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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Way

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

Tom (Martin Sheen) is a prosperous doctor, a widower and a kind of “retired” Catholic. His son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) is a doctoral student who decides to put his dissertation on hold to go on a journey to find himself and discover life’s meaning. Tom thinks he is wasting his time and not taking responsibility for his life.

Not long after, Tom gets a call on the golf course with the news that his son has died in an accident in a small village in France. He goes there to bring Daniel’s body home. He is surprised to find that his son is traveling very light and that he was ready to begin a 500 mile pilgrimage on foot, with only a rucksack with necessities.

Tom decides to make “el camino” or “The Way” to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a path worn by the feet of thousands of pilgrims for a thousand years. The Shrine of St. James the Great is the destination, where the relics of the apostle are believed by many to lie under the altar. He places Daniel’s ashes in a metallic box in the rucksack and sets off. The next morning, after sleeping on a riverbank, he drops the rucksack into a river and in the struggle to retrieve it is thoroughly soaked. But it is a sign of a new beginning for Tom, washed clean to start again.

Along the way Tom meets people making the camino, but he doesn’t want any company. He’s grumpy, sad, and though determined, is in shock at losing his son. He constantly brushes off the irrepressible and friendly overweight Dutchman, Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) who travels with his own questionable pharmacy. Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) is a stringent Canadian who says she wants to quit smoking.  Jack (James Nesbitt, whom you may remember from the lovely film “Millions”) is an Irish writer with a seemingly terminal case of writer’s block.

Eventually Tom comes face to face with his own limitations when he starts a brawl and becomes a kind of father or wisdom figure for them.

I was privileged to see this film twice and it was even better the second time. You see more and can follow Tom’s journey more closely. Frankly, I felt like signing up for the pilgrimage then and there!
 
Some folks are concerned that Tom leaves little handfuls of Daniel’s ashes along with way, at different roadside shrines, and then at the end, tosses them into the crashing waves near a Catholic church along the northern coast of Spain. Yes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the cremated ashes are to be kept and buried together so that the integrity of the body is maintained. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Tom is way out of touch with his faith, and this pilgrimage was his way of finding his way home again.
 
To quote the film critic Roger Ebert: We don’t go to the movies for Sunday school.  However, films often provide a means to talk about things that truly matter.
 
I think “The Way” expresses well what the Catholic author Flannery O’Connor once wrote, that most people come to the Church (or return to the Church) by means that the Church does not approve.
 
When it comes to God’s grace, there are no limits for God is all-powerful and colors outside the lines to get our attention. The movie offers us so much to talk about.
  “The Way” is a movie full of grace.


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Giles: Despite the fact that much about St. Giles is shrouded in mystery, we can say that he was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages. Likely, he was born in the first half of the seventh century in southeastern France. That is where he built a monastery that became a popular stopping-off point for pilgrims making their way to Compostela in Spain and the Holy Land.<br /><br />In England, many ancient churches and hospitals were dedicated to Giles. One of the sections of the city of Brussels is named after him. In Germany, Giles was included among the so-called 14 Holy Helpers, a popular group of saints to whom people prayed, especially for recovery from disease and for strength at the hour of death. Also among the 14 were Sts. Christopher, Barbara and Blaise. Interestingly, Giles was the only non-martyr among them. Devotion to the "Holy Helpers" was especially strong in parts of Germany and in Hungary and Sweden. Such devotion made his popularity spread. Giles was soon invoked as the patron of the poor and the disabled.<br /><br />The pilgrimage center that once drew so many fell into disrepair some centuries after Giles' death. American Catholic Blog The ascension is about the final reunion of what appeared to be separated for a while: earth and heaven, human and divine, matter and Spirit. If the Christ is the archetype of the full human journey, now we know how it all resolves itself in the end. “So that where I am, you also will be” (John 14:3).

 
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