Over 10,000 people have already signed an open letter, recently posted on the internet, petitioning Mel Gibson to make his next movie on history's greatest imitator of Christ: St. Francis of Assisi.

The writers of the letter are members of the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. These modern friars know, of course, that Francis has been translated onto the screen before, in movies like Franco Zeffirelli's 1972 "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" or the 1989 docudrama "Francesco," starring Mickey Rourke. But that, they point out, is precisely the problem: "This powerful figure who shaped and changed the course of history has too often been reduced to a pious, peace-loving character cast in plaster." No film on Francis, they claim, has yet been able to plumb the "true identity and authentic spirituality" of this "Man of the Passion."

Certainly Francis was no plaster saint. Consider the scene described by Mark Galli, former Christian History editor and present managing editor at our sister publication Christianity Today, in his readable, well-illustrated compact biography, Francis of Assisi and His World (IVP, 2002):

One night, a group of high-spirited Assisian youths arrived at the house of their friend Francis, a young swell of legendary high spirits and good cheer. They "handed him a mock scepter, and announced that they had made him 'king of youth.'"

"What they really wanted," recounts Galli, "was for him to foot the bill for another wild night on the town." Thanks to his well-to-do cloth-merchant father Peter Bernadone, "Francis obliged, as usual. After a gluttonous banquet, the group spilled out into the Assisi streets, singing drunken refrains late into the night."

But their ...

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