Mel Gibson has shown his controversial film about Jesus to a group of 4,500 Christian pastors, predicting the worst of the criticism was yet to come.
Mel Gibson directs Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ
Jewish groups fear The Passion of the Christ will lead to anti-Semitism because of its suggestion that Jews were involved in Christ's death.
Gibson has been showing the film to a number of influential religious groups ahead of its US release in February.
"I anticipate the worst is yet to come. I hope I'm wrong," said Gibson.
Pope John Paul II has been given a private screening of the film, although his private secretary denied he had given it his approval.
The Passion of the Christ has been dogged by controversy since Gibson announced he was to independently make the film.
At the Global Pastors Network conference in Orlando, Florida, the actor and director told the assembled audience that he had wanted to make the film for 12 years, inspired by the Gospels.
There have been a number of invitation-only screenings, with differing views emanating from each.
"There are problematic portrayals of Jews in the movie," Rabbi David Sandmel told the Chicago Sun-Times after viewing the film.
"The role of the Jews... in the 'trial' and execution of Jesus are exaggerated," added the Chicago rabbi.
In contrast, the president of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Father Donald Senior, predicted the Christian reaction to the film would be "like the emotion of 9/11".
Christians would react "like the way people responded to the firemen and police going in and offering their lives trying to save people... there is a lot of violence, but also the nobility and beauty of that self-sacrifice," he said.
The controversy surrounding the film has almost certainly ensured a larger audience for a film that features mainly dialogue in ancient Aramaic and Latin.
Gibson's publicist, Paul Lauer, urged the pastors to take youth groups to see the film despite its R-rating, given because of the graphic depiction of the crucifixion.