New York Encounter 2015: Five Questions with Riro Maniscalco

Maurizio Maniscalco (known to everyone as “Riro”) is President and co-founder of the NY Encounter, a 3 day cultural event in the heart of City. He sits down with TracesOnline for 5 questions to kickoff our weeklong coverage of this years NY Encounter.

Stephen Sanchez

Riro, thank you for sitting down with TracesOnline. This is the fifth year of the New York Encounter, and every year it gets bigger and more interesting. What do you have in store this year?

R: We have a lot! Conferences, exhibits, shows, movies, and many other things. It is the seed of the new world within this world, it is a place where we can share, understand and judge what is happening around us and inside ourselves. Check the program (New York Encounter), but if you can, just come and see. All of the words I can come up with are not worth a bit of what the experience of the Encounter actually is.

Americans aren’t very accustomed to a cultural festival like we see every year in Rimini, Italy, but the NYE is very much born out of a relationship with the Meeting of Friendship Among Peoples. How does the NYE offer a similar experience here in America?

R: “Culture” may sound like an odd (if not incomprehensible) word. “Festival” could make you think of entertainment and similar things. The Encounter is a life, and its events are like steps along our human journey. Yes, we learned from Rimini. The Rimini meeting is something revolutionary. It shows that faith, hope and charity can actually build a society. Learning new things, experiencing something we have never experienced before, makes sense only if it helps us understand the mystery and the beauty of life, and how to walk through it. Rimini or New York doesn’t make any difference. The only difference is that, paraphrasing St. Paul, we have to be American with the Americans.

Maurizio Maniscalco. Photo by Emily Marsolek

The behind the scenes miracle of the NYE seems to be that you couldn’t do this without the hundreds of volunteers who at their own personal cost and the sacrifice of many hours do everything, from checking coats to cooking to ushering and security, and they are all so young. Why do they do it?

R: Because giving is as beautiful as receiving and loving is as beautiful as being loved. We are all volunteers, and the hundred fold is there for us. We all give what we can and what we want. We offer what we have received, whether it’s time, money, or some special skill–Joyfully–and, God loves the joyful to giver. For me personally, those three days (which can be pretty complicated…) are always among the most beautiful and joyful of the year. I think this is the experience of all the volunteers. Then, you have to ask yourself, what is it that makes it so beautiful?

This year’s theme, “Identity: In Search of a Human Face,” seems particularly poignant in light of the recent terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. We see that Europe is in the midst of an identity crisis and we can see many of the same symptoms here in the United States. How did you decide to tackle this topic this year?

R: Picking a theme is not a mind game. Intellectus cogitabundus initium omnis bonis [an intelligence that applies itself is the start of every good]…that’s Augustine… You look at yourself, at what is happening around you, and you try to focus on what seems to be vital, real, and decisive. As Father Giussani wrote, “Nothing is so mesmerizing as the discovery of the real dimensions of one’s own ‘I,’ nothing so surprising as the discovery of one’s own human face.” Is there anything more beautiful than a human face? Isn’t there something more that defines our ‘I’ than the never ending list of rights everybody seems compelled to affirm? What really defines our identity? This is the door of curiosity and desire that the Encounter is trying to unlock.

Last question. I noticed that First Things, the National Catholic Register, and the National Catholic Reporter are all inviting their readers to check out the NYE. Often today it can feel like the Church is very divided into the so called “left and right.” It seems like the NYE offers something attractive to both of these “camps.” How have you managed to do this?

R: We all have the same heart and the need for the Infinite inscribed in it has no right or left. By God’s grace, the Encounter reveals that.