Book

‘The Saint and the Sultan’

One of the frescoes in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, within a series of 28 by Giotto di Bondone depicting scenes from his life, shows the saint challenging the Muslim clerics of an Egyptian sultan to walk through fire as a test of faith.

The story is a familiar one. The problem is that it’s not true.

Francis did, in fact, meet Sultan Malik al-Kamil, viceroy of Egypt, in 1291 during the Fifth Crusade. Astonishingly, Francis and a companion, dressed in humble robes, simply walked into the sultan’s camp, in the midst of a war.

He spent several days as the sultan’s guest, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and jousting verbally with the sultan’s Muslim clerics. But contrary to accounts that sprung up years later and persist to this day, Francis figured he could accomplish more by showing love and humility than antagonism. He was disappointed that he failed to convert the sultan, but he came away impressed with Muslim practices, especially the public call to prayer five times a day.

The historical account emerges in the pages of “The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace” (Doubleday, $26), by Paul Moses, a Pulizer-Prize-winning journalist who now teaches journalism in New York.

Moses sees the story, which he meticulously researched, as a possible guide for the Christian West today in its clash with the growing strength of the Islamic world. The dominant attitude today tilts toward confrontation. Francis, however, sees a more effective way: personal Christian witness and humility, even unto death, if necessary — much like the example of our Redeemer.  

Music

Pro-life music

Mention “country music,” and cheatin’ hearts and whiskey drinkin’ may come to mind.

Catholic dentist-turned-Nashville songwriter Eric Smyth has different themes in mind on his pop country CD “From Where I Stand” — the preciousness of all life and the importance of family and the greatness of God.

Smyth makes his strong pro-life views clear in the first song, “Every Little One Counts,” where he sings lyrics such as “If you weigh 10 pounds or weigh one ounce, every little one counts.” On “Let Your Little One Live,” he pleads with pregnant mothers to give their babies the gift of life.

Smyth’s songs don’t solely deal with life and family. He also has a couple of tunes that spell out his love for the country, including the rollicking “Let’s Hear It For America” and “Freedom Means You’re Free.” To order “From Where I Stand,” visit www.ericsmyth.com or call (847) 276-8409.

Film

‘The 13th Day’ and Our Lady of Fátima

A new DVD gives viewers a glimpse into the extraordinary events of Fátima, Portugal, where Our Lady appeared to three child visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, multiple times between May and October 1917, during a time when Europe was locked in war and the faith was under threat by the Portuguese government.

Narrated by one of the seers, Lucia, as she writes down her memories, “The 13th Day” (Ignatius, $24.95) has an atmo-spheric look, with most of the movie in black and white. Filmmakers Ian and Dominic Higgins make creative use of color, though, at important moments throughout the film, such as when the Virgin Mother appears to the children or when they see a vision of hell. The special effect works especially well when the multitudes who have flocked to the site of the Marian apparitions witness “The Miracle of the Sun” on Oct. 13, 1917.

Stylistic matters aside, what stands out in “The 13th Day” is the faith and fidelity of the young seers, even when news of the apparitions is met with skepticism, not just from villagers but from their own family members and even their priest. This particularly is true in a scene where the young children are in jail, and they are told they’ll be lowered into a cauldron of boiling oil unless they reveal the secret told to them by Our Lady.

Despite such threats and a few frightening images, the film would make for meaningful movie-watching for families.