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Gibson: 'Worst to come' over 'Passion'

Maia Morganstern and James Caviezel in "The Passion of the Christ."

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ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) -- The controversy that has followed Mel Gibson's film about the death of Christ could be persecution or just inspired publicity, but the film-maker himself predicted "the worst is yet to come" on Wednesday at a meeting with 4,500 evangelical Christian pastors.

A day after reports that a high Vatican official denied that Pope John Paul gave a thumbs up to his film, "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson prepared to show it to another hand-picked audience, this time the Global Pastors Network conference meeting in Orlando.

As with past screenings, media were barred, as were Jewish groups worried that the film could incite anti-Semitism if it suggests Jewish authorities in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago were largely responsible for the crucifixion of the man Christians worship as the incarnation of God.

On Tuesday, an aide to the pope denied media reports that the pontiff had praised the film's Biblical accuracy, saying, "The Holy Father told no one of his opinion of this film."

Gibson did not mention the Vatican denial when he addressed the pastors. He thanked them for their prayers, but warned, somewhat ominously, "I anticipate the worst is yet to come. I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong."

Gibson said the film gestated in his imagination for 12 years as he meditated on the gospel stories of a God who became human so he could pay the price for human sin.

"He could have done it by pricking his finger and shedding a little blood. He didn't; he wanted to go all the way," Gibson said.

While Gibson thanked the pastors for their support, his publicity director, Paul Lauer, urged them to send youth groups to the R-rated flick when it opens on February 25 on 2,000 screens in the United States.

The rating, apparently based on the graphic depiction of the crucifixion, means those under age 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

Lauer predicted that if the film posts good numbers on its opening weekend, "I think there'll be a lot of powerful people in Hollywood saying, 'Somebody get me a Jesus picture.' "

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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