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In 1219, Saint Francis of Assisi risked his life and crossed Crusade lines to meet Egypt’s sultan.
This remarkable story of two men of faith that occurred nearly 800 years ago is captured in the docudrama “The Sultan and the Saint,” which will air on PBS affiliate WNED/WBFO Buffalo-Toronto at 8 p.m. March 5.
Fr. Michael Calabria, O.F.M., Ph.D., director of St. Bonaventure University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, is among several scholars affiliated with the university who provided input on the film. Fr. Michael will appear on air during the program and offer comments about the film.
Told with cinematic-style re-enactments and interviews with renowned historians, art experts, religious thinkers, and brain scientists, the film centers on these two men who had an improbable meeting during a terrible period of religious conflict between their faiths, and discovered a way of finding peace between them.
During the height of the bloody Christian-Muslim conflict known as the Crusades, Saint Francis of Assisi risked his life by walking across enemy lines to meet the Muslim ruler al-Malik al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt. This remarkable encounter, and the commitment to peace of the two men behind it, presented an alternative to the persistent call for war.
Last year, St. Bonaventure held a screening of “The Sultan and the Saint,” which was well received by the university and local Muslim community.
Fr. Michael says it is because of St. Francis’ encounter with the sultan that the Franciscan order has had an ongoing presence in the Holy Land.
“This is the real beginning of a consistent Franciscan presence in the Holy Land and a consistent Franciscan engagement with Islamic authorities there,” he said. Fr. Michael, who holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies, has studied, taught, lived, traveled and ministered in the Islamic world. Fr. Michael also serves as the Special Assistant for Dialogue with Islam for the Franciscan Order, and is involved in planning the commemoration of the historical encounter for 2019.
Inspired by the encounter between St. Francis and the Sultan, the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies was established at St. Bonaventure in 2015, and seeks to promote an understanding of Arab and Islamic cultures, an appreciation of both their historical and contemporary significance in the global community, and respectful relations between Muslim and Christian people.
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