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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 March, 2004, 10:30 GMT
Churches give away Gibson tickets
The Passion of the Christ
The film has passed the $200m milestone
Four English churches are offering free cinema tickets to see Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ in an attempt to boost their congregations.

The Church of England parishes, in and around Maidstone, Kent, have booked 20,000 worth of tickets for the film, which opens in the UK this month.

The film, which depicts the last hours of Christ, has caused uproar in the US amid claims of anti-Semitism.

It has raised more than $200m (108m) at the US box office in two weeks.

St Luke's Church in Maidstone. All Saints Church and Loose Baptist Church in the village of Loose and St Peter's Church in nearby Boughton Monchelsea have purchased 3,000 cinema tickets at 6.50 each.

The tickets are only being offered to those "those not already attending a church, or those who attend and wish to take a guest" according to St Luke's Church website.

It also warns that the film contains scenes "of an extremely violent nature".

Russ Hughes, director of worship and prophecy at St Luke's, told The Times: "Gay bishops being thrown out of the church is not the sort of publicity we need.

"Hopefully this will put the emphasis back on Christ."

He added: "This is the greatest opportunity for the church in the last 30 years and if we did not use it we may not get such an opportunity again."

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