The Centurion who stood at the foot of the cross of Christ suddenly became horrified at the crucifixion he was ordered to carry out. When Christ died, this Centurion dropped his sword and fell to his knees exclaiming,
“Surely, this was an innocent man!”
In 1975, Ernest Borgnine played the part of the centurion. During filming, he had a life-changing experience:
When it came time for my scene during the crucifixion, the weather was chill and gray. The camera was to be focused on me at the foot of the cross, and so it was not necessary for Robert Powell, the actor who portrayed Jesus, to be there.
Instead, Zeffirelli put a chalk mark on a piece of scenery beside the cameraman. “I want you to look up at that mark,” he told me, “as if you were looking at Jesus.”
“Okay,” I said, moving into position and looking up at the mark as instructed. “Ready?”
I hesitated. Somehow I wasn’t ready. I was uneasy. “Do you think it would be possible for somebody to read from the Bible the words Jesus said as He hung on the cross?” I asked.
I knew the words well from the days of my childhood in an Italian-American family in Connecticut, and I’d read them in preparation for the film. Even so, I wanted to hear them now.
“I will do it myself,” Zeffirelli said. He found a Bible, opened it to the book of Luke and signaled for the camera to start rolling.
As Zeffirelli began reading Christ’s words aloud, I stared up at that chalk mark, thinking what might have gone through the centurion’s mind.
That poor Man up there. He says He is the Son of God, an unfortunate claim during these perilous times. But I know He is innocent of any crime.
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
The voice was Zeffirelli’s, but the words burned into me—the words of Jesus. Forgive me, Father, for even being here, was the centurion’s prayer that formed in my thoughts. I am so ashamed, so ashamed.
“Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” said Jesus to the thief hanging next to Him.
If Jesus can forgive that criminal, then He will forgive me, I thought. I will lay down my sword and retire to my little farm outside of Rome.
Then it happened.
As I stared upward, instead of the chalk mark, I suddenly saw the face of Jesus Christ, lifelike and clear. It was not the features of Robert Powell I was used to seeing, but the most beautiful, gentle visage I have ever known.
Pain-seared, sweat-stained, with blood flowing down from thorns pressed deep, His face was still filled with compassion. He looked down at me through tragic, sorrowful eyes with an expression of love beyond description.
Then His cry rose against the desert wind. Not the voice of Zeffirelli, reading from the Bible, but the voice of Jesus Himself: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”
In awe I watched Jesus’ head slump to one side. I knew He was dead. A terrible grief welled within me, and completely oblivious to the camera, I started sobbing uncontrollably.
“Cut!” yelled Zeffirelli. Olivia Hussey and Anne Bancroft were crying too. I wiped my eyes and looked up again to where I had seen Jesus—He was gone.
Whether I saw a vision of Jesus that windswept day or whether it was only something in my mind, I do not know. It doesn’t matter. For I do know that it was a profound spiritual experience and that I have not been quite the same person since. You simply cannot come close to Jesus without being changed.
Today, there is a Society of Centurions for those who have left the abortion industry after recognizing the depth of their guilt.
Through their participation in the Society, they seek to educate others and to reconcile and be healed for the crimes they have committed against the innocent.
Periodically, Centurions from around the world come together, and under the expert guidance of Dr. Philip Ney, a practicing child and family psychiatrist, walk the long and painful road toward healing. Dr. Ney has written a fascinating book, The Centurion’s Pathway, describing this road.
He explains how the wounds of personal abuse often pave the way for a person to abuse others by practicing abortion. He also describes how former providers need to personalize each of the children they have destroyed. Some, for example, will name and even make illustrations of each of the children they were responsible for aborting.
Joan Appleton, who was once the head nurse of an abortion facility in Falls Church, VA and now is on the staff of Pro-life Action Ministries in the Twin Cities, coordinates the Society of Centurions of America. She has recently written an account of her own journey, called Raising Cecilia.