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Fears religious film will do damage

MP ANN WIDDECOMBE: "I don't normally watch violent films...but I will be going to see this one"
MP ANN WIDDECOMBE: "I don't normally watch violent films...but I will be going to see this one"

KENT'S Jewish community has reacted with some concern to the news that Mel Gibson's new film, The Passion of the Christ, is to be shown in the county's cinemas later this month.

The film, which is released on Friday, March 26, in this country, depicts the last 12 hours of Christ's life in graphic detail, including him being flogged, forced to wear the Crown of Thorns, carry his crucifix and be nailed to the cross.

The Chatham Memorial Synagogue, in Rochester, is home to most of the Jewish community in mid and north Kent. Chairman Jon Weiner, who is from Harrietsham, near Maidstone, stressed that he had not seen the film, but had reservations about the harm it could cause to community relations.

"We are very much involved in improving relationships with other religions, particularly the Christian religion and I think and if this film means that any of the good work that's been done is undone it can only be a bad thing," he said.

"We have a very, very good relationship with local groups of all faiths and if this film does that any damage I think it's disgraceful."

He added that in his opinion most modern churches had distanced themselves from the view that the Jews were responsible for the death of the Messiah.

"Churches have done a lot to get away from that view," he said.

"For this film to go and stir up that sort of attitude when so much has been done to combat it is offensive."

Former chairman of the Kent Liberal Jewish Community, Tony Kreit, said he felt the film would have little impact on British society.

The 65-year-old, from Sittingbourne, said: "I hope it won't affect relations between the Jewish community and those we live with. My own perception of the Christian community is that the beliefs are not all that strongly held and those who are anti-Semitic will be anti-Semitic anyway.

"In places where racism is endemic however it may have a worrying effect. There are not that many Jews in Kent. If I was living 50 years ago in the East End of London I would have been clearly identified as a Jew but walking around Sittingbourne now nobody knows I'm Jewish so I don't think this film will really cause much hatred."

Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, Ann Widdecombe, became a Catholic 11 years ago partly because of the Church of England's refusal to ordain women. She said she was excited about the prospect of seeing the film.

"It's a long overdue film. The crucifixion was a very, very brutal business. I don't normally watch violent films because I'm a little squeamish but I will be going to see this one."

As for the claims that it was anti-Jewish, Miss Widdecombe said the film was based on fact. She stressed: "You cannot re-write history. Christ was killed in the Holy Land in 33 AD by a Jewish kangaroo court. You can't pretend it didn't happen because it did."

Eric Delve, the vicar of St Luke's Church, Maidstone, added: "I think it's brilliant and I do not think it's anti-Semitic at all. It's a film about a Jew who is my personal hero and my saviour and King and it's about how he came to declare the destiny of his people.

"It's a film about human beings and how we find it so hard to do the right thing. It's horrendous and it's scary and it brings home to us how capable human beings are of inflicting suffering on each other."

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