Jim Caviezel talks about Medjugorje
Jim Caviezel is the actor who portrayed Jesus in the movie The Passion of the Christ. Part of his personal religious experience on the making of the film is revealed in the interview below.
• In February Jim Caviezel made his sixth pilgrimage to Medjugorje and afterwards travelled to Vienna where he gave an interview to Christian Stelzer for the magazine Oase des Friedens. The Croatian translation is published in the latest edition of the Medjugorje parish magazine Glasnik mira.
• Jim, how did you hear about Medjugorje?
My wife came to Medjugorje while I was in Ireland, shooting the 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 was 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 I attended earlier in my life, once we heard about Medjugorje we were thrilled, but we found out soon that the local bishop was objecting and considered the apparitions to be false, and so we lost our interest immediately.
The visionary Ivan Dragicevic came to Ireland and I knew straightaway that I would not have time for him, since I had to work all the time. One day my movie partner Jim Harris wasn’t feeling well, so I got the day off and I was able to attend an apparition. I stood at the very back of the packed church and I wasn’t quite sure about what was going on. But when the man 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 realise it was only God who knew me so well that He knew where exactly He needed to touch me to get my attention!
Although it might sound strange, on the following Sunday 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 a girlfriend 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 the doors of my heart were opened. I couldn’t even dream about that being possible. We went to restaurant, and I must admit that the wine and food I had was never as tasteful as on 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. 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 filming every day: “I don’t know how you feel about this, but I would want to start to pray the Rosary.” To my amazement, he just replied: “Okay, let’s pray.”
In the warm light of love that I felt within me, I was able to realise 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 filming was completed, and that was in Malta, I decided to come to Medjugorje. When I was 20, an inner voice would say 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 it 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 the imbalance in the world between those who have a lot and those who barely have enough for survival, and I knew that is not what God wanted, and was I to make a choice to seek wealth that does not provide permanent happiness, or to serve God who wants to guide my life?
At that time, Medjugorje reminded me of Bethlehem and I thought, just as Jesus was born in a small place, in the same way the Mother of God is appearing in a 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 prayed in Medjugorje. Everything reminded me of basketball camp. There you do not play just one match a day, but continually. The same as in 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 praying 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 was my experience I would wish for every Catholic! 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 the sacraments together. As we drive the kids to school we pray the Rosary together. 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 lunch one day, some pilgrims invited me to go with them to visit Fr Jozo Zovko in Siroki Brijeg. That was also 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 who I was and said that he wanted to talk to me. That was beginning of a lasting friendship.
That was the time immediately after we finished shooting the “Passion”, and at that time I was able to experience all conflicting forces within me regarding that movie.
• Can you tell us why felt 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. The “Passion” was such a 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 situation. 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 the 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 was in Latin. That was good because in that way I learned Latin.
There were always new temptations from which I needed to defend myself, and in those inner battles I used to feel great inner peace – for instance, in the scene where the Mother of God approaches me, and I say to 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 fell under the weight of the cross. I hit the dusty ground with my face and the blood gushed forth suddenly from my nose and 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’t begin to tell how many Rosaries I said during the time of shooting – I was able to experience a special grace. 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 the sacraments and be in unity with the Church. Thanks to Medjugorje I started to believe that Jesus was really present in the Eucharist and that he forgives my sins. Through Medjugorje I experienced how the Rosary is a powerful prayer and what a gift we have when we attend Holy Mass every day.
How could I help other people to increase their faith in Jesus? I realised that this can only happen if Jesus is present in me through the Eucharist, and so people would see Jesus through my life. When we were shooting the scene of the Last Supper I had an inner pocket made in my clothes where I placed some relics of saints and a relic of Christ’s Cross. I had strong desire for Jesus to be really present and so I asked the priest to expose the Blessed Sacrament. At first, he did not want to do that, but I was persistent in asking because I was positive that people would recognise 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 approached me. When people watch the movie and see a shimmer in my eyes, they are not aware that they really see Jesus, a 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 memorise all the 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 became dislocated every time somebody hit the cross. While we filmed the scenes of the scourging, I was twice caught by those whips and I had 14cm 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 3.00 in the morning because make-up would take almost eight hours.
Another special challenge was the cold weather, temperatures hardly above zero, which was especially difficult to endure in the Crucifixion scene. 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 lightning struck the cross to which I was tied. Suddenly everything was silent around me and I felt my hair standing on edge. About 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 at what they saw.
I know that the “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 this created world, but faith in Jesus is the source of joy. I think God is calling us in a special way in this time, and we need to answer that call with our whole heart and whole body.