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Pell says Gibson film will heighten Good Friday observance

Sydney's Cardinal George Pell has said many who attend Easter ceremonies this year will come with a clearer vision, thanks to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

In his Easter Message, the Cardinal said the film has focused public attention on the Christian understanding of the whole Easter season "more effectively than any other event for years".

He said the level of public discussion among the non-church goers also reminds us of the" extent and depth of Christian sentiment as well as belief across our society".

"People felt constrained to explain why they were not going to see the film; or why they left early or why they admired it."

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart spoke of the awkward manner in which "civilised .. people of religious and spiritual sensibilities" are forced by their faith to proclaim a crucified Christ. He said it seems like 'foolishness' and a 'scandal.'

Perth's Archbishop Barry Hickey focused on a call to the faithful to resist pressure to yield to the secularisation of Good Friday.

"At present Good Friday provides most people with the opportunity to attend religious services both in the morning and in the afternoon if they desire to do so," he said. "Many peole who do not attend religious services also appreciate having one day of the year that helps us to be aware that there is more to life than the hustle and bustle of daily affairs and our seemingly endless need to be entertained."

Pope John Paul II said that on Good Friday, "the Christian assembly is invited to meditate on the evil and on the sin that oppresses humanity, and on the salvation wrought by Christ's redemptive sacrifice."

The Holy Father will participate in the veneration of the Cross, again in St. Peter's Basilica, in the afternoon. Then he will cross the city of Rome to the Coliseum for the Stations of the Cross in the evening. For most of the years of his pontificate, John Paul II led the procession from one station to another; last year, in recognition of his declining health, he remained seated, standing only at the 14th and final station.

In Israel, few foreign pilgrims have made the trip for Holy Week. Tension is running particularly high in the wake of Israel's 22 March assassination of the founder and leader of the militant group Hamas and its threats of reprisal.

Australian Commissary of the Holy Land, Franciscan friar Paul Smith said the pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem recently said that since the September 2002 Palestinian uprising, more than 1500 Christians have left Bethlehem.

"This number is significant since the remaining 11,000 Christians constitute less than 3% of the total population," he said. "Curfews and sieges have forced many Palestinians from their homes and workplaces. Israeli checkpoints and violence have choked off tourism. Christians who run hotels, restaurants and shops that rely on visitors are being forced to close their businesses."

Fr Smith is organising the Good Friday collection in Australian Catholic churches for Christians in the Holy Land and the Franciscan Friars there who care for its sacred places.

In Iraq, a surge in violence across the country has put a damper on planned Holy Week and Easter celebrations in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul. Protests against the US-led coalition by supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left more than 50 people dead April earlier this week.

"The situation is not good, there is no calm, life is not serene. Granted, peace and security would be better," Baghdad's Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni said.

He told Catholic News Service that despite the insecurity the church is still going ahead with Holy Week celebrations as planned, but in a more subdued and cautious manner.

In the United States, Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley said American culture is inhospitable to Catholic teaching and likened preaching in the United States to a form of martyrdom.

"Today, our challenge is simple: to resist the temptation to conform to the culture of death, to consumerism, hedonism, individualism," he told about 500 priests and 600 parishioners on Tuesday during Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

"The pulpit is the important arena of our martyrdom," he said. "It can be painful, it can be frustrating, but it can also produce much good."

Pope looks forward to Easter Triduum (Catholic World News 7/4/04)
To the people of the Church of Australia, on GOOD FRIDAY 2004 (Holy Land Commisariat, Franciscan Provicial Office Australia)
Boston Archbishop Decries Hedonistic Life (The Guardian/Associated Press 7/4/04)
The Archbishop's comment for the West Australian - Re: Good Friday
Cardinal Pell's Easter Message - 2004 (Catholic Communications)
Pilgrims in Jerusalem Follow Jesus' Steps (Associated Press/ 4/4/04)
Surge in violence forces subdued Holy Week in Iraq, bishop says (Catholic News Service 6/4/04)
The Foolishness of God (Message of Archbishop Denis Hart, Melbourne)

Pope's security tight for Easter (The Australian 7/4/04)
Sydney Easter Mass Times (Catholic Communications)
Harnessing Easter's symbolic power (The Age 7/4/04)
Holy Land procession draws fewer pilgrims in era of intifada (Catholic News Service 6/4/04)
Jerusalem patriarch appeals for leaders to use reason to end violence (Catholic News Service 6/4/04)
Easter 2004 (Catholic Communications Ireland)
Easter Message 2004 (Archbishop Denis Hart, Melbourne)

8 Apr 2004