Father Kino: between Arizona and Sonora, what a surprise!

Father Kino: between Arizona and Sonora, what a surprise I received during the filming of the documentary ¡Viva Kino! Across deserts and borders. I knew the figure of Father Eusebio Kino only superficially, through hearsay and through books I had read, but nothing made me think that he was so deeply rooted.

¡Viva Kino! Official Trailer

The founder of Arizona, who is Father Eusebio Kino?

“Explorer, historian, rancher, missionary and Apostle to the Indians’. This isthe plaque on the statue of Father Eusebio Chini in the National Hall of Statuary in Washington, as the founding father of the state of Arizona.

“Italian by nationality, native of Arezzo by adoption, citizen of the world by vocation’ is the inscription on his tomb in Magdalena de Kino, Mexico. In these times of walls and divisions, the story of a daring Jesuit who left Val di Non in the 17th century can draw attention to the centrality of the human person, without limits or boundaries, and to the ardent and tenacious faith that reaches the darkest corners. The Father Kino Museum in Segno offers much material for study.

The statue of Father Kino in Magdalena de Kino, Mexico

Father Kino: between Arizona and Sonora, what a surprise! My personal encounter in the United States

Reading the stories of a missionary, scientist and traveller from more than three centuries ago is fascinating. You get an idea of the person, you are fascinated by his studies on geography and astronomy.

Arriving to his places, trampling over the land he has ridden in every direction, changes your perspective. Firstly, it opens up the horizons: the skies of Arizona are unique in the world, the vastness and colours are a feast for the eyes. Second, it connects you with the history of the Pima, the local natives: Father Kino has always defended them, a forerunner of human rights; putting your hands in the red earth creates an insoluble bond. Thirdly, encountering his spirituality makes you realize how deep-rooted it still is.

In Tucson, County Judge Carmen Ruthling Dolny and attorney Mark O’Hare opened their doors to us in the name of Father Kino. With the crew, we filmed in the many churches he founded, walked through the Saguaro park, and touched the many plants Father Kino brought to Arizona, such as wheat; we saw the observatory dedicated to him and the Santa Catalina mountains, named after his sister.

The place that moved something inside of me is the house-museum of the great painter Ted De Grazia (1909-1982). He dedicated a large part of his production to Father Kino, capturing the most profound aspects of his personality.

Father Kino across the Colorado River in a basket. Painting by Ted De Grazia

Richard Collins and his sweet Diane welcomed us as family in their ranch near Patagonia. Richard, a rancher and author, has written a book with a focus on current events, Riding Behind the Padre, with a lucid look at narcos trafficking and the tragedies at the Mexico/USA border.

¡Viva Kino! And its widespread presence in Mexico

Stare a guardare il confine, il muro, non ├Ę facile: ho visto arrivare un autobus bianco tutto ammaccato, hanno fatto scendere decine di persone, molti anziani, in tuta arancione. Sono entrati in Messico attraverso una gabbia, come tigri nel circo, senza niente, n├ę soldi, n├ę medicine, n├ę un telefono.

The Kino Border Initiative brings together many volunteers to provide initial assistance to those who have been deemed to have inadequate papers, who may have been in the US for decades. They provide a meal, clothes, initial medical care, a phone to talk to relatives, a lawyer to help them understand what to do.

“Walls” la Kino Border Initiative

The arrival in Magdalena de Kino, in the state of Sonora, is always an emotion. Everything speaks of Father Kino: restaurants, shops, water, wine, tyre shops… In Magdalena his body was found and now his tomb is visited by a stream of people, each one different from the next, all attracted by the spirituality and protection of Father Kino, recognized by the Vatican as a “Servant of God” and soon to be “blessed”. I followed the horseback ride of 2,000 pilgrims, in procession through the missions founded by Kino. The warmth of the pilgrims was unique, as only Mexico can express.

Jos├ę Luis Salgado’s family lives in Hermosillo, a very modern town. His brother Enrique started the horseback rides, which are still going strong today: every year a group of riders retraces the routes once travelled by Father Kino, living like him without technological aids, sleeping outdoors and cooking over the bonfire. His daughter Maria, a rodeo champion, teaches the youngsters the message. With the Salgado family and friends, Father Kino lives on today, very much present.

The Salgado family during filming

Bah├Ča Kino divides the mainland from Baja California (explored by Kino himself) and is a lovely place. During a break at the “El Pargo Rojo” restaurant, the owner Octavio was thrilled to see our Father Kino T-shirt, wanted it and offered us memorable fish tacos. In the restaurant the ‘wall of selfies’ has a large painting for ‘Friends beyond borders’, one of Kino’s messages.

Father Kino and the natives, the Tohono O’Odham

The reality of Native Americans is very complex, varied and often ignored. They are often stories of marginalization, but not only. Father Kino fought for the liberation from slavery under the Spaniards for the Tohono O’Odham.

Today there are interesting realities emerging in their defence. Anthropologist Alejandro Aguilar Zeleny accompanies the cultural groups of dance and music; he tries to stay close to them to regain their pride and raise their heads.

The Tohono O’Odham dance group

The difficulties in filming the documentary. Father Kino: between Arizona and Sonora, what a surprise!

Making a documentary sometimes leads to situations that are not easy, as was also the case with ¡Viva Kino! Across deserts and borders. At the Arizona-Mexico border we stood for hours and hours in the blazing sun, stuck between soldiers and without passports. Richard Collins with his cowboy hat and his irony was with us in his red pickup truck.

The wall between Mexico and Arizona

In the north of Sonora, close to the border, runs the Ruta de Las Misiones which touches the most beautiful 18th century churches. In a remote village I was looking for someone to come in and film the church. Everything was closed, the shutters down, a strange atmosphere. I found a little shop that was half open, they gave me the keys, some bread, tins and a coffee. After filming, I set up a picnic in the meadow with the cows. Fifty kilometres away, the military said: ‘Are you crazy? There is a narcotic war going on there…”

In Magdalena I was at Kino’s grave trying to find faces that expressed his spirituality well. After a few hours I heard the roar of engines, people moved away, many motorcyclists arrived full of studs and chains. I followed the leader, I was struck by the intensity of his sign of the cross kneeling on the tomb. His name was Horacio, a true lover of the ‘father on horseback’.

On tour from Hollywood to the wall. Father Kino: between Arizona and Sonora

When we finished editing the film, we went on tour to present it, myself with Alberto Beltrami, composer of the music, and Andrea Morghen, producer. We left Hollywood with the red carpet in an independent cinema and our distributors Linda Nelson and Michael Madison from Indie Rights Movies.

Kino Tourn├ęe Ep. 1

From Los Angeles we drove to Tucson, where there was a wonderful screening with a full house and refreshments of American cakes. Then we drove to the border, and it was tough there. Screening the film along the wall between Mexico and the United States, with the students who have to cross it every morning, taking up to two hours, touched me.

More sold-out screenings in Magdalena and Hermosillo, with the warmth of the Mexican audience and a reunion with close friends. Of course, each night ended with a nice fiesta with tacos. From there we went back to Arizona, and in Phoenix Monica Ballesteros brought to the old-style vintage cinema, cozy and warm. Alberto played a concert of Italian folk songs and then everyone went to the pizzeria.

Meeting Father Kino really made me richer and I felt that ‘citizen of the world’ was a part of me.

Se la lettura vi ha incuriosito, potete vedere il film in Italia in dvd con Multimedia San Paolo, mentre in inglese o spagnolo su Amazon Prime, Tubi, AppleTV, Roku e sulle maggiori piattaforme vod.

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There are 2 comments

  1. Ciao Lia & Alberto!

    Really great post about Father Kino! I attended University of Arizona for 4 years in Tucson AZ and am very well acquainted with this very famous Italian Priest, Evangelist, and Adventurer. But Your film documentary and article give new insights about him. What an amazing person he was!

    You guys are wonderful Story Tellers!

    Cheers from the US !

    ~ Rich T

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