The Southeast Alaska Catholic
October 14, 2011
By Nancy Erikson
Catholic News Service
CLEVELAND (CNS) — Perhaps one day, without a film crew or a movie script or an air-conditioned trailer full of bottled water and prepackaged snacks, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez will find themselves walking along Spain’s El Camino de Santiago — the way of St. James.
The 800-kilometer historic pilgrimage trail — treaded upon by popes, saints and seekers from all faith traditions for centuries — will take father and son from the quaint French village of St. Jean Pied de Port through the grandiose Pyrenees Mountains across the sun-drenched northern Spanish region of Galicia to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.
They will perhaps carry backpacks and scallop shells — the sign of St. James and a pilgrim on El Camino — and follow the warm Galician sun by day and brilliant Milky Way by night.
They’ll sleep at the “posadas” — hostels — and have their “credencials del peregrine” — Camino passports — stamped at the spiritual stops along the way.
And just maybe, as Sheen explained, they’ll “go inside and hear the heartbeat and awaken the voice.”
“I’m determined to do it,” said the 71-year-old Sheen during an interview in Cleveland with the Catholic Universe Bulletin, the diocesan newspaper. He and Estevez were in town as part of a cross-country bus tour to promote their movie, “The Way.”
“I long to do it. And seriously to have that time, that freedom, to make the journey physically but also to go inside and hear the heartbeat and awaken the voice and be ruled by that, the transcendent pilgrimage which is inside,” Sheen said. “That I long for. If I only had the time.”
“But you have to promise not to sign any autographs or take pictures,” quipped Estevez to his father, who enjoys spending time with his fans, allowing them to take photos and get autographs no matter how long it takes or how tired he is after shooting a film.
“The Way” tells the story of four Westerners walking the 500-mile pilgrimage route from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. It opened nationwide Oct. 7.
Estevez wrote, directed and produced the movie, which is about a widower doctor, Dr. Tom Avery (Sheen), whose grown son (Estevez) — his only child — is killed in a storm while starting to walk El Camino. The doctor decides to reconnect with his faith and express his grief by walking the Camino for his son, bringing his son’s ashes with him. Along the way, he is joined by three other pilgrims who are struggling with their own life challenges and help each other find inner peace.
While placed in a Catholic setting, the film has universal appeal for not only fathers and sons but anyone searching for answers in their lives.
“This movie has the potential to address all the big life themes — grief, loss, family, faith, lapse in faith,” Estevez said.
Back in February Estevez and Sheen were at Georgetown University in Washington for an interview and screening of the movie. At the time they announced they would be conducting a 30-day, 30-city cross-country promotion bus trip from Los Angeles to New York. The tour brought them back to Washington Oct. 1 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
In Cleveland, Estevez said in the interview that he has “always been a storyteller. I started out as a writer. …The acting was somewhat of a vehicle that I used to get there. I really enjoy being on both sides of the camera. I like directing myself. I have a ball when I’m doing it.”
At the film’s Los Angeles premiere Sept. 23, Sheen and Estevez were among the celebrities who strolled down the red carpet outside the Nokia Theatre, where the film was screened as part of the AARP’s Movies for Grownups Film Festival.
In a brief interview on the red carpet, Sheen told The Southern Cross, newspaper of the San Diego Diocese, that the film depicts “the spiritual journey that all of us have to make.”
“We have to do our pilgrimages, and we have to carry all the things that we’ve accumulated along the way,” he said. “Nobody else can carry that stuff, nobody else can go in our shoes. You have to do it alone, but you cannot do it without community.”
Sheen said he grew up hearing stories about “this sacred pilgrimage” from his father, who was born about 80 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela, “and so, I had this kind of romantic image that someday I would do this journey.”
Raised a Catholic, Sheen fell away from his faith for a time but returned to it some years ago and today is active in social justice causes.
In the summer of 2003, while on a break from filming the television series “The West Wing,” Sheen navigated the pilgrimage route by car with his grandson Taylor and a close friend. At their first stop on the Camino, Taylor met the woman who would become his wife.
“That was the first miracle. That inspired me to want to do a story on the Camino,” said Sheen, who suggested Estevez write a screenplay.
In a separate red carpet interview, Estevez noted that pilgrims have been walking the Way of St. James since the ninth century.
“Hollywood has had a hundred years to make a movie about this, and they haven’t,” he said. “It was time.”
Estevez considers his film especially relevant today.
“Our business doesn’t really celebrate faith, and family, and community, and meditation and prayer in a way that it should,” he said, “and I think that there is a hunger now, especially in these economic times. People are banding together in ways that they never have before and certainly leaning on family.”