05/12/2004, 00.00
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Passion of the Christ raises questions among Buddhist audiences

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Ucan) – The Passion of the Christ has left viewers stunned and questioning the religious meaning of Christ's violent death since the blockbuster film directed by Mel Gibson was released April 29th in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

More than 90 percent of Thailand's population are Buddhist. Very few have read the Bible. The long episodes of violence and beatings in the Passion caused not a few in the audience to scratch their heads.

Visit Thiepaitoon, a medical doctor, stated he had to turn away from the graphic scenes of Christ beaten by the Roman soldiers, "I have not read the Bible, but I could not imagine it happening this way."  He said he wondered why such " long scenes of cruelty", which could be "too much for people" were included in the film. Others, like Thanoong, a young lecturer at a business school, said he got "goose bumps" watching the film, but did not understand it, especially the ending. Lek, a student who had not been previously exposed to the story of Christ, said she felt something "changed" in her because of the film, but she also felt "depressed".

Film critic Kong Rithdee offered an insight into the audiences' reaction. "Buddhists, as most citizens in this country are, carry a different baggage walking into the theater. People adhering to the religion founded on peace and meditation may wonder, judging from this film, why a more popular faith like Christianity had such a bloody, painful origin," he wrote in "Bangkok Post" an English-language daily newspaper.

Some Christian Churches and the Bible Society in Thailand worked to offer an explanation to the film as moviegoers entered the cinema. A Thai-language booklet introducing the meaning of the story behind the film was offered, containing email addresses and websites of Christian organizations. Apichit, a student, gave the film a "thumbs up" when he left, admitting that the brutality scared him, but he had understood what the Passion meant from the booklet he received.

Christian believers have had plenty of opportunities to view the film as well. The Catholic Social Communications Commission of Thailand booked six screenings of the film during Holy Week and Easter, with other Christian groups also booking entire theaters for special viewings. Father Thiva Saengsirivivat, the Redemptorist assistant pastor at Holy Redeemer Church in Bangkok, stated that the impact of the movie on Christian believers was definite. "On Good Friday, so many people attended the liturgy that our church was packed. It has something to do with the movie. People came for Confession who had not come for many years." But he also added the "Those Buddhist who are interested will have questions. The most important question is, 'How does the story continue?'"

Christians constitute less than 1 percent of Thailand's 63 million people.

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