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Father Thomas Rosica on Mel Gibson's "The Passion"

National Director of World Youth Day 2002 Weighs in on Film

TORONTO, FEB. 8, 2004 (Zenit) - A priest who oversaw World Youth Day 2002 and its Way of the Cross through the streets of Toronto says he was overwhelmed by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, head of Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation and the first national Catholic television Network in Canada, was invited to view Gibson's movie late last year.

Father Rosica is a trained Scripture scholar and represented the Canadian bishops' conference for nearly 10 years on the National Christian-Jewish Consultation. He shared his views about "The Passion" here.

Q: You have lived, studied and taught in the Holy Land at the École Biblique and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. You headed up World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, which had as its centerpiece the historic Way of the Cross through the center of a modern city. You certainly did not watch Gibson's movie as an outsider. What do you think of it?

Father Rosica: My first reaction was overwhelming. Having followed the extensive debate about the movie for the past year, I was interested in seeing it, but never expected the invitation to be so personal.

One of my principal colleagues at Salt & Light and I were invited by the sound production company of the film to a private showing. I was very surprised to learn that the soundtrack is being produced for the movie by a sound company located several blocks from our Salt & Light Television headquarters in downtown Toronto.

I rarely leave a theater or a film screening with a strong desire to pray and be silent. That is what I felt this morning as I returned to our offices. "The Passion" is a deeply moving presentation of the final hours of Jesus' life on earth. It is by no means a film for children.

I recommend that all those in pastoral ministry, teachers and students of Scripture, and adult Christians view this film at some point. If Gibson's desire was to allow people to draw closer to Christ through this film, he has accomplished his goal.

If Gibson wished people to experience a conversion of heart to the nonviolent message of the cross, he has accomplished that as well.

Q: What stood out for you in the movie?

Father Rosica: The film has been produced with stunning cinematography, excellent acting, fidelity to the Scriptures, attentiveness to the theological meaning of the passion and death of Christ, and extraordinary artistic and religious sensitivity.

The powerful play of light and darkness across Pilate's tortured face is far more revealing than any of the words uttered. It is as though Caravaggio himself served as the artistic and lighting director of this film.

Every single scene is richly created in order to invite the viewer deeper and deeper into the mystery. I really feel that this movie is a masterpiece of religious art of the most powerful genre. As the movie progresses, those who were simply bystanders are drawn into the heart of the story.

Among many extraordinary details, I found Gibson's use of flashback masterful. As a teacher of the Passion narratives, I am always struck by the poignant scenes of the trial, and Peter's role in these Gospel accounts.

In this movie, the haunting flashback to Christ and Peter produces a special effect. The camera captures the face of Christ in profile, while Peter gazes upon us. Christ's excruciating suffering is punctuated by flashbacks to his washing the feet of his apostles in loving service. There are so many subtle ways in which the bystanders in this movie become the protagonists in an instant.

One of my great mentors and professors was the late Father Raymond Brown, S.S., who taught me the "Death of the Messiah" at the Biblicum in Rome. Brown demonstrated that, while there are some differences among the Passion accounts, they are in substantial agreement overall.

It is important to remember that Mel Gibson's film is not a documentary but a work of creative imagination. He incorporates elements from the four Passion narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but remains faithful to the fundamental structure common to all four Gospel accounts.

Gibson has done nothing to remove the brutality from the Passion story. In fact he has no intention to sugarcoat the Passion story with pietism or a false spirituality. The viewer is forced to look at the raw facts and events, and witness the suffering of a just man.

The more brutal the scenes become, the more powerful are the flashback moments of Jesus teaching on the Mount of the Beatitudes, Jesus identifying himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus offering his life in the bread and wine of the last supper.

One scene, in particular, was very moving. As ...

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