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Soul-stirring 'Passion of Christ' vivid for viewers

Painful. Violent. Graphic.

So was described “The Passion of the Christ,” which opened at theaters around the country on Wednesday.

Mel Gibson’s new film about Christ’s death played to sellout crowds at Clovis’ North Plains Cinema — emotional, appreciative crowds who applauded its realism.

“It’s graphic,” said Pastor Rob Hollis of First Baptist Church in Texico. “I would encourage parents, if your children are going to see it, to see it with them and to have a good talk with them afterwards about what it means.”

Hollis said he was strongly affected by the presentation.

“It is the reality of the crucifixion, it is very painful,” Hollis said. “In our society we have reduced the crucifixion to a piece of jewelry, and it is important for us to come back and explain it.”

Many of those attending Wednesday’s 4:30 p.m. showing were from First Christian Church or Central Christian Church of Clovis, which purchased 100 tickets each.

“We made those available to church members that wanted to purchase them for themselves or for their unchurched friends; for our teens, we made sure our teens got a ticket whether they could afford them or not,” said Pastor Larry Tedrow of Central Christian Church. “I would encourage everyone to see it. Yes it is brutal, but it is the reality of what our lord and savior went through for us.”

Pastor John Forrest of First Christian Church had similar sentiments.

“As I sat there, most of the people were very quiet but I could hear some sobbing and some crying,” Forrest said. “It was a very intense movie.”

The movie’s characters spoke in Aramaic or Latin, but Forrest said he quickly became used to the subtitles.

Forrest said his church will be doing an eight-part series on the crucifixion leading up to Easter and encouraged people with questions about the movie to contact him or another pastor.

“It will raise questions in people’s minds and they may need to seek out others who can explain the ‘why’ of what happened,” Forrest said.

“It was very moving, very touching, and I don’t think I will ever participate in communion the same way again,” Tedrow said. “I think this will impact my understanding of communion more than anything else ever has.”

North Plains Cinema manager Abby Parrish said sales have been going well nationwide and early reports from film industry observers show the film could gross $50 million to $70 million in the first five days.

While many showings of “The Passion of the Christ” sold out long in advance, Parrish said those interested in attending won’t have that long of a wait and should still be able to get into at least one show today and through the weekend.

Some have criticized the film because of its portrayal of Jews and R-rated violence.

On Tuesday, several New Mexico religious leaders — including a Catholic archbishop and three Rabbis — issued a statement saying the movie’s dramatic portrayal of Jesus Christ’s final hours might provoke feelings of anti-Semitism.

But Bruce Wilder, pastor of the Faith Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, said he views concerns over anti-Semitism as far-flung. He said the film is a moving example of Christ’s sufferings, not a blame game.

‘‘I respect the experience and opinion of people who see that movie and find it somehow difficult for them to watch, given their own faith tradition,’’ Wilder said. ‘‘But I don’t see anything in it that singles out Jewish individuals or Jewish institutions. If there’s blame for what happened, it belongs to every breathing human soul.’’

The Associated Press contributed to this report.