Christians fear that the film will not be shown due to government censorship. Meanwhille first private viewings of the film are accompanied by prayer gatherings and young agnostics want to know more about the faith. "The Passion" has "struck a heavy blow against atheism," says one Chinese youth.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews/UCAN) -- Mainland China Christians who have little hope that "The Passion of the Christ" will be shown in cinemas have resorted to viewing pirated copies of the film.
Since early March, many Catholics in various parts of China have enjoyed private "premieres" of the film thanks to the wide availability of DVD copies. These poor quality copies with Chinese subtitles are sold cheaply on streets in some parts of China.
Some parishes in the government-approved official Church have even notified their members of the availability of DVD copies of the movie at their own parish stores, sources told UCA News.
An underground priest who has seen the movie said that he was so moved by the film that he intends to show it to his parishioners on Good Friday, April 9, the holy day commemorating Jesus' crucifixion.
The priest admitted he bought a cheap DVD copy for 9 yuan (around 1 dollar) on the street. "The quality is not good and the Chinese translation is lousy. But for those of us who know the Bible, we know what's going on," he said.
A Catholic webmaster, who requested anonymity, said that despite a government crackdown on pirated videos, an open Church priest in Shanxi Province has encouraged his parishioners to watch "The Passion." The webmaster said discussions on the film have been going for some on time on his web blog. He said even many secular sites in China have publicized news of the film's release and update news surrounding Gibson's blockbuster. "Quite a number of laypeople have said they felt their faith strengthened after watching the movie and felt differently when praying the 14 Stations of the Cross at Lent," the webmaster said. "For me, I found the film very striking, but couldn't bear to watch the scene where Jesus is nailed to the cross," he added.
The webmaster said some Protestant Chinese asked him for his advice and he recommended that they see it: "Even the pope has watched the film, so it can't be bad." Various Protestant websites enable to the film to be downloaded from another site in China. "My Protestant friends praised the film after watching it," he said.
Foreign movies entering China must undergo strict censorship by government authorities. The State advocates atheism in education and school text books define Jesus as a mythical character. Any film as religious as "The Passion" risks being banned and viewed as a challenge to communist state authority. "What's more, 'The Passion' is a very powerful evangelization tool, so it is highly unlikely it will be shown publicly in China," he said. However, he added, the movie's huge success, as seen in the demand for pirated DVDs, has "struck a heavy blow against atheism."
Yunnan Catholic Online, a Kunming diocese-based website in the provincial capital of Yunnan (2,100 km southwest of Beijing) has reported that parishioners are viewing pirated copies of the film. Father Chen Kaihua of Kunming said that many Catholics are aware of the film's worldwide distribution. Yet they wonder if it will ever be shown in China. With no friends in the United States or other countries who might buy legal copies of the film for them and rather than wait for months, some are buying and passing along pirated DVD versions, he explained. A local layman named Paul said that during two private viewings he attended, many Catholics cried, and a few even screamed when they saw Jesus being scourged .
A young Catholic in Guangdong Province told how she found "exceptionally real as the Messiah went through such pain."
A Catholic youth university student in Tangshan (Hebei Province, 160 kilometers southeast of Beijing) recommended the film to friends. Afterward, "one of them asked me to tell him more stories of the Bible, and another expressed his wish to join the Church," he said.
The Passion of the Christ begins showing in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan at the beginning of April. In Hong Kong there will at least 50 special screenings of the film for Catholic and Protestant groups in two cinemas. There will be 15 minutes of prayer before and after each viewing. A media personalities in Hong Kong have said that the film is unlikely to be shown in mainland China because of its religious nature.