EDITOR'S NOTE: In recent months, as unfinished previews of Mel Gibson's Passion have been seen by commentators, theologians, and others in the U.S., much controversy has surrounded the not-yet-released movie. In the following interview, originally published in Italian and reprinted in translation with permission, journalist Antonio Gaspari talks to Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos about the movie. The Vatican cardinal addresses (and debunks) the accusations of anti-Semitism and other criticisms of The Passion.
Antonio Gaspari: I understand that you have already seen Mel Gibson's new film, The Passion. What were your impressions?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos: As I watched this yet-unfinished version of the film, I experienced moments of profound spiritual intimacy with Jesus Christ. It is a film that leads the viewer into prayer and reflection, into heartfelt contemplation. In fact, as I told Mr. Gibson after the screening, I would gladly trade some of the homilies that I have given about the passion of Christ for even a few of the scenes of his film.
Gaspari: So many films have already been made about the life of Jesus Christ. What is the value of this one?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: With this film, Mr. Gibson has achieved something truly extraordinary. He has used the marvelous technology available through our modern means of communication to make the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ come alive for the people of our times. What is more, the film as a work of art the performances, the dazzling cinematography, the sounds, lighting, and pacing is just as powerful as the message it contains.
Gaspari: Even six months before the expected release date The Passion has stirred up a great deal of controversy. Do you have any reservations in recommending the film?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: I would like all our Catholic priests throughout the world to see this film. I hope all Christians will be able to see it, and all people everywhere.
Gaspari: The film is reported to contain graphic violence. Won't this provoke anger and hatred among viewers?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: In my opinion, one of the great achievements of this film is to have shown so effectively both the horror of sin and selfishness, and the redeeming power of love. Seeing this film provokes love and compassion. It makes the viewer want to love more, to forgive, to be good and strong no matter what, just as Christ did even in the face of such terrible suffering. The viewer is drawn into a powerful experience of God's strong yet gentle love, of his overflowing mercy. It is my belief that if we could understand what Jesus Christ did for us and we could follow his example of love and forgiveness, there would not be hatred or violence in the world. This film will help to make that possible.
Gaspari: As prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy your responsibilities include overseeing the catechesis of Catholics worldwide. Does this film contribute positively to your work?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: This film is a triumph of art and faith. It will be a tool for explaining the person and message of Christ. I am confident that it will change for the better everyone who sees it, both Christians and non-Christians alike. It will bring people closer to God, and closer to one another.
Gaspari: Is Gibson's version of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ faithful to the Gospel accounts?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: Mr. Gibson has had to make many artistic choices in the way he portrays the characters and the events involved in the Passion, and he has complemented the Gospel narrative with the insights and reflections made by saints and mystics through the centuries. Mel Gibson not only closely follows the narrative of the Gospels, giving the viewer a new appreciation for those Biblical passages, but his artistic choices also make the film faithful to the meaning of the Gospels, as understood by the Church.
Gaspari: Some have expressed fear that Gibson's vivid depiction of the death of Christ could spark anti-Semitism. Is there any truth to this?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: Anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, distorts the truth in order to put a whole race of people in a bad light. This film does nothing of the sort. It draws out from the historical objectivity of the Gospel narratives sentiments of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. It captures the subtleties and the horror of sin, as well as the gentle power of love and forgiveness, without making or insinuating blanket condemnations against one group. This film expressed the exact opposite, that learning from the example of Christ, there should never be any more violence against any other human being.
Antonio Gaspari is a freelance Italian journalist, a frequent contributor to major Italian newspapers.