Father Michael Calabria

Father Michael Calabria, director of St. Bonaventure University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, and several other university scholars are featured in the docudrama “The Sultan and the Saint,” which will air on PBS the day after Christmas.

ST. BONAVENTURE — Several St. Bonaventure University scholars’ expertise will soon be seen by a national audience.

PBS the day after Christmas will air the docudrama “The Sultan and the Saint,” which features several scholars associated with the Franciscan university and tells the story of Saint Francis of Assisi’s fateful encounter with Egypt’s Muslim sultan in 1219.

“I’m thrilled this story is going to receive a larger audience,” said Father Michael Calabria, director of St. Bonaventure’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, who was interviewed for the show. “It’s an important story. It’s a story from which we can derive benefit today, 800 years afterward.”

Using both re-enactments and interviews with historians, art experts and religious thinkers, the film depicts Saint Francis of Assisi walking across enemy lines during the Crusades to meet ruler al-Malik al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt.

Calabria said the men’s encounter can resonate with those struggling to respond constructively and faithfully to current conflicts.

“We have Francis, a man of simple Christian faith, an itinerant preacher, who presents himself humbly and peacefully to a Muslim leader, who responds to him with kindness and admiration,” he said. “So it’s a story of two individuals, who although they’re from different cultures and different faith traditions, can transcend the political conflicts and prejudices of their day and come to see one another as people of faith.”

Calabria was first approached about appearing in the film while serving as a chaplain-in-residence and working on his dissertation at Georgetown University in 2013. He was asked to appear by a researcher on the docudrama, and filmed his interviews in 2015.

Father Michael Cusato, professor of Franciscan studies at St. Bonaventure, and Sister Kathy Warren, a 2002 St. Bonaventure Franciscan studies graduate, also were interviewed.

“The Sultan and the Saint,” which was produced by Unity Productions Foundation, has won several film festival awards since its release last year. St. Bonaventure in February held an on-campus screening of the film.

Calabria said he knew the filmmakers wanted the film to have a larger audience, but at the time of filming did not know it would ever make it to a major broadcaster.

He thinks the timing of the PBS debut, 8 p.m. Tuesday, is “perfect.”

“The day after Christmas, a season in which Christians in particular are celebrating the birth of the prince of peace,” he said, “and here we have this truly beautiful story of two men who can come together in peace and provide us of an example 800 years later. I think that’s a powerful message, particularly in the Christmas season.”

Local listings for “The Sultan and the Saint” can be found at pbs.org/show/sultan-and-saint/.

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at tdinki@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)