Pope Meets "Passion's" Jesus
The Vatican has confirmed that Pope John Paul II recently held a private audience with Jim Caviezel, the devout Catholic actor who played Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ."

"Passion" Draws Viewers to Church, Say Pastors
Some "Passion" moviegoers may be leaving the cineplex and heading for church. The Christian Broadcasting Network says U.S. pastors are reporting an increase in visitors and new members since the film's release. The Washington Times reported that 3,000 people visited the evangelical Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, on top of their average 20,000 Sunday attendance.

Passion Tops $200 Million
"The Passion of the Christ" remained the top film for a second straight weekend. Its 12-day total is $213.9 million.

How Traditional Is Mel?
Just how traditional a Catholic is Mel Gibson? Despite intense media scruntiny, it's hard to tell where the filmmaker falls on the spectrum of conservative Catholics. This month's Christianity Today magazine gives us tantalizing clues. In a photo, Gibson appears with three traditional "sacramentals," objects that Catholics use in devotions or as an impetus to prayer. Around his neck is a scapular, a small cloth square worn under the clothing; a miraculous medal, a small medal associated with a saint; and a cross. CT also quotes Gibson as saying Mary is a "tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix," titles which some Christians worry elevates her to Jesuslike status.

Anti-Jewish Church Sign
"Jews Killed The Lord Jesus. Settled!" So read a sign in front of the Loveway United Pentecostal Church. "It's settled," explained Maurice Gorden, Loveway pastor. "The word of God is the final word." After the Anti-Defamation League protested, Gorden removed the word "settled."

"Passion": Not for the Faint-Hearted
A Wichita, Kansas woman woman suffered a heart attack during a Wednesday showing of "The Passion." Peggy Law apparently collapsed during the crucifixion scene and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

The Man Behind the "Passion" Outrage
Despite all the press that Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman director has gotten during the past few months, little is known, outside Jewish circles, about the man spearheading the "Passion" outrage. This week's New York Observer attempts to change that with a profile of Foxman. In writing about Foxman's tactics, the Observer's Phoebe Eaton wonders "whether the A.D.L.'s cure is worse than the disease." She seems to conclude that it is indeed worse--quoting everyone from the Catholic League's William Donohue to Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg (who comes across as a major Foxman nemesis) to Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt to prove the point. Aside from her obvious slant, Eaton does allow Foxman's powerful voice to shine, offering choice quotes about everything from the violence of "Passion" ("Only for sadists, only for masochists could this be beautiful."), to his reaction to the fact that the film's publicist is also the son of Holocaust survivors ("Don't give me a pedigree. It doesn't mean anything. I find it cheap! I find it sadly cheap! . Mel Gibson is right because you're Jewish and you work for him?"), to the movie's effect on viewer's in the Middle East ("This is going to be a bonanza for TV in Lebanon").

The piece also includes the little known fact that Foxman was baptized a Catholic. Born to Jewish parents in Poland in 1940, baby Abe was given to the care of his Catholic nanny when his parents were forced to move into the Vilna Ghetto. His parents survived the war and returned to claim him, eventually immigrating to the U.S. in 1950. Foxman says he still speaks Polish with the Pope, which "gets his attention."

"Passion" Opens
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" opens today in theaters across the country. The official "Passion" website offers a state-by-state listing of the theaters showing the movie.

Mel's Making Millions
Mel Gibson is expected to make a pretty penny on his controversial flick "The Passion of the Christ." Although he reportedly shelled out $30 million of his own money to produce "Passion," experts say Gibson can expect to make back his investment plus about $25 million in profit. He also has sales from video, DVD, books, and other assorted official merchandise (including pewter replicas of the nails used to put Jesus on the cross) to look forward to.

Advance ticket sales have been rapidly increasing, and yesterday Newmarket Films, the movie's distributor, said it raised the number of movie prints to 4,000 (up from 2,500), and that 800 additional theaters are expected to show the film, bringing the total to 2,800.

The increase in ticket pre-sales can largely be attributed to churches and other groups, who are buying up tickets for their members. One Southern Baptist who saw a preview of the film is reported to have purchased $42,000 worth of tickets to give away.

Publishing the "Passion"
Mel Gibson's "Passion" may be good news for the movie industry, but it has also become a boon for the book biz. The movie's official tie-in book, published by Tyndale House, has been out for only two weeks and has already sold 150,000 copies to stores and is about to enter its fourth print run. The book includes a Foreword by Mel Gibson, photographs from the film set, and biblical text. The publisher doesn't have individual sales figures yet, but a Tyndale spokesperson said the book will debut on the New York Times expanded bestseller list February 29. The book is also holding steady within the top 50 books on Amazon.

But the official companion book isn't the only "Passion"-related tome to make publishing headway this month. Sales of "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" by Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, a major influence on Gibson's movie, have also exploded. This previously little-known book by a 19th-century German nun reached #152 (out of millions) on the Amazon bestselling list earlier today.

Books that are unrelated to the movie, but focus on the last hours of Jesus, are also gaining ground. This month Ignatius Press released the first English translation in about 100 years of "On the Passion of Christ" by 15th-century German monk Thomas a Kempis, a five hundred-year old book described by the publisher as "a perfect complement to the new movie." And the AP reported that church historian and author Paul Thigpen rushed to finish his new devotional book, "The Passion: Reflections on the Suffering and Death of Jesus," ahead of schedule to coincide with the movie.

Perhaps most extraordinary are the sales figures of the not-yet-released "A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ" from Ascension Press. According to Matthew Pinto of Ascension, the publisher has printed an initial run of 160,000, of which more than 100,000 have already been sold to stores, churches, and individuals. A second print run is scheduled for next week. Pinto said the book "could very well become the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time" and expects to eventually print more than 500,000 copies.

Fanning the Passion
Catholic supporters of Mel Gibson's upcoming movie "The Passion of the Christ" are urging the faithful to sell out the film's debut by buying advance tickets--including extra tickets for the unchurched. The movie, which opens on Ash Wednesday (February 25), has already stirred controversy about whether it reflects Vatican II clarifications about the Jews' role in the crucifixion.

"WHO WILL YOU BRING TO THE PASSION?" asks email from the orthodox Catholic website CatholiCity. The email, signed by "A Man Who Loves the Cross," says "I know the Lord is going to send people into your life and my life who will ONLY go to the movie if you and I give them tickets as a gift. ...Our financial sacrifice is nothing compared to His sacrifice. ...We should have extra tickets ready for our relatives, for the folks at work, and for our friends at church. A thousand years might pass before Christians have another chance like this one."

The leading Catholic website CatholicExchange.com calls the movie the "Catholic Cultural Event of Our Lifetime" and refers readers to a phone number where parishes can set up group screenings. "The more people who see 'The Passion of the Christ,' the greater evangelizing impact it will have worldwide--and the more movies of this kind will emerge from profit-oriented Hollywood," writes Tom Allen, the site's editor.

Popular Catholic weblogs like markshea.blogspot.com are also plugging the movie as an evangelization opportunity.

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