February 12, 2004

To the Faithful of the Archdiocese of Ottawa

Dear Friends:

I had the opportunity to attend a pre-release screening of The Passion of the Christ in early January along with a few hundred other people involved in ministry in the Ottawa area. It touched me profoundly. As a result of all the publicity and media attention, some of it coming from ecclesiastical sources, I have been asked by many what I thought of the film. This is why I chose to share my impressions without making any recommendation as to whether or not you should see this film.

From a purely artistic and cinematographic point of view, the film has some outstanding qualities. Also, one of the extraordinary features is the depiction of Mary. She is very present throughout the film. Although faithful to the scriptures, the producers and writers chose to add certain elements and to embellish others. This is particularly true of those instances where the Gospels are almost silent or are very discreet as is the case with the scourging.

In essence the film is a depiction of the Way of the Cross, similar to that which adorns our churches, rather than a depiction anchored in one or another of the Gospels. It presents the Passion but adds to it. Although the part of Christs life that the film presents is a very important one, it is just that - a part of Christs story. The film is almost exclusively on the abusive treatment of Christ, though some important messages of our salvation are brought in through flashbacks. In viewing the film, one must keep in mind all that occurred prior to the Passion and, most of all, what followed it. The Passion of Christ must always be considered in the light of faith and only then does it acquire its full significance and meaning.

If the producers wanted to convey the great suffering of Christ, they have truly succeeded. Some will say that the violence in this film is too brutal. All, especially parents, should be aware of this fact. In my opinion, young children should not see this production and adolescents should receive guidance both before and after viewing it.

Many have accused this film of being anti-Semitic. None of us can re-write the course of history, but I did not feel an under-current of anti-Semitism nor do I believe that this was the producers intent. The real villain in this depiction is the devil. And he is overcome by the death of Christ.

A few weeks after seeing the movie, on the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, I came across the text of a conference given by him on the Creed. The text started off this way: ?Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? In answering the question St Thomas Aquinas gives a two-fold answer: the suffering of Christ both as a remedy and as an example. He invites us to recognize the Passion as a model of love, patience, humility and obedience and, as an invitation to seek spiritual riches instead of material riches.

In the spirit of St Thomas Aquinas comments, I hope that, should you choose to see the movie, you would do so in the light of the message of the Gospels and that you would continue to journey in faith, ever conscious of the promise of the resurrection.

With every good wish, I remain:

Sincerely yours in Christ our Lord,

Marcel Gervais
Archbishop of Ottawa