Cambodian catechumens see hope in the suffering of Jesus, after the violence of the Pol Pot regime
How did you present the movie's vision to the catechumens?
First of all, I translated into Khmer the first frame, the passage from the Book of Isaiah about the suffering servant. Without this key element (along with the final scene of the Resurrection) to decode what you, see you cannot understand anything in the movie.
What did your catechumens understand of The Passion?
Oddly enough, the first thing they grasped was the Resurrection of Jesus. Even though it takes place quickly, everyone understood. Especially the girls.
How do you explain it?
The entire movie was like a flashback to the past suffering and the pain that almost all Cambodians endured. It is also a reminder of the situation their country is in today with its lot of poverty, unemployment and corruption. Yet, with the Resurrection they understood that there is hope in all this.
How was the suffering of Jesus received?
They were emotionally caught up in what they were seeing. The next day they were baptised and touched by the salvific sign of Our Lord. But in this movie they saw a Lord, who loves them and whom they love, suffer in such a cruel manner. Many wept. "It is my Jesus who is suffering!" one girl said. Christian catechumens living in a Buddhist world make a real break with their environment and society. Seeing the one person who has led you to an existential change suffer brings you emotionally closer to him. He is not anybody; he is the One who has changed your life.
Cambodian culture is primarily Buddhist and treats suffering in a different way . . .
"Do good, and you will be rewarded; do evil, and you will be punished". This is how Buddhism treats suffering. Your life is determined by your Kharma. The goodness you do in your life is evaluated and you are rewarded accordingly when you are reincarnated.
And where does the Jesus of The Passion fit in all this?
If you follow this principle, you would think that the suffering Jesus was a bad person. The Passion shows exactly this Christian "scandal." The Holy One, the Holiest One, suffers. This is possible because Jesus breaks the pattern of retribution. Here, Jesus suffers so that we may be free of sin.
What religious meaning did The Passion convey to the catechumens?
They all understood and I am talking about their reactions how much Christ loves them. The movie made them feel closer to God and this, by way of the suffering seen in the movie. "He loves me so much that he is willing to endure the unendurable for me," someone said. Especially those living in poverty, in pain or ill understood. One girl said: "I wish I could be like Mary, the woman who follows Jesus, the one who walks by his side.
How did those who survive Pol Pot's genocide receive The Passion?
The movie was not shown in movie theatres because Buddhism is the state religion. When I was watching it I could see in my mind Tuol Sleng prison, infamous for it was there that torture was practiced under the Khmer Rouge regime. If you go there you can still see the photos of the prisoners before and after their torture sessions. You can superimpose the frames from the The Passion and the images of those violated and innocent men and women.