"The Religious Sense" by Luigi Giussani. Arabic translation.

A Gift for Christians, A Book Open to All

The presentation of "The Religious Sense" by Fr. Giussani, in the new Egyptian edition edited by Wael Farouq, included a speech by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, newly appointed Secretary of the Holy See for Relations with States.
Riccardo Piol

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” When Wael Farouq quoted the famous words uttered by the first man on the moon, the audience at the Augustinianum in Rome was on the point of breaking into applause. If the young Egyptian professor had only paused an instant, the six hundred people packing the auditorium would have begun clapping. It was a matter of a moment. But he immediately followed up Neil Armstrong’s words with: “We have published The Religious Sense by Father Giussani in Cairo. We did this because–as we read in the Gospel–you don’t light a lantern and hide it under a bushel, but you place it high on a lamp stand, to light up all the house.” And then the applause was thunderous, a sign of approval but also of gratitude, the gratitude of many ordinary people, as well as bishops, ambassadors, politicians, and journalists. This was the audience that gathered on February 1st, just off St. Peter’s Square, to attend the presentation of Fr. Giussani’s book translated into Arabic. “Broadening Reason” was the title of the meeting. Only a few hours earlier, the Pope had received the Foundation for Interfaith and Intercultural Research and Dialogue. He told them, “We are called to engage in a common work of reflection, a work of reason, and I hope that you, with all your hearts, will scrutinize the mystery of God in light of our religious traditions and our respective wisdoms.”

Dominique Mamberti

On the dais was Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, at his first public engagement after receiving his appointment as the Vatican’s Foreign Minister. With him was Wael Farouq, Egyptian, Muslim and a university teacher in Cairo, and Fr. Stefano Alberto, who teaches an introduction to theology course at the Catholic University of Milan.

This is the seventeenth language into which this book has been translated. “The story of The Religious Sense,” says Roberto Fontolan, Director of CL’s International Center and the moderator of the meeting, “goes back half a century. In 1957, Fr. Giussani published a little book some thirty pages long with this same title.”

Fifty years later, that same booklet, called Il Senso Religioso and written for high school students in Milan, has become The Religious Sense, Der Religiöse Sinn, Religinis jausmas…, and it has something to say to everyone. Including the Arab world.

“In the first place,” said Archbishop Mamberti, “I would say that the translation of a work like The Religious Sense constitutes a cultural event. I was told of a recent study in which it appears that the whole Middle East, with a population of three hundred million people, publishes just 1.1% of the total output of books published worldwide. And the number of books translated in the countries of the Middle East is just one-fifth of those translated at present in Greece.” That a volume like this work by Fr. Giussani should have been published there makes it all the more valuable. With the West and the Arab world face-to-face, practically unable to communicate, while their reciprocal ignorance risks making the divisions and misunderstandings even deeper, this book appears as a small but significant gift. “A gift to Arabic-speaking Christians,” said Mamberti, “who are often forced to cope with very difficult situations. The simplistic tendency to identify the Arab world as the Muslim world leads us to overlook the many Christian minorities in the Middle East.” The Vatican’s Foreign Minister turned his thoughts to them, remembering “the grievous problem of the steady decline of the Christian presence in many of these countries.” The Religious Sense speaks to them, but not to them alone, because, said Mamberti, “It is a work open to all and with a meaning for all, whatever their culture or religion, and in particular to Muslims.”

The relation between reason and belief, a theme recurrent in the Pope’s teaching, was also dealt with by Archbishop Mamberti. He retraced some salient moments of Benedict XVI’s papacy, from the Lectio Magistralis at Regensburg to his visit to Turkey. “This question is far from academic. It involves the future of all of us.” The Pope’s appeal is to enlarge reason, the experience offered to every reader by The Religious Sense, the challenge facing both Christians and Muslims. “What Fr. Giussani calls the ‘heart’ is the same for all men. The same ‘elementary needs’ are given to all,” recalled Mamberti. “So this obviously creates a possibility for true dialogue and true collaboration with all at a very deep level.” And it is for this reason that “certainly Fr. Giussani’s book has a contribution to make in fostering dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. I hope that the edition in Arabic will be widely read and will bear good fruit. And I also hope that, since it the first volume of the Trilogy, the two following volumes will also find a translator and gain the readership they deserve.”

Wael Farouq

“Why should this book, written in a different historical and cultural period to confront atheism and the spiritual crisis of the European cultures, be useful today in the dialogue with the Islamic world?” Wael Farouq decided to publish The Religious Sense in Egypt, adding a second edition to that presented at the Rimini Meeting, starting from the reply he gave to this question. His reply gives three reasons: “The first, general in character, is related to the way mankind lives today. The second is specific and related to contemporary Arab culture. The third is practical and depends on the dialogue between religions today. Fr. Giussani drew on the different literatures around the world as a source of knowledge about man,” said Farouq. In the same way, Farouq himself described the state of man today. He did it by quoting John Paul II, Eric Fromm, Milan Kundera, Bill Gates, and many others. He did it to the admiration of his audience, filling with just pride the Egyptian Ambassador to the Holy See, seated in the front row listening to him.

Today, man is “outside of time,” said Farouq. “He has created a new world in which there is no longer space for himself and a knowledge of reality. It is the new world where globalization seeks to impose a single style without respect for variety, where the religious fundamentalists have raised their voices and increased their influence, where the clash between cultures has become the picture of international human activity–a new world that in Giussani’s book finds an answer to its questions, because it is not a book about religion, but about the religious sense. And its importance is not diminished by the fact that it derives from a Christian tradition, because the need for faith is a human need, and the picture the book gives is common to all human experience”–including the experience of the Arab world, which today is passing through a profound crisis, which Farouq spoke of very clearly. It is a crisis that sees “the separation of thought from its object, from reality,” and that sees two opposed fronts, each aiming ultimately to eliminate the other. “On the one side, there are the supporters of tradition, who live in the ‘here’ but not in the ‘now,’ because they reside in the glorious past. On the other hand are the supporters of modernity, who live in the ‘now’ but not the ‘here,’ because their thoughts stray toward the myth of the modern West.”

The price of this clash will be paid by man himself, with his tradition, destined to harden into set forms or be abandoned for the sake of a mirage. And, as a consequence, encounter and dialogue will be impossible, because “without a dialogue between ourselves, the dialogue with others will become impossible.” Then, at this point, there comes a work like Fr. Giussani’s. “Its seventeen translations,” recalled Fr. Stefano Alberto, “have grown out of a story of friendship”–friendship between people of different cultures and traditions, like that between Farouq and Paolo Caserta, a young CL student who was in Cairo studying Arabic. And the friendship between reason and belief, opposed by both “Islamic fundamentalism,” said Fr. Stefano Alberto, “and by the innumerable expressions of that strange hatred for ourselves that characterizes European and Western culture today.”