Jim Caviezel: If it wasn’t for Medjugorje, I wouldn’t have ever played in movie “Passion”
Jim Caviezel became the world famous actor with leading role in Mel Gibson’s movie “Passion”. Who is that actor that has so impressively become one with character of Jesus? Personally, he claims that if it wasn’t for Medjugorje, he wouldn’t have ever even accepted that role. Namely, in Medjugorje he had experienced certain dimension of faith that was unknown to him up to that point. In February he came to Medjugorje for the sixth time as pilgrim, and he visited Vienna after that trip. While he was in Vienna he had interview with Christian Stelzer for magazine “Oase des Friedens”, and interview translated in Croatian can be found in new edition of “Glasnik mira” from Medjugorje.
Jim, can you tell us how did you hear about Medjugorje?
My wife came to Medjugorje while I was in Ireland, shooting movie “Monte Cristo”. Things were not that great although I worked seven days a week. One day she called me, and I could notice in her voice that there was a change. She started talking about Medjugorje, and how one of visionaries is about to come to Ireland…I interrupted her by saying: “Listen, I really have some serious stuff to do, I am not able now to go into anything with any of the visionaries.” Besides that, I thought that as Catholic I do not have to necessarily accept Lourdes or Fatima or Medjugorje. That is how I thought. I remember that in the catholic school that I attended earlier in my life, once we heard about Medjugorje we were thrilled, but we found out soon that local bishop is objecting and considers apparitions to be false, and therefore we lost our interest immediately.
In any case, visionary Ivan Dragicevic came to Ireland. I knew straight at the beginning that I will not have time for him, since I had to work all the time. One day, my movie partner Jim Harris was not feeling well, I got the day off and I was able to attend one apparition. I stood at the very back of the packed church, and I wasn’t quite sure about what was going on. When the man who was next to me in his wheelchair fell down on his knees at the time of apparition, I was deeply moved. I thought, this handicapped man, despite all of his pains is kneeling down on cold stone floor and he is praying! Today I realize it was only God who knew me that well that He knew where exactly He needs to touch me to get my attention!
Although it might sound strange, on Sunday that followed, I got another day off and I was able to meet with Ivan, which was my wife’s special wish. During the time of apparition I knelt close to him and I said in my heart: “Ok, here I am. I am ready. Do with me what you want.” In the same moment I felt as something was fulfilling me. It was very simple, and yet unique. When I got up, tears were running down my cheeks and I started to cry with all of my heart. Ivan told me: “Jim, man always finds time for what he loves. If somebody who doesn’t have any time finds girlfriends and falls in love with her, he will always find time for her. People don’t have time for God because they do not love Him.” And he continued: “God is inviting you to pray with the heart.” I asked him: “How am I supposed to do that?” “By starting to pray”, he replied. In that moment doors of my heart were opened. I couldn’t even dream about that being possible. We went to restaurant, and I must admit that wine and food I had that night were never as tasteful as in that particular night. Something started to change within me. My wife wanted to teach me on many occasions in the past how to pray the Rosary, but I always refused to learn that. Now, I wanted to pray, but I did not know exactly how to do that. I just felt that my heart was opened. One morning as I was driving to work, I said to the driver that was taking me for shooting every day: “I don’t know how you feel about this, but I would want to start to pray the Rosary.” At my amazement, he just replied: “Ok, let’s pray.”
In the warm light of love that I felt within me, I was able to realize where I really was, how many temptations I had, where were my feelings, how weak I was and how strictly I judged other people.
When did you come to Medjugorje for the first time?
After shooting was completed, and that was in Malta, I decided to come to Medjugorje. When I was twenty, inner voice was saying to me that I should become an actor. When I spoke about that with my father, he used to say: “If God wants something of you that is for you to become a priest, why would He want you to become an actor?” I did not understand either at that time.
Again, I asked myself the same question, does God want me to become an actor, to make lots of money and to become rich? I was aware of imbalance in the world between those who have a lot, and many of those who barely have for survival, and I knew that is not what God wanted, and I was to make a choice whether I will serve to richness that does not provide permanent happiness or to God who wants to guide my life?
At that time, Medjugorje reminded me of Bethlehem and I thought, as Jesus was born in a small place, in the same way Mother of God is appearing in one poor village in between hills. Those four days I spent in Medjugorje at that time were my turning point. In the very beginning I was still amazed at how much people in Medjugorje prayed. Everything reminded me of basketball camp, and I thought there you do not play one match a day, but always, constantly, anew. The same is in the school where you do not read just once a day, but always, repeatedly. In those first days in Medjugorje I felt inner unrest while I was praying, because I was not used to pray that much and I was asking God to help me. After four days the only thing I wanted to do was to pray. Whenever I prayed, I felt connected with God. That is my experience I would wish for every Catholic to experience! Maybe as a child, I felt something similar and I forgot about it. Now, it was given to me again.
The same experience continued back at home. In our family we live sacraments together. As we drive kids to school, we all together pray the Rosary, sometimes when I don’t start to pray, my son starts first.
When I came to Medjugorje for second time, I expected to have those first, initial experiences again, but it was different. After having lunch on one of those days, pilgrims invited me to go with them to visit Fr. Jozo Zovko in Siroki Brijeg. That was, above all, my wife’s desire. I didn’t know Fr. Jozo personally, but I was very much impressed by all stories I heard about him. I met with him. He laid his hands on my shoulders. I laid mine on his shoulders. He laid his hands on my head. I laid mine on his head. In that moment I felt the words within me: “I love you, my brother. This man loves God.” Fr. Jozo spontaneously turned towards his interpreter and asked her in Croatian who I was, and that he wanted to talk to me. That was beginning of a friendship that lasts up to now.
That was the time immediately after we finished shooting “Passion”, and in that time I was able to experience all conflicting forces within me regarding that movie.
Can you tell us why did you feel that way, and what was the connection between that movie and Medjugorje?
You are probably familiar with expression “to cross the Rubicon”. That means it is not possible to go back, you reach the point of no return. Movie “Passion” was such Rubicon for me. When shooting started, I was 33 years old, just like Jesus. I always wondered if I was even worthy to play Jesus. Ivan Dragicevic encouraged me and said that God does not always, necessarily choose the best, which is something he sees in his own example. If it wasn’t for Medjugorje I wouldn’t have ever agreed to take that part, because it was in Medjugorje that my heart opened to prayer and to sacraments. If I wanted to play Jesus, I knew I needed to be very close to him. Every day I went to confession and I attended Eucharistic Adoration. Mel Gibson was coming to Holy Mass as well with the condition that Holy Mass is in Latin. That was good, in that way I learned Latin.
There were always new temptations that I needed to defend myself from, and in those inner battles, I used to feel, not just once, great inner peace. For instance, where Mother of God approaches me, and I tell her: “Look, I make everything anew.” We repeated that scene four times, and I felt every time that I was standing too much in the forefront. Then, somebody hit the cross and my left shoulder was dislocated. Due to that sudden and sharp, intense pain, I lost balance and I felt under the weight of the cross. I hit dusty ground with my face and the blood gushed forth suddenly from both of my nose and my mouth. I repeated the words Jesus said to His mother: “Look, I make everything anew.” My shoulder was in incredible pain when I took the cross again and felt how precious it was. At that point, I stopped acting and you could only see Jesus. He came forward as to the answer to my prayers: “I want people to see you, Jesus, not me!”
Thanks to continuous prayer of the Rosary, I can not even tell how many Rosaries I said during the time of shooting, I was able to feel special atmosphere. I knew I wasn’t supposed to use bad language, I knew I couldn’t be rude if I wanted to say something to members of the crew. Most of them did not know about Medjugorje, they were all great actors, and we were lucky to get them. But how was I to bring Medjugorje to them, if not by my own life? Medjugorje for me means to live out of sacraments and in the unity with the Church. Thanks to Medjugorje I started to believe that Jesus was really present in the Eucharist, and that he forgives me my sins. Through Medjugorje I experienced how Rosary is powerful prayer and what gift we have when we attend Holy Mass every day.
How could I help to other people to increase their faith in Jesus? I realized that can only happen if Jesus was present in me through the Eucharist, so people would see Jesus through my life. When we were shooting scene of Last Supper, I had one inner pocket made on my clothes where I placed relics of saints and one piece of relic of Christ’s Cross. I had strong desire that Jesus is really present and I asked the priest to expose the Blessed Sacrament. At first, he did not want to do that, but I was persistent in my request because I was positive that people would recognize Christ more if I myself was looking at Him. The priest was standing with the Blessed Sacrament in his hands next to cameraman and together with him, he was approaching me. When people who are watching the movie see shimmer in my eyes, they do not realize that they really see Jesus, reflection of the consecrated Host in my eyes. The same was in the scene of Crucifixion: the priest was there, he held the Blessed Sacrament in his hands and I prayed all the time…
The biggest challenge in the movie was not, as I originally thought, to memorize all texts in Latin, Armenian or Hebrew, but all those physical efforts I needed to overcome. During the last scene, my shoulder was sprained and it would become dislocated every time somebody hit the cross. While we made scenes of flagellation, I was caught by those whips twice and I had 14 cm long wound on my back. My lungs were full of fluid and I had pneumonia. Chronic sleep deprivation should be added to that, since for months I had to get up at 3 a.m. because only putting make up lasted for about 8 hours…
Another special challenge was cold whether, temperatures very hardly above zero, which was especially difficult to endure in the scene of Crucifixion. My whole costume was made of one single piece of light fabric. While we were shooting the last scene, the clouds were very low and one lightning stroke the cross on which I was tied. Suddenly dead silence was around me and I felt my hair going up. Around 250 people who were around me saw my whole body being illuminated and they all saw fire on the left and on the right side of me. Many were shocked with what they saw.
I know that “Passion” is movie of love, maybe one of the greatest of such movies. Jesus today is subject of many controversies, more than ever before. There are so many factors that threaten to this created world, but faith in Jesus is the source of joy. I think God is inviting us especially in this time, and we need to answer that call with our full heart and whole body.
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