Interview with priest-actor
By Santosh Digal
Father Biju Mathew (Joseph) MI belongs to the Camilian religious congregation. He works with Camillian ministry initiatives across India and Camillian Disaster Service International, in Nepal. He is based in Bengaluru, South of India, Karnataka.
He acted as Jesus in the short movie ‘The Word’ which is directed by Varghese Jose, an acclaimed filmmaker in the Malayalam language.
Santosh Digal of Matters India spoke to Father Biju to know more about him and the movie that focuses on how to read the Bible and pray.
Matters India: Please tell us briefly about your vocation and ministry.
Father Biju Mathew: As a member of the Camilian mission, my vocation is to fulfill the vision and mission of the Camilians. 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 seven centres 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.
When Varghese Jose, the director of the acclaimed Malayalam short movie ‘The Word’, approached you, to play the part of Jesus, how did you take it?
I first met Varghese Jose when he visited Snehakiran, a care centre for HIV infected adults in Secunderabad which is run by the Camilians. We Camillians have been involved with caring for the severely handicapped and HIV survivors there. 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 did not think twice about agreeing to his request.
What was your experience of playing Jesus in the movie? Did it turn out to be a spiritual experience for you?
Of course, it has been a wonderful experience of reenacting Jesus’own communication with his disciples upon confronting trials and tribulations in their life. It has absolutely been a spiritual experience to play the role of Jesus.
Can you please share about the making of the movie ‘The Word’ and the message it communicates?
Most believers read the Bible frequently. For many, it is habitual to do it every day. But many of us do not reflect enough to understand how the words apply to our lives and to the challenges 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 the real meaning of the Word.
It seems you are compared to as India’s James (Jim) Patrick Caviezel who acted as Jesus in the 2004 film ‘The Passion of the Christ’? Your comments.
James Patrick 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, is 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.
Why do you think that the director of the movie chose you to play the role of Jesus instead of another person?
Perhaps it was my long curly hair. However, they could identify certain resemblance to Jesus on my countenance.
What are the differences and similarities between ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘The Word’?
‘The Passion of the Christ’ is largely based on the life of Christ and depicts the Stations of the Cross as interpreted by the Director. ‘The Word’ is a very short movie that is intended to make you think about how you read the Bible and pray.
Was it your first time to act in a movie?
Of course, it is! A couple of times I had appeared in albums to play the role of Jesus. I look forward to many more.
Do you intend to act more in future religious or commercial movies in case there are offers?
If there is a role out there that gives me the opportunity to spread the word of the Lord, why not?