VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2004 ( Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ," thanked John Paul II for his witness which the actor said has profoundly inspired his own life.

Caviezel spoke today with a group of journalists about his private audience Monday with the Pope. They spoke, among other things, of the 1999 letter the Holy Father wrote to artists, Caviezel said. The actor said the letter has helped him personally.

The rest was "private," Caviezel told journalists in the Vatican, including a ZENIT representative.

The audience took place in the Pope's private library. "I couldn't tell you how long it lasted," said Caviezel. He said he did not look at his watch as he was absorbed in the Holy Father's conversation.

ZENIT saw some of the pictures taken during the meeting, and learned that John Paul II gave Caviezel a rosary. Caviezel and his wife were seated in front of the Pope's desk.

"John Paul II is a very special man for a very special world. He is the Pope of Fatima," Caviezel said in reference to the explanation given by the Holy See to the so-called third secret of the Virgin confided to the three little Portuguese shepherds. "The Pope is a mystic. He loves Christ."

Caviezel said of the film's director: "Mel Gibson is very, very Catholic, very Roman Catholic."

"Many celebrities say they are Catholics but they do not follow the Vatican, on pro-life issues, on capital punishment," Caviezel added. "When you see Mel Gibson's film, is it Protestant? Is it Muslim? Is it Catholic? What do you see?

"It is very Catholic, very universal. It is a great way to introduce people to what it means to be Catholic: It is universal, for all peoples, for all times."

For Caviezel, to be involved in the film was a "real spiritual experience."

"You can't see what is shown and remain indifferent" -- much less so if, as an actor, one penetrates the character to give the best of oneself, he said.

In acting the part, Caviezel said to himself: "I don't want people to see me; I just want them to see Jesus."

To come to this experience, Caviezel added, "I began with the rosary, the rosary led me to confession, confession led me to the Mass, every day, and always when I have the Eucharist in my body, I feel more like being in Christ."

The actor also responded to some accusations of anti-Semitism made by some groups against the film.

As a believer, Caviezel said, "I am Semitic. It is my lineage. I am from the House of David and Abraham."

If "someone says the film is anti-Semitic, the Bible should also be considered anti-Semitic," he said. Caviezel added that he has suggested to Jewish compatriots to make a film on Moses or David.

On Monday, Caviezel presented the film "The Passion of the Christ" to some ecclesiastics who live in Rome, before it was shown at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.