20th Century Fox Films is set to release Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ on an estimated 300 prints in Mexico, according to Jose Juan Hernandez, general manager of Fox Mexico.

Fox has yet to announce release dates for the region. "We are still mulling target opening dates of either March 16 or 19 in Mexico," said Hernandez who does not foresee any protests from the church.

"On the contrary, I think the church will embrace the film and give it its full support," he added. Hernandez thinks the only controversy may arise from the explicit crucifixion scenes which some may find too graphic. "95% of the Mexican population is Catholic, this film is bound to resonate among them."

The most recent religious drama to rouse public ire, Carlos Carrera's The Crime Of Father Amaro, benefited from the controversy which surrounded it in 2002.

Religious and ultra conservative groups' call to boycott the Mexican film backfired as even more people were driven to see it. The priest scandal drama went on to become the highest grossing Mexican film in local history, with a final total of $16.5m.

Meanwhile, Irish distributor Eclipse Pictures confirmed it will open Mel Gibson's Passion on March 12 with fifty prints - two weeks ahead of Icon Distributors' UK launch of the film.

The Irish launch comes a fortnight after the film is rolled out on 2,000 screens in the US on Ash Wednesday (Feb 25).

Gibson's account of the last hours of Jesus Christ was allegedly given the approval of the Pope and is unlikely, therefore, to incite the level of controversy raised in Ireland by films such as Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ, Godard's Je Vous Salue, Marie [Hail Mary], or Monty Python's The Life Of Brian.

While the Pythons' parody was banned by the Irish Film Censor, and the Godard film incited picketing and banning of club screenings, the 1988 Scorsese film was passed by the Censor with two exceptional provisos. The first was that no member of the public be admitted after the film had started (so audiences would see the opening title stating it was based on a work of fiction and not on the Bible). The second was that the two opening titles explaining the film's context be displayed outside cinemas, their dimensions to be the same as the posters advertising the film.