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Friar’s E-Spirations: New Movie, ‘The Way,’ Offers Insights

On June 15, during an interview in Malibu, California, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez shared their thoughts with me about The Way. The film takes its viewers on the road to a very popular destination—the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Catholics believe that this cathedral holds the remains of St. James the Greater, an apostle. Pilgrims hike there in large numbers from long distances, often starting in France, to venerate this highly revered saint.

Martin Sheen stars in the film. And Emilio Estevez, his son, wrote, produced and directed the film—and acts in it, as well. The previous day, I attended a screening in Beverly Hills. Many who were at the screening told me that they found The Way to be an awesome experience.

In the film, Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor and widower who is called to France to recover the body of his estranged son, Daniel (played by Estevez), who was accidentally killed in a snowstorm in the Pyrenees while hiking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James). Filled with grief, Tom decides to have Daniel’s body cremated and to finish, by himself, the 500-mile pilgrimage his son had begun. Carrying with him a small metal container of Daniel’s ashes, Tom spreads ashes from time to time along the picturesque Camino route.

It’s About Being Human

When I asked Sheen whether he considers The Way a Catholic film, he responds, “The guy [Tom] is a Catholic, but a non-practicing Catholic. Most of the people we met on the pilgrimage were not practicing Catholics. What unites everyone is the spiritual. It’s a spiritual journey that doesn’t require you to be Catholic. It’s about being human and about getting in touch with your spirituality.”

Sheen says that, for him, The Way is a story about finding ourselves. People generally are “looking for wholeness, forgiveness. We’re all so broken, and that’s what community is all about. We’re all broken and we just share our brokenness.”

Arriving at the Cathedral

Finally, the small group of pilgrims to which Sheen belongs comes to the centuries-old Cathedral of St. James. Something there is “very, very profound,” says Sheen. “It’s sacred. It’s transcendent! You just walk in there. I don’t know how Moses felt when he saw the burning bush, but it’s something close to that.”

Tom enters the great Cathedral, as pilgrims have done for centuries. For him it marks the completion of his long pilgrimage. Near the altar, he sees his son, Daniel (an apparition), standing with a group of men. Tom is filled with awe.

A Final Thought

In looking back over this thought-provoking film, I see The Way largely as a story of loss and recovery—of human weakness and hope—and the struggle to find healing in community. We’re all on the road to Compostela!

As a postscript, I’m pleased to inform you that Martin Sheen recently visited our media-production department at St. Anthony Messenger Press (October 14, 2011) to be interviewed on American Catholic Radio, which reaches 84 radio affiliates across the country. This interview is also available in video or audio format online at

For several weeks, Sheen and Estevez have been touring the country to let millions of Americans know about the film and its profound Christian—and human—points of view. As Estevez often says, “The Way is pro-life and pro-people!”

Dear Friar Jim: Your article on respect was so thought-provoking that I reread it twice and truly considered all aspects. I thank you for your inspiration. Melissa

Dear Friar Jim: Your words remind me of the movie Avatar in which the Na’vi people greet each other with “I see you.” Respect and personal fealty are expressed in such a greeting. It resonates with a heart of love. If only we could all greet each other with such intentionality. Thank you for bringing this to mind. Sharon

A: Dear Melissa and Sharon: Another thought is that respect requires us to put aside superficial differences in others. In other words, we can be respectful of even those whose personalities we find irksome. Friar Jim