By DEXTER DUGGAN
PHOENIX — When Thomas Olmsted led a pro-life lenten rosary outside Planned Parenthood headquarters here during his first spring as bishop of Phoenix, well over 1,000 sympathetically praying people jammed neighborhood sidewalks around the North Seventh Street location.
The year was 2004. People were interested in the new leader of the local Catholic diocese.
However, part of the reason for the surprising turnout, it was said, was people’s hearts being powerfully moved by Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, which opened as Lent began that year. People throughout the world were similarly affected.
There had been considerable resistance in Hollywood to a general release of the movie at all. It graphically depicted the last hours of Jesus’ life as the popular rabbi from Nazareth, ending in His extreme suffering then death on the cross. A quick scene of the Resurrection followed.
It was an instantly recognizable historical event around the globe, but the close-up on His torments deeply stirred people’s comprehension of what their Savior had done for them.
Those old enough to recall promotion of the movie will remember a poster showing Christ’s bloody, battered face, eyes downcast, in the shadowy foreground, the spikes standing out prominently on His crown of thorns, with three lonely crosses on a hill behind Him.
A full decade has passed since that media milestone. Marking the anniversary, The Passion of the Christ will make its commercial television premiere on the UP cable network on Palm Sunday, April 13, at 9 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. PDT.
The UP cable network “is one of the largest producers of faith-friendly films, with 40 original films to its credit and 20 additional original films scheduled for 2015,” said a news release from the Hollywood-based Allied Faith & Family organization.
Allied Faith & Family said it has a “mission is to encourage and assist the entertainment community in promoting life-affirming messages that touch the heart and uplift the human spirit. We exist to build bridges between the faith and entertainment worlds and advance media that entertain, enlighten, inspire, and endure.”
Charley Humbard, UP president and CEO, said the network “is proud to present this powerful, groundbreaking cinematic portrayal of Christ’s death and Resurrection as the centerpiece of our extensive Easter programming. The Passion of the Christ is a story of unconditional love — the love of a Mother for her Son and the love of a Son for His Heavenly Father and for all mankind. This film depicts the story that is at the very heart of Christianity,” the news release said.
In separate news release, from UP itself, said The Passion of the Christ is part of a two-week observance of the Easter season on the network, beginning April 7 and lasting through Easter Sunday, April 20, with Old and New Testament films.
This release said: “For two weeks in April, television audiences will be treated to an unprecedented collection of inspirational movies and mini-series when UP once again presents ‘The Greatest Stories of The Bible’ in honor of the Easter season. America’s favorite network for uplifting entertainment will mark the holiday for a second year with an unforgettable programming schedule.”
UP said the films are to include Solomon, The Story of David, Barabbas, The Ten Commandments, The Story of Ruth, The Book of Esther, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Peter and Paul, King of Kings, and The Robe, as well as a new UP movie, Apple Mortgage Cake, about a woman saving her home by marketing the dessert she learned to make at her grandmother’s side.
Filmmaker Tom Allen, a partner with Allied Faith & Family, recalled in comments to The Wanderer that he had helped develop an explanatory book to accompany The Passion of The Christ, titled A Guide to The Passion.
Allen said he was involved with bringing the movie to the public when a friend, Matt Pinto at Ascension Press, “asked me one day about the possibility of doing a book while I was in the process of screening the rough cut for prospective investors. I brought the idea to Mel [Gibson], emphasizing the need for a catechetical book that explored the theological underpinnings of the scenes as well as the marketing benefit such a volume would provide. He liked it.
“So my wife Sue and I hammered out a first draft on a long drive from an investor screening up in the [California] wine country down to our home in San Diego County, following a simple question-and-answer format,” Allen said. “We finished it as we pulled up our driveway, and I sent it around” to his writer/editor team.
“What came back was something that we felt really worked and it wound up selling over a million copies, which later enabled us to create our Champions of Faith baseball films. So it was a blessed undertaking from the start that bore real fruit, and [Phoenix] Bishop Olmsted was a steadfast supporter the whole way,” Allen said.