“Thank you all. I feel at home.” These were the words of Alex KRONEMER, the director of a documentary film about the meeting between St. Francis and the Sultan, as he greeted friars and audience members at the Sacro Convento in Assisi on Friday, May 11, 2018.
It was a very special time for Assisi, which was preparing to welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel the next day. She was coming to receive the “Lamp of Peace” award for her reconciliation efforts between peoples. Moreover, she would be joined by the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel SANTOS, the winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. In the midst of all this, a screening of the film The Sultan and the Saint might have been ignored or even cancelled, but the result was anything but.
Friar Domenico PAOLETTI, the Vicar of the Assisi community and the promoter for the screening, greeted everyone and made some introductory remarks, then handed the microphone over to the director and his film. The director talked about the inspiration he got in Assisi forty years ago while contemplating the fresco depicting meeting between St. Francis and the Sultan. In the light of recent violent events, that scene has re-emerged and urgently needs to be retold as a counter-narrative to fear and closure. Such a meeting is really possible; it has already happened. We only need to bring it forth from our legacy and creatively promote it again.
In response to questions from Friar Silvestro BEJAN (CEFID), the director talked about his personal experience of encounter and sharing while writing this film. Sultan Al-Kamil and St. Francis were able to recognize and see the good in one another. They changed their mindset as a result of this meeting. KRONEMER went on: “On one hand, I learned that when facing someone ‘other,’ hatred and violence is the ‘easiest’ way to respond. On the other hand, while it is true that it is ‘more difficult and takes longer’ to respond with love, such a response is much more enriching. That’s what Jesus taught when he said to turn the other cheek.” The director, a Muslim, had thus borrowed one of the most intense passages of the Gospel and gave it back again to the friars and those present. The audience burst into applause in recognition of the testimony of Franciscans around the world and their commitment to building bridges that bring people together to achieve peace.
The evening concluded with the awarding of the “Lamp of Peace” to the director and two guests from the Franciscan Action Network, Patrick CAROLAN and Sister Marie LUCEY, in honor of their commitment to peace. The award recognizes them all as persons who follow and spread the “Spirit of Assisi.”.
Friar Emmanuele RIMOLI