Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just the Facts – A Review of ‘The Way’

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

Just the Facts

The Way
DIR Emilio Estevez
SCR Emilio Estevez
Starring Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Yorick van Wageningen

Reviewed by Santiago Ramos

mediapicsept30 EL CAMINO DE Santiago, or the “Way of St. James,” is a pilgrimage route in Spain which stretches for around 500 miles, if you start from the most popular starting point in the French Pyrenees. The path leads right up to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in the Spanish region of Galicia, where the remains of St. James the Apostle rest and are venerated. Most pilgrims take a month or more to make the journey. For hundreds of years, pilgrims from all over the world have traveled the Camino, in a quest to pray before some bones which also had to travel—to Spain, from the Holy Land, where James had died.

Martin Sheen (whose real name is Ramon Estevez), had heard about the Camino from his elder relatives in the Old Country. For years he entertained the romantic idea of going on it himself, but he was not able to do so until he already had grandchildren. During a West Wing filming hiatus, he flew to Spain with his grandson Taylor (son of Emilio Estevez), and traveled the Way—by car. (“Like a good American,” as he said during a Q and A session I attended in Boston.) During the trip, his grandson fell in love with a Spanish girl, and so the Way and the pilgrimage became even richer with meaning for them.

The best way to celebrate this happy significance, this joyous pilgrimage, would be to make a film. Sheen wanted to make a humble documentary, but his son Emilio (who already has directing credits for Bobby under his belt) wanted to tell a story. And he wrote a script with his father in mind for the starring role.

THE RESULT OF their efforts is The Way. Martin Sheen plays Tom Avery, a wealthy ophthalmologist whose estranged son, Daniel (played by Emilio) dies on the first leg of the Camino. Traveling to Europe to retrieve his son’s body, he decides to go on pilgrimage himself, as a way to honor his son. While in the Pyrenees he befriends a policeman, a veteran of the Way who warns Tom that one only ever does the Camino for one’s self.

Along the way, Tom meets three other characters who make it clear that they are on the path for themselves. Yoost (Yorick van Wageningen) is an archetypical decadent Dutchman, smoking marijuana and gorging on food and wine. He is on the path for a very worldly reason: he needs to lose weight. Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), a Canadian woman in her thirties, is coy: she chain smokes and says that she will leave her last pack of cigarettes on the foot of the statue of Santiago, and never smoke again. But her real reason for traveling will become clear later on. Finally, Jack (James Nesbitt), aggressively annoying when you first meet him, endears himself to the audience once we figure it that he is a broken hearted writer who is trying to find something real to write about.

This collection of motivations might, at first, appear to have nothing to do with the bones of St. James. They are not explicitly religious. One month is a long time to go on pilgrimage. Without having the reasons for the pilgrimage clear in one’s mind, that month might feel like a year. If those reasons aren’t significant, that year might feel like a lifetime. Yet it is the case that people go on the Camino for many reasons, lofty and banal, as people who have been there will tell you. In the film, a gypsy tells Tom that the Camino “has nothing to do with religion.” Tom also runs into a priest suffering from brain cancer, who hands him a rosary. “I am a lapsed Catholic,” Tom tells the priest. But a few stops later along the Way, he finds the priest and thanks him for the rosary, saying that it has come in handy. Later on, Tom encounters real-life flagellants—bleeding, faces hidden, slowly walking the same path that he is on. The path is crowded with spirits.

This film places us before the brute fact of the pilgrimage. It shows that 1.) people go on it for many different reasons and from all parts of the world; 2.) that what they all have in common, in the most essential sense possible, is the need for something that they cannot obtain without help; and 3.) that they go to pilgrimage to this site, and not another. They go to Santiago, not to Madrid, or Disney, or the beach. That they travel the same road that has been traveled and this is the most interesting fact of all.

WHY THIS PILGRIMAGE and not that one? Or, why a pilgrimage at all? In a beautiful book titled The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, the writer Paul Elie defines a pilgrimage in this way: “A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the reports and goes in search of the evidence, aspiring to be an eyewitness. The pilgrim seeks not only to confirm the experience of others firsthand but to be changed by the experience.” All of the pilgrims in The Way have heard reports from a specific place, and they seek confirmation.

This film is the story of their experience. It doesn’t force coherence upon it, and it doesn’t explain it completely. But this film is also, in its own way, the report of a great event. It makes you want to go on the Camino itself, looking for confirmation and experience. The film is interesting in itself because it makes you interested in life itself. What more can you ask from a movie?

The Way opens in theatres October 7. Santiago Ramos is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Boston College.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Commemorating 9-11: In Mary, Christians and Muslims Find a Common Path

From the current edition of The Catholic Key, by Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn:

In its first joint statement after the 9-11, 2001, tragedy the United States Bishops echoed the hope and promise of our Lord: His formula for holiness with which He introduces the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted….
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy….
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Mt. 5:4,6,7,9)


“These words of Jesus challenge us,” the bishops wrote, “and offer us hope today as our community of faith responds to the terrible events of September 11 and their aftermath.”

The November 14, 2001 statement went on to prayerfully remember all who were killed and wounded, and to honor “the selflessness of firefighters, police, chaplains, and other brave individuals who gave their lives in the service of others. They are true heroes and heroines. … In these difficult days, our faith has lifted us up and sustained us. Our nation turned toward God in prayer and in faith with a new intensity.”

Ten years later we still experience the changes that, because of the terror of a day, continue to have their effect on the way we do business, on airport security, and the interchange between cultures.

Ten years later we can still see the need for healing. For those who lost a family member or friend or work associate, the need may be deeper as the effects of the tragedy are more lasting and profound. The necessity of supernatural faith and Christian hope is real. Far beyond material compensations, these supernatural graces from God are perhaps the only context in which the work of reparation can commence. Jesus Christ’s way of forgiveness and life is the only path that has the capacity to reach peace.

Several years ago I became acquainted with two women from New York. Erin von Uffel enthusiastically told me about a French Daughter of Charity, Sr. Marie de Mandat Grancey, who had given up her position of nobility and wealth in France to serve the sick and the poor in Paris and later in Turkey. She cared for Christian and non-Christian children near Smyrna, and went on to find the House of the Blessed Mother, Mary on a hill above ancient Ephesus.

Both Erin and her friend and co-worker Lorraine Fusaro had known people killed in the 9-11 attack. These two women of faith had begun to see the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation as vital steps on the road to peace. In their experience of Mary’s House in Ephesus, they saw a place where every year millions of pilgrims came to ask the intercession of Mary in her maternal love. The extraordinary difference in this ‘Christian’ shrine was that the majority of those who came to Mary’s House in Ephesus were Muslims. Here the children of Mary were gathering, Christian and Muslim alike, to seek favors from this Woman who is heralded in the Christian Bible and the Koran. Erin and Lorraine also saw Sr. Marie as a modern day instrument and holy apostle whom God used to reestablish this holy place where – in God’s own mysterious way – diverse creeds could find a common path to God.

Our Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, in another mysterious way, has been given a special role to play in studying the life of Sr. Marie, whom God used to provide a place where perhaps even the tragedy of 9-11 could be reversed, where Christians and Muslims together might come and pray, and find refuge in the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attack, let us pray for healing for all those who sorrow over the terrible losses of that day. Let us pray for renewal in our nation based on our deep supernatural faith in God; for reconciliation and peace with any we may regard as our enemies. After the example of Sr. Marie, who served the Christian and Muslim people of Turkey; through the intercession of Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God and Mother of all people, may we find a true path to the beatitude, reconciliation and peace to which we are called by Jesus Christ.

A resolution has been passed in our country recommending, on Sunday, September 11, 2011, “the observance of a moment of remembrance or prayer to last for 1 minute beginning at 1:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time (12 Noon Central), to the maximum extent practicable, by

a) ceasing all work or other activity; and
b) marking the moment in an appropriate manner, including by ringing bells, blowing whistles, or sounding sirens.”
Certainly, for us as Catholics, this can be a special moment of prayer, and, pastors may direct church bells to be rung, if possible.