The path through Assisi is many stories. Who knows how the 21st century will interpret Walking With Francis, a thirteenth century saint who existed more in myth than fact? Everyone has an interpretation, including the new man who has taken Francis’ name for his tenure as Pope. Has a troubled world come full circle back to a man of peaceful heart and simple hope? Who knows? Monsignor Sheridan added up the sums: “It all comes down to kindness”.
My path through Assisi was a written dialogue betwixt Francis and his confused sophmorish acolyte. It happened four years ago while sailing through rough snow capped waves atop a cruise ship’s deck off rocky Italian coasts. The text that flowed was nothing new, redirected bits of philosophy and theology in words from giants-Plato, Shakespeare, Dante, Dostoyevski-The Bible, so many, so oft recited. G.K.Chesterton captured Francis like a shadowy figure on film in the sun:
IN APPEARANCE HE MUST HAVE BEEN LIKE A THIN BROWN SKELETON LEAF DANCING ETERNALLY BEFORE THE WIND; BUT IN TRUTH IT WAS HE WHO WAS THE WIND.
After edits and fermentation, Walking With Francis passed on to Paul Contino, Great Books Scholar at Pepperdine University. He tasted and blended it a bit himself. The entire vintage condensed a few months more and then the stars lined up. First and brightest in that firmament was Jeremy Culver. He read and saw story in the dialogue, artistic pictures of the Saint’s last journey, not the documentary I originally imagined. Jeremy broadened and enriched the story to include the influence of Santa Chiara. Our collaboration was, as Bogie said, “…the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. Jeremy, son Christopher (Masseo), wives, friends and partners filmed for a nonstop week at CazSonoma Inn on California’s Sonoma coast. Under towering Redwoods the galaxy was filled with stars shooting down as if the Saint were watching us himself.
The path through Assisi is strewn with many petals. Each soul a flower blooming with Francis: Monsignor Sheridan, writer, spokesperson, at his California seaside church exuding kindness; Brother Michael Higgins at Cosmo i Damiano in Rome imagining spirit; Brother Bill Short in Berkeley filling in the facts; Tobias Wolff writing and wrestling with ambiguity at Stanford; Americo Panzieri sculpting Theology in wooden images on a hillside where Francis walked; Fabrizio Bucci interpreting beatified life inside our film.
The path through Assisi goes in many directions, yet on and on. You can embrace its sanctity or simply enjoy the friendship. But from time to time you meet mortals stirred by its flame. I’ve been touched by a few of those spirits, those who have walked Franciscan paths in simplicity, humility, kindness… peace. Our hometown Monsignor said, shortly before his unexpected death, “I’ll never forget that peace, the peace of Assisi. If it is not the epiphany of which we speak… then it is something… at a very deep level”.
Magic happens when imagination and truth are served by art. We all felt the magic and hope it becomes a shared experience.