Film about Muslim-Christian Relations Premieres in the U.S.

Johann Cuervo Around the Province

A scene from “The Sultan and the Saint” (Photo courtesy of Unity Productions Foundation)

A new movie about St. Francis and Sultan Al-Malik al-Kamil of Egypt explores the spiritual exchange between these two men of faith amid a battlefield of horror. The film, “The Sultan and the Saint,” now screening in cities across North America, features historical context about their meeting provided by several experts affiliated with Holy Name Province Province and St. Bonaventure University.

During the height of the bloody Christian-Muslim conflict known as the Crusades, St. Francis of Assisi risked his life by walking across enemy lines to meet the sultan of Egypt, the Muslim ruler Al-Malik al-Kamil. This remarkable encounter, and the commitment to peace of the two men behind it, presented an alternative to the persistent call for war.

Told with cinematic-style re-enactments and interviews with renowned historians, art experts, and religious thinkers, the film centers on these two men meeting during a terrible period of religious conflict between their faiths, and discovering a way to find peace.

Among those who shared their knowledge about Franciscans and Islam for this docudrama was Michael Calabria, OFM, director of St. Bonaventure’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies.

“I’m very happy to have been part of this film. I was genuinely touched and inspired by it and believe that many others will be as well,” said Michael, who met the film’s associate producer, Daniel Tutt, while working and living at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., several years ago.

Michael Calabria speaks to students at SBU’s Regina A. Quick Center (Photo courtesy of The Bona Venture newspaper)

According to The Bona Venture, SBU’s student newspaper, the university held a screening of the movie on Feb. 1, days after after President Donald Trump’s executive order preventing citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The film’s presentation  included a question-and-answer session led by Michael. “The students appeared to be touched,” he said. “The film’s theme was very timely.”

In Philadelphia, Jim McIntosh, OFM, attended the city’s screening of the film in January and described his reaction in a blog post on the US Franciscans website. “I was a bit wary of seeing the movie. In my experience, there can be two extremes in the telling of this story. One is the triumphant Christian one, as exemplified by St. Bonaventure, saying Francis ‘proclaimed the triune God and Jesus Christ, the Savior of all, with such steadfastness, with such courage and spirit, that it was clear the promise of the Gospel had been fulfilled in him.’ The other is the ‘hippy’ Francis, who sets out to preach non-violence to both the crusaders and the Muslims. I think that the reality lies somewhere in between these two. As well presented in the movie – notably through what was explained by my brothers, Michael Calabria and Michael Cusato – the reality is more nuanced. The Francis who went to Damietta is not the Francis who left Damietta.”

Former director of St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Institute and dean of the School of Franciscan Studies Michael Cusato, OFM, also contributed to the making of this movie. In addition to a doctorate in medieval church history, he holds a master’s degree in Franciscan studies from SBU and has authored numerous publications on the Franciscan movement, and Francis’ meeting with the sultan.

“The Sultan and the Saint,” which premiered in November at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., was produced by Unity Productions Foundation with the goal of bringing together an audience of all different backgrounds, particularly Muslims and Christians, to watch the movie in the spirit of dialogue, in the same way that St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil found a way to engage peacefully and respectfully.

On March 26, the film will be shown in Silver Spring, Md., at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, near St. Camillus Church. More information about the film, including upcoming screenings, is available on The Sultan and the Saint website and on Facebook.

— Johann Cuervo is communications assistant for Holy Name Province.

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