Catholics Keep Flocking to The Passion

LOS ANGELES — Surpassing even the third installment of The Lord of the Rings for the biggest debut ever for a movie opening on a Wednesday, The Passion of the Christ has demonstrated who the real “king” of the box office is.

After its second weekend, the film had grossed more than $200 million in 12 days, making it the largest opening ever for a February release.

Ash Wednesday showings across the country sold out. Weekend showings from Scranton to Kansas City to El Paso continued to sell out. Usually, a film will make half as much in its second weekend as its first. The Passion dropped a little more than a third. As Lent continues and Easter approaches, the film's producers expect interest in the film will grow.

Even more intriguing than the film's financial success, however, is the spiritual effect it is having on audiences nationwide. To date, the film has left an estimated audience of 22 million responding in either silence or tears.

Villanova University student Jen Mazzuca understands that response. She attended a screening of the film with fellow Catholic students of the college-evangelization organization Compass.

“It was difficult for me to talk to my friends after the movie ended because I could not get it out of my head,” Mazzuca said. “I did cry during the film; however, I was smiling at the same time.”

“I've never seen so many tears, so many people affected by a movie,” said Glen Hamilton, theater manager of the Carmike Theater in Greeley, Colo. “For the first time in my five years here, nobody has complained.”

Television stations have reported theatergoers gathering for prayer after the film and increased attendance at church the weekend after the film's opening.

Of course, the film is not without its detractors. Some warned that the film could lead to antiSemitic acts — it hasn't yet. Others criticize the level of violence in teh film.

Catholic writer Peter Nixon said he had a difficult time seeing Christ's love under all the blood.

“I didn't see a man undergoing torture because he loved me,” Nixon wrote on his Web log, Sursum Corda. “It was a man who had a supernatural ability to absorb physical punishment. I never really understood why he was doing it or why others wanted to inflict such punishment upon him.”

But it's having a positive effect. Colleen Lundin of Lakeville, Mass., brought her 15-year-old daughter to see the movie on the first Friday of Lent. Lundin explained that throughout the weekend her daughter not only asked deep questions but also gave an excellent explanation of Lent to her younger brother.

“Her explanation reflected a deeper understanding than she had prior to the film,” Lundin said.

In addition, Lundin said her daughter turned down a meatball calzone while at a friend's home that Friday evening, earning some taunting from her friends for being “too Catholic.”

“She told me that prior to the film she would have caved in and eaten the calzone due to the fear of being taunted,” Lundin said.

Based on the response to the film, a Los Angeles team has begun collecting people's stories online. Its Web site, “My Life After The Passion of the Christ” (, is linked directly from the film's official Web site and offers viewers an opportunity to share how the film has impacted their lives.

“Over the past couple of months I would hear stories from people who had screened the film,” said freelance publicist Lori Wahlers. “Many of these accounts were so inspiring that we wanted to try to collect them in one place.”

Wahlers collaborated with Denny Dansereau, president of the Fuzebox Media Group, to handle some of the grass-roots marketing efforts for the film.

On the site, individuals tell of the film's power. Many describe it as “life-changing.”

“I cannot see how my life will ever be the same as it was before I walked into that theater,” wrote Monica Montilla of Edinburg, Texas. “The most touching line was when Mary goes to [Jesus'] side and he tells her, ‘Mother, I make all things new.’ Those words have forever changed me.”

Wahlers said one response that stood out was from someone who worked in a hospital who had no desire to see the film and was annoyed by all the attention it was receiving.

After attending the film with a friend, she said it helped her to “think beyond our borders” and ask herself what she was giving back to her community. The film, she said, led to a number of medical professionals where she works talking about the possibility of doing probono work abroad.

The site has had nearly 2,000 responses from people ranging from age 12 to 88.

Seizing upon the questions raised by the film, Ascension Publishing has created Catholic Passion Outreach, an apostolate offering evangelization materials including the book A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About The Passion of the Christ.

Demand for the book has been phenomenal. The first 160,000 copies of the book sold out before it was printed. To date the book has sold more than 300,000 copies. The publisher has hired 12 temporary workers just to help fulfill demand.

“Our goal was to use this unique cultural moment to really do something big and bold for Christ and the Church,” said Matt Pinto, president of Ascension Publishing. “This apostolate is our gift to Catholics.”

Pinto explained that the book has been helpful in explaining some of the images found in the film.

In fact, Ascension updated its second printing to include theater-goers' most commonly asked question: What's up with the ugly baby?

Gibson told Christianity Today that it represents evil distorting what is good.

“What is more tender and beautiful than a mother and a child?” Gibson asked. “So the devil takes that and distorts it just a little bit. Instead of a normal mother and child you have an androgynous figure holding a 40-year-old ‘baby’ with hair on his back.”

More than 8,000 people have downloaded the free study materials. Pinto added that they have provided materials for the archdioceses and dioceses of Atlanta; Chicago; Camden, N.J.; La Crosse, Wis.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Sacramento, Calif., among others.

They are also working with ministries in 10 foreign countries for distribution of the outreach materials.

“We underestimated the pent-up desire on the part of Catholics who were yearning for a movie like this,” Pinto said, “and an opportunity for a vehicle through which they can share their faith with others.”

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.

New Release: ‘The Day God Died’

Billed as “the perfect companion DVD” to the movie The Passion of the Christ, When God Died is the fruit of years of research by Dr. Thomas McGovern, a dermatologist of national renown educated at the Mayo Clinic and Yale University.

The project uses McGovern's medical expertise along with biblical and historical insights to help audiences understand and appreciate the magnitude of Christ's salvific work.

The work addresses such questions as:

- how it was possible for Jesus to sweat blood,

- what scourging really entailed,

- what the crown of thorns was really like,

- what crucifixion did to Christ's body,

- the impact of the sequence of tortures and

- how powerful it really was for Christ to say, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”

Proceeds from sales benefit seminarians of the Legionaries of Christ and ConQuest Clubs for Boys.

DVD, 45 minutes. Available from