- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

SYDNEY, Australia — Mel Gibson’s 2004 religious blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ” has a chance for a uniquely Australian reprise, thanks to Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement Sunday that the 2008 World Youth Day will be held here.

Central to the city’s two-year campaign to host the massive Catholic youth event was the possibility that Mr. Gibson will direct a re-enactment of Christ’s last hours in downtown Sydney.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said, in its bid documents, that the famous filmmaker would be asked to stage a Last Supper at the world-famous waterfront Sydney Opera House.

Actors would portray various scenes in the last hours of Christ along palm-tree-lined streets to the center of town and up a gentle hill to St. Mary’s Cathedral, the site of the Crucifixion.

Mr. Gibson’s spokesman, Alan Nierob, has not committed to Mr. Gibson doing the event, saying the star and director had not been “officially approached” on the matter.

“Nothing has been discussed on our end at all to date,” he said.

However, archdiocesan spokeswoman Marita Winters promised yesterday that Sydney Cardinal George Pell will put the question to Mr. Gibson, now that Australia has been given the official go-ahead to host the huge event.

Local tourism officials estimate 100,000 youths will come, rivaling the 2000 Olympics and bringing in close to $100 million in tourism revenue. This year’s World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, attracted an estimated 800,000 people to its closing Mass on Sunday.

Why Mr. Gibson?

“The cardinal was impressed with ‘The Passion of the Christ,’” Miss Winters said. “The involvement of Mel Gibson was on the cardinal’s wish list.”

Even though the film star was born in Peekskill, N.Y., and didn’t emigrate to Australia with his family until he was 12 years old, the Australians have adopted him as a native son.

Mr. Gibson finished his schooling there, and began his filmmaking career in Sydney. His first few films in which he starred — “Mad Max,” “Tim,” “Gallipoli” and “The Year of Living Dangerously” — were either set there or had Australian themes. He now lives in Southern California.

“The Passion of the Christ” earned raves and brickbats for its Aramaic and Latin screenplay, its portrayal of Jewish leaders as being at least partially responsible for Christ’s death and for its graphic and gory depiction of a first-century crucifixion. Although critics predicted it wouldn’t earn the $30 million Mr. Gibson invested in it, the film grossed $612 million worldwide.

And the work struck a chord with Cardinal Pell, who lobbied for two years to get a World Youth Day celebration in Australia. The 2008 event, slated for July 15-20, will take place in the midst of Australia’s winter. However, temperatures are often in the 60s in this semitropical city, although the coastal nights can get chilly.

But, Miss Winters was asked, would Mr. Gibson’s re-enactment be as violent as was the original R-rated film?

“That will need to be worked out,” she said.

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