Sunday, August 07, 2005

"The Passion of The Christ" as Street Theater

The Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia, under Archbishop George Pell, is sending feelers to Mel Gibson to see if he is willing to produce a Stations of the Cross reenactment in the streets of Melbourne as part of their bid to host World Youth Day in 2008.

World Youth Day is essentially a mammoth, revival/gathering of Catholic young folk. It amounts to a week long rally at which the Pope usually turns up, and has varied in size over the past decade anywhere from four hundred thousand to five million Catholic kids. It has taken place recently at Cologne, Toronto, and Rome. Cities vying to host the event often do so under some influential bishop who puts together a bid with all the arm twisting and blue sky promising associated with cities trying to host the Olympics or a major party political convention.

And for anyone not familiar with them, the Stations of the Cross is a ceremonial meditation on Christ's final three hours of life as Pilate sentenced him to be Crucified. Traditionally, it includes fourteen stations, usually in the form of artistic representations permanently placed at intervals around the inside walls of most Catholic Churches. On the Fridays of the liturgical season of Lent, parish priests or deacons will lead a procession around the side aisles of the parish church, stopping at each station to lead prayers and songs specifically associated with a specific events from the moment Jesus was sentenced to die to His burial in the tomb.

In some places, the Stations are done outside. Each year in Rome, the Pope has traditionally led a Stations ceremony around the coliseum where so many early Christians died for the Faith. In Jerusalem, the Stations are done on the "Via Dolorosa", the street believed to be the same one that Christ struggled up from the ancient Roman fortress Antonia to the hillock known at Golgotha or Calvary.

To be done theatrically by a producer believed to have made the best and most controversial Christian movie of all time would be an incredible pageant.

It would also be a lightning rod, of course. Everyone who despised Gibson's movie will despise the Melbourne event. They will predict anti-Jewish pogroms, anti-Christian terrorism, or both.

And Gibson might not even do it. Or Melbourne might not win the bid for World Youth Day.

But it would still be an incredible thing to imagine. More incredible to see.