familiar with the iconography of Jesus' suffering, above all in small towns where the his body appears practically destroyed," Bishop Vera said at a March 10 press conference.

Monterrey Archbishop Francisco Robles Ortega liked the movie so much he called on the public to see it, though he expressed reservations about children seeing so much violence.

"I have doubts about whether children should see it -- I think not, because it's exceedingly violent," Archbishop Robles told the Milenio newspaper March 14.

Mexican regulators have given "The Passion" a rating that restricts viewing to adults.

Other Latin American countries have not been so strict. Argentina allows viewers age 16 and older to see the movie, while 14-year-olds can see it in Brazil, Chile and Peru.

Philippine bishops who watched advance screenings of the movie recommended the film to Filipinos of all faiths, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila said the film shows "the reality of evil and the triumph of good" and said he hoped it would awaken Filipino spiritually.

"As part of the history of Jesus, I would like all Filipinos to watch the film because it holds a promise for us," Archbishop Rosales said. "The suffering of Jesus is meaningful for us today, as we see in the suffering of the poor that calls us to respond."

Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, president of the Philippine bishops' conference, told reporters the movie "makes us look at our faith" and realize "our sins are the reason for the pain and suffering of Jesus."

The archbishop, convener of a bishops' dialogue forum with Islamic scholars in the southern Philippines, recommended the movie to Christians and Muslims so both groups "could learn how Jesus died on the cross just to save people from sin."

In Agana, Guam, Capuchin Father Randy Nowak looked shaken as he walked out of one of the earliest screenings of the film.

"It was so, it was so stirring you know. I couldn't believe that ... ." He could not finish his sentence.

Father Nowak told The Pacific Voice, newspaper of the Agana Archdiocese, that the movie did not have a lot of conversation, "but what was there was very powerful."

"The Passion of the Christ" was the leading U.S. box-office attraction in each of its first three weekends of release and through March 14 had tallied an estimated $264 million, nearing the record for the largest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.

- - -

Contributing to this story were Jason Lange in Mexico, Michael Lawton in Germany and Tony C. Diaz in Guam.

No comments: