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Camino de Santiago: Uniting will of spirit, work of flesh


MartSheen is directed by his sEmilio Estevez “The Way” which is set filmed along Camino de Santiago Spain.

Martin Sheen is directed by his son Emilio Estevez in “The Way,” which is set and filmed along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:28AM



A couple of springs ago we were lost in the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri. The brush was dense and the light was closing between dark curtains of elm and oak trees. Our camping gear was up a cliff a couple miles away. My girlfriend and I began arguing. We couldn’t find any trails and considered bunking down on the damp ground near a bubbly creek. Our last chance was to follow the path from a beam of light. We made it out with renewed spirit — although I think we got a motel room that night.

There is always a way out, especially when looking within.

Actor Martin Sheen stars in “The Way,” which opens Oct. 7 here, and was written and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. “The Way” is set and filmed along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Sheen portrays Tom, an uptight Los Angeles doctor who travels to Europe to pick up the remains of a son from whom he had grown estranged. He chooses to explore “The Way” in his son’s memory.

People have walked the route for a thousand years. True believers say the Camino lies directly under the Milky Way and reflects the energy from the star systems above it. During a recent promotional bus ride through Chicago, Sheen said the movie will inspire a new generation of tourists to explore the 500-mile trek that begins in France and ends in Northern Spain.

Sheen looked at Estevez, who was sitting in an office on the back of the bus , and said, “This thing he created is moving people to have this transcendent experience. The whole Camino, the whole object of pilgrimage is to unite the will of the spirit to the work of the flesh. That is an ideal focus. All of us are pilgrims whether we know it or not. We don’t have to go to Spain or Mecca to go on pilgrimage.

“You go within your own heart. We learn to find ourselves and become ourselves. And this film says, ‘You can do this.’ You have to do this alone, you have to carry all the things you created physical: emotional, spiritual, material baggage. No one else can carry them. But you cannot do it without community.

“It’s about the extension of family which is another word for community.”

“The Way” has a website with travel tips, theway themovie.com; suggested resources are american
pilgrims.com, for visitors from the states.

“If the reaction we’ve had in nearly three weeks on this bus is any indication, the Camino can get ready for new pilgrims from America,” Sheen said. “They keep track of nationalities on the Camino. Not names just nationalities. The Spanish are the highest mumber. The Irish are second. The film is an enormous hit in Ireland. The president of Ireland [Mary McAleese] wrote us a handwritten letter over the summer and she said as she was writing, her daughter was preparing to depart for the Camino.

“We are only able to grow outside our comfort zone. You have to leave the house. You’re not going to grow at home unless you live in a convent or a monestary.”

Producer David Alexanian was chronicling the 55-day “The Way” bus trip across America. In his most recent documentary he criss-crossed South Africa during the World Cup with Ziggy Marley and his brothers. Alexanian said the despairing mood of most Americans make it a good time to examine the spirit of “The Way.”

“Whether they are choosing to or not, people are reassessing their value systems in terms of simpilfying a life and finding joy in something other than another car or a possession,” Alexanian explained. “A more simplified life in many ways is more fulfilling.”

I was the first journalist to spend extensive time with Sheen, Estevez and Alexanian on the 45,000-pound bus that had previously been used by U2 and Stevie Nicks. The bus sleeps 12; eight were along for this ride.

Estevez said, “My mom [executive producer Janet Templeton] was in here saying ‘You gotta have this and make sure you don’t stop at hotels that have bedbugs. How do we know? Its been a family affair from the beginning. We’ve stopped at Rudy’s Bar-B-Q in Austin, Texas. Oklahoma Joe’s (barbecue) in Kansas City. Really good stuff.”

New Orleans-based bus driver Dave Walters picked up Sheen and the rest of the crew in Malibu, Calif. They motored over to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City and Minneapolis before hitting Chicago.

“We’re going to South Bend because Martin’s a big Notre Dame fan,” Walters said after he dropped the group off at Home Run Inn Pizza on South Archer. The Chicago pizza chain helped market the film. Walters said, “We head to New York and come back to finish in Cincinnati.” Walters, 56, was bouncing a basketball in the Home Run parking lot. When “The Way” tour has time and Walters spots a playground, sometimes they will pull over and he’ll shoot hoops with Sheen.

Back on the bus I told Sheen and Estevez how it is essential to travel with an open mind. See the light.

Estevez said, “There’s a line at the end I thought would bring us back to the beginning of the film: ‘You should fly with me, you should come with me’.”

Sheen said, “I couldn’t figure out where that line was from.”

Estevez answered, “‘Catch-22.’ ”

Sheen said, “A film I did in 1969. I never got that until just the other day.”

Estevez looked out a window and explained, “The point of that is how it dawns on his character how he should travel more. Be open to new experiences. He’s not going to miss the opportunities anymore to be outside of himself. To be a citizen of the world. In ‘Catch-22’ [the Mike Nichols satirical war film], Bob Balaban [Bomber pilot Captain Orr] is always telling the other lads, ‘Come fly with me’.”

Sheen smiled and said, “He’s learning to crash the plane so he can survive and get away.”



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