Italy: For and against Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ"

Source: FSSPX News


According to him, Mel Gibson’s film, whose release is set for April 7 in Italy, “represents an obstacle to dialogue, evokes hostility, and revives the traditional accusation of deicide – the Roman authorities wash their hands of the affair, so decision falls to the Jewish priests” – It is a “challenge to the Church, to the new sensitivity born of Vatican II”. If it were the act of a single person, it would not be important, but this film will become a phenomenon of the masses”. For the chief rabbi, the silence on the part of the Church runs the risk of being counter-productive.

Interviewed by the Italian daily Il Messagero of March 11, the spokesman for the Holy See, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, prudently stated that “it is reasonable to suppose that there will be no stand taken and no dissociation” on the part of the Vatican. The spokesman added: “John Paul II made no comment after having watched the film, and I do not comment on the private activities of the Pope”.

For Joaquin Navarro-Valls, “the film is the cinematic transcription of the Gospels. If this film was anti-Semitist, the Gospels would be too. It must not be forgotten that this film is full of positive Jewish characters: from Jesus and Mary, to Simon of Cyrene, Veronica and part of the anguished crowd…”. “If an account of this type were anti-Semitist,” he went on, “that would pose a problem to Judeo-Catholic dialogue, because that would come back to affirming that the Gospels are not historic”. “There is nothing anti-Semitist,” he insisted, “otherwise the members of the Catholic hierarchy would have denounced it”. He was alluding to the authorities of the Curia, having already seen the film, as well as the authorities of the Catholic Church in the United States.

This controversy is taking place while an invitation to the synagogue of Rome, at the end of May 2004, has been sent to John Paul II by the Jewish community. In the Corriere della Sera, Rabbi Di Segnis was anxious to make it clear that the controversy surrounding the film “is a problem absolutely distinct” from the invitation to the synagogue. This invitation was sent to the Pope by the two chief rabbis of Israel, on January 16, 2004, for the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the synagogue. And an official letter of invitation from Rabbi Di Segnis was presented to the Holy Father at the beginning of February. – The date considered most likely by the weekly Famiglia Cristiana of March 14, is next May 23. The president of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi is due to participate at this meeting.

For its part, the community of Mexican origin of the Legionnaires of Christ has invited the different dicasteries of the Curia to a viewing of Mel Gibson’s film. Several showings of the film have been organized so that the priests, religious and laymen who work at the Vatican can see the film in the cinema of the Regina Apostolorum university, situated in the suburbs of Rome and overseen by the Legionnaires of Christ. Mel Gibson has, moreover, inserted into the credits at the end of the film, a special word of thanks to the Jesuits and the Legionnaires of Christ.

Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays the part of Christ in Mel Gibson’s film, had a private audience with the Pope in his library on March 15. The following day he told a group of journalists that the shooting of the film had been for him an “authentic spiritual experience”. “One cannot see what is represented and remain indifferent”. Even less so, he said, if as an actor one enters in to the character in order to give the best of oneself: “I do not want the audience to see me, I only want them to see Jesus”.

He explained that his own spiritual journey started with the Rosary: “The Rosary led me to Confession, Confession to daily Communion, and when I was carrying the Eucharist in my body, I felt that I was more like Christ”.

Jim Caviezel also responded to accusations of anti-Semitism: “If someone says that the film is anti-Semitist, the Bible also must be anti-Semitist”.