While it is Protestant Christians who normally emphasize evangelizing unbelievers, a new online effort entitled “Catholic Passion Outreach” hopes to mobilize Catholics to use Mel Gibson’s new movie to “spread, strengthen and share” their faith.

A cooperative project of Catholic Exchange and Ascension Press, the new website features a downloadable free small-groups handbook and a book for sale: “A Guide to the Passion.”

Ascension Press is a Catholic publisher; Catholic Exchange is a Net-based evangelistic organization.

“As a major cultural event, this movie offers Catholics a unique opportunity to share the power of the gospel with family and friends,” said Tom Allen, president of CatholicExchange.com. “Unlike any other, this movie will inspire hearts and change lives. And it will evoke many questions about its artistic and theological aspects.”

Gibson’s film, which chronicles the last 12 hours of Christ’s life and his resurrection, has generated high levels of both excitement and criticism. While many Christians have hailed the movie as an inspiring and accurate account of the biblical Gospels, others have blasted the film as anti-Semitism. Gibson himself is Catholic.

The guidebook offered on the new website was designed as something that could be given away to moviegoers at theaters. Matthew Pinto, president of Ascension Press, calls it “the definitive Catholic resource book on the subject.”

The book, which sells for $5.95, has a chapter on “The Case for Christ” as well as the story of the founding and growth of the Catholic Church. Devotional prayers, the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are included as appendices.

“We wanted to create a piece that offers a scene-by-scene analysis of the movie, both from an artistic and theological perspective. The book needed to be inviting, appealing to the casual moviegoer who may not be active in any faith, yet also rich in faith content,” said Pinto. “People are going to have questions as they watch the movie. This book will give them the answers.”

Evangelical Protestants have snatched up thousands of tickets for the opening of the film, scheduled for Feb. 25, hoping also to use it as an evangelism tool. Gibson has screened the movie for thousands of Evangelical pastors to generate interest among Christians.

At Wheaton Bible Church in suburban Chicago two members have offered to buy out two screenings of “The Passion” at a local theater.

John Mitchell, the church’s pastor of evangelism, said: “We’re getting involved in this way because we believe that Mel Gibson’s movie … will cause people to ask the most important question of life, which is, ‘What was Jesus doing on that cross?'”

Read WorldNetDaily’s extensive coverage of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

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