As the crowds left theaters Wednesday after seeing The Passion of the Christ on the movie's opening night, I noticed three things: ashes on their foreheads, eyelids swollen from crying, and a stunned silence.

"I can't say I enjoyed myself," says Mario Perez, 38, of Plainfield, Illinois, emerging from a sold-out showing in a Chicago suburb.

All 13 people I interviewed at two different theaters felt pretty much the same way. But that's not to say they didn't like the movie. For most, just the opposite was true.

Anita Needham, 38, a Catholic whose forehead was still marked by ashes from an earlier Ash Wednesday service, put it this way: "To see that Jesus died for our sins, it made me feel so good inside. But it hurt my heart. I could leave here happy, but I'm sad at the same time."

Perez, who was baptized last July and joined the church last October, struggled to put his overwhelming emotions into words: "I feel grateful and humbled."

Justin Bardolph, 17, a Reformed Christian from Villa Park, was struck by the power of seeing the Passion as opposed to just reading about it. "I've grown up hearing the story of Jesus, but it's a lot more powerful when you can see it on the screen," he said. "There's only so much you can imagine in your head. When they put the crown of thorns on Jesus' head, and they were hammering it on, you could hear a big, 'Oh!' in the theater."

"It was riveting, amazing, shocking," said Woodstock's Evelyn Blackledge, 49, who described herself as a Pentecostal Christian. She believes every Christian should see the film because it puts earthly pursuits in perspective. "A lot of times we just give to ourselves, pour into ourselves, without being able to sacrifice," she said. "It makes the things that you give up ...

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