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In the year 1219, 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 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, 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.
Among those who shared their expertise on Franciscans and Islam for the film were Fr. Michael Calabria, O.F.M., director of St. Bonaventure’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies; Fr. Michael Cusato, O.F.M., distinguished professor of Franciscan studies at the university; and Sr. Kathy Warren, O.S.F., a 2002 Franciscan studies graduate. In addition, St. Bonaventure alumnus Patrick Opitz, ’01, an IMDb-credited actor, had a small role as an extra in the film.
Fr. Michael Calabria, who holds a doctorate in Islamic studies, said, “I’m very happy to have been part of this film, and look forward to bringing it to St. Bonaventure soon. This encounter that occurred nearly 800 years ago continues to have tremendous relevance in the contemporary world. I was genuinely touched and inspired by the film and believe that many others will be as well.”
As an alumnus of the Garret Theater Players, Opitz said he has tried to honor his friend and mentor, the late Dr. Stephan Gray-Lewis, through his film and stage work, including his role in “The Sultan and the Saint.”
“While only appearing as a background character in a few scenes, I felt that it was important to participate in some capacity because of the opportunity to use my skills in a way that would reflect on my experience at St. Bonaventure and my interest in Franciscan spirituality,” said Opitz.
“Saint Francis was a builder of bridges, badly needed at a time of religious violence. His commitment to a respectful dialogue with people of different faiths, and the ability to see others as people first, not enemies, is an inspiration to my own commitment to interfaith dialogue,” added Opitz.
His goal is to continue to use film as a medium for religious dialogue by producing his own film next year. Since graduating from St. Bonaventure in 2001, Opitz has worked in the government contracting industry in the Washington, D.C., area.
Fr. Cusato, one of the leading historians of medieval Franciscan history working in the field today, is former director of St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Institute and dean of the School of Franciscan Studies. 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.
Sr. Warren is a member of Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester, Minnesota, and a specialist in interreligious dialogue. She is the author of “Daring to Cross the Threshold: Francis of Assisi Encounters Sultan Malek-al-Kamil” and is co-producer of the two-part DVD “In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking” in which Fr. Cusato and Fr. Calabria also appear.
More information about the film is available at www.sultanandthesaintfilm.com. For tickets to the premiere, visit GW’s webpage at https://lisner.gwu.edu/sultan-and-saint-docudrama-about-muslim-christian-peace.
The film was produced by Unity Productions Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to create peace through the media.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #6 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.
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