The Archdiocese of Denver has become the “patron saint” of “The Passion of the Christ,” said the blockbuster’s executive producer Steve McEveety, during a ceremony Thursday night in which Mel Gibson’s film received the Imago Dei award. According to the event’s organizers, the annual award recognizes a person or entity that has been inspirational in accepting the Gospel invitation to act “in the image of God.” Imago Dei is Latin for “Image of God.”
The Archdiocese of Denver decided to give the award to “The Passion of the Christ,” its cast and crew, “because of the impact the film has had on those who have already seen it and in leading the millions who will see it to encounter the person and message of Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput presented the award to Steve McEveety and Jim Caviezel, who accepted it on behalf of the filmmakers. Caviezel portrays Jesus in the film.
“To portray Jesus is almost impossible, but this film has done it,” said Fr. Michael Glenn, Rector of the St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, during the event held at Denver’s Hyatt Regency.
The event raised funds for the two major seminaries in Denver, St. John Vianney and Redemptoris Mater. Some 20 to 25 men enter the two seminaries each year, and many dioceses are approaching the Archdiocese of Denver for the formation of their seminarians.
“I left the movie having decided to become a better and a holier priest,” Fr. Glenn said.
“I've seen The Passion of the Christ four times. Each time I've been struck by how deeply it affects people,” said Archbishop Chaput before presenting the award. “It's not just a great ‘religious’ film. It’s an uncommonly beautiful film by any standard. But it’s also more than that.
“What the Passion does better than any movie I've ever seen, is to take all those intimate longings of the human heart and make them come alive in the sacrifice of a real man, who really lived for us, really died for us and really rose again for us - because He really loved us,” the Archbishop said.
Addressing the criticism faced by the movie, Chaput said that “some critics say it's anti-Semitic... but The Passion isn't about the Sanhedrin. It's about the man who died to overcome the sin of hate.”
“Some critics say it's violent, and yes that's true. But The Passion isn't about the violence. It's about the love that was willing to endure it,” he added.
Later, speaking about the film's success, Archbishop Chaput said: “I must confess: Father, forgive me for being really, really, really happy for Mr. Gibson, his family, and everyone who worked on this picture.”
After receiving the award, Jim Caviezel said that “this film made Jesus even bigger than the Beatles,” in an ironic reference to John Lennon's infamous claim that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus Christ.”
Caviezel shared with the audience his initial concerns about playing Jesus in a movie to be spoken in Aramaic and Latin.
He also shared the difficulties – especially the physical pain – of shooting the movie. Nevertheless, Caviezel said he “always found this gentle hand guiding my way.”
Praying the rosary, going to confession, and receiving the Holy Eucharist were “the secret” of the film’s success, said Caviezel, who also revealed that his constant prayer was that he himself might not be visible but that Christ would be.
“God is calling us all to be saints,” said the actor, who called the seminarians to “overcome the temptation of being ‘light,’ of falling into a life comfort,” and invited them to become holy priests and “to challenge the laity to be saintly.”
”Freedom from sin, from your weaknesses, this is the freedom I desire for all,” he said.
McEveety told the audience that enduring the difficulties of making and promoting the movie was possible “because we all have pretty powerful women behind us.”
“This movie would not be what it is without those women,” he said, referring to his own wife and the wives of Mel Gibson, Caviezel, and others involved in the film.
Both Karri Caviezel and Susie McEveety were present at the award ceremony.
McEveety said that during the first days of the controversy around the film, the Archbishop of Denver “was the lone soldier that supported us from the very beginning.”
After giving thanks to the Archbishop and his Chancellor, Francis Maier, the movie’s executive director concluded: “the Archdiocese of Denver is the patron saint of the Passion of the Christ.”