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Meet the priest who played Jesus in India’s short film ‘The Word’

FR BIJU MATHEW,THE WORD
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Fr. Biju Mathew bears an uncanny resemblance to the popular image of Christ.

On Saturday we met Fr. Biju Mathew, India’s version of Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Jesus Christ in the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ. Fr. Mathew, from the Camillian Order, bears an uncanny resemblance to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. When Varghese Jose, the director of the acclaimed Malayalam short movie The Word, approached him to play the part of Jesus Christ, he readily agreed and the rest as they say is history. We caught up with Fr. Mathew last weekend to gather his thoughts on his vocation and his experience playing Jesus in the movie. It turned out to be a spiritual experience for us as well. Excerpts from the interview:

Thank you, Father, for taking time off to see us. First the big question. Tell us, how did you as a priest end up acting in a movie?

I first met Varghese Jose, the director of the movie, when he visited Snehakiran, a care center for HIV-infected adults in Secunderabad which is run by the Camillians. We the Camillians have been involved with caring for the extremely sick as part of our mission. When Varghese mentioned about his interest to make a movie based on the Gospel and asked if I could play a role, I felt that it was not about acting but about carrying out the important mission of spreading the message of Christ. I didn’t think twice about agreeing to his request.

Tell us more about the making of the movie The Word and the message behind it.

Most believers read the Bible frequently. For many it is habitual to do it every day. But most of us do not reflect enough to understand how the words apply to our lives and to the challenge of the moment. The Word is a simple movie that tries to bring that revelation. That when you read the Bible, God is speaking to you about the very problem that you are facing. If you read the Bible but you do not contemplate, then you are turning a deaf ear to real meaning of the Word.

How do you feel being compared to Jim Caviezel who portrayed Jesus Christ in the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ?

James Patrick [Caviezel] is a great actor and The Passion of the Christ is a remarkable movie. But for us priests, who are followers of Christ, any mission, be it acting in a movie, or leading a congregation through prayers, or caring for the sick and needy are all acting the life of Christ in different ways. I will be delighted with my acting if a few people come closer to Christ, or become better people after watching this movie.

More importantly, as a Camillian priest, how did your calling for the vocation happen?

I was brought up in a God-fearing family. The virtues of helping others and caring for the sick and needy were instilled in me very early on by my parents. So when I first heard about the opportunity to study in a Camillian institute as a teenager, I was quite happy and not apprehensive about my future.  Faith grows in you and strengthens you sufficiently to take on challenging mission once you become a Camillian.

True to their vocation, Camillian fathers are known to be radical. In an age of social stigma and taboo against people associated with HIV, and a consequent denial of hospital treatment and rejection from the society, Camillians have dared to tread the heroic path of loving and caring for them. Tell us more about the work they do in this space.

The Camillian mission has been around for more than 450 years and it pre-dates even the Red Cross. The mission focuses on caring for the extremely sick and needy. It was started in India in 1997 and we were immediately drawn to HIV since dealing with HIV patients was taboo to everyone back then. Through the years many of our patients died, leaving behind their children in our care. Today we have 7 centers in south India. We have over 150 orphaned children living with HIV and close to a 100 disabled adults living with HIV. As HIV tapers off as a life-threatening disease, our focus is shifting to caring for the extreme disabled, and towards providing care and support for destitute in disaster struck areas worldwide.

Finally, are there any more movies lined up?

Varghese Jose is the best person to answer that question. But if there is a role out there that gives me the opportunity to spread the word of the Lord, why not?

 

This article was published in partnership with Indian Catholic Matters.

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