Published: 00:00, 05 March 2004
| Updated: 13:09, 09 March 2004
A GROUP of churches is banding together to give away £20,000 of free cinema tickets for the new Mel Gibson film, The Passion of The Christ, which has caused outrage in the United States.
St Luke's Church, Maidstone, Loose Baptist Church and All Saints' Church, have bought 3,000 tickets for the film which is now completely sold out for its first three days at the Odeon cinema in Maidstone.
Church leaders hope it will encourage non-churchgoers and non-believers to show an interest in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The film, which depicts in graphic and violent detail the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life has divided opinion in America where it was released two weeks ago.
Some Jewish leaders have claimed it is anti-Semitic. One woman even died of a heart attack while watching the violent 25-minute long scene showing Jesus being nailed to the cross.
But the three Maidstone churches are so convinced of the film's power, they want as many people to see it as possible.
Mel Gibson took a huge personal risk by ploughing £30m of his own money into the production, which he also co-wrote and directed.
However the film grossed £20m in the US in its first weekend of release and looks set to become the most influential film about Christ's death ever.
Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, Ann Widdecombe, said she was excited about seeing the film, but Kent's Jewish community have reacted with caution to its release.
Christian Webber, manager of the Odeon, in the Lockmeadow Complex, said the film was bound to cause a stir.
He said it was the first time in his career that someone had booked so many tickets for one film in advance.
"We get businesses booking whole screens to give their staff a treat on numerous occasions, but we have never had anything on this scale before," he said.
"I think there will be a lot of people going to see this out of curiosity."
At first, the film was not even going to be screened in Maidstone.
The distributors are only sending 100 cells over to this country, with most being taken by art house cinemas in the West End of London.
Odeon were to get just 24 of those available, and only two of those were due to be shown in Kent, in Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells.
But after the interest from the group of churches, Odeon decided to send an extra cell to Maidstone.
Anyone can now claim free tickets to go see the film at any showing at Odeon Maidstone on Friday March 26, Saturday March 27 and Sunday March 28.
Anyone interested in getting free tickets for the screenings should log on to www.stlukes.org.uk
The tickets, which are normally £6.50, are open to anyone who is not a regular churchgoer but wants to find out more about Jesus.
Russ Hughes, director of worship at St Lukes Church, told KM-fm why the churches are giving away the tickets...