The Holy Mass at the New York Encounter

Sunday at the New York Encounter: Truth as a Discovery

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas, an exhibit on Bob Dylan, a panel on Chiara Corbella Petrillo, and more on Sunday at the New York Encounter.
David Paradela

The challenge of presenting the value of education beyond materiality and ideology was the crux of “The Education of the Heart,” which included panelists Archbishop Christoph Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Stanley Hauerwas, Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School, Jon Balsbaugh, President of the Trinity Schools Network, and moderator Holly Peterson, Principal of Nativity: Faith and Reason School. Hauerwas, who appeared through a recorded video interview with Peterson, addressed the problem as worldly dissatisfaction in modernity, asserting that, “people who become consumers of their own lives turn out not to have lives that they’re happy with.” According to Hauerwas, the education of “the heart”—which Luigi Giussani explained as the place that contains peoples’ original needs and evidences—was imperative in teaching students to “want a life no other than their own.” He gave the example of Giussani as someone who not only educated others to the truth, but made the pursuit of truth attractive through his companionship.

Despite the panel’s weighty theme, Pierre and Balsbaugh kept the tone light-hearted and informal, exemplifying in a small way Giussani’s approach to education. The archbishop, who appeared affable and accessible in every event he participated in over the weekend, provoked laughter after stating he remembered nothing from his school days. Yet, his point of acknowledging education in school as the “help, not the determinant” on the path towards truth was crucial. He later remarked that “the truth is not something you possess, but something you look at,” and that this truth was “not an idea but a person.” Balsbaugh further delved into the limitation of ideas by stating that “if we live the reality beneath our subjects, education can really be something to start from.”

Speaking of the reality beneath the subject, art historian Francis Greene’s presentation on Andy Warhol, “I just happen to love ordinary things,” dissected the man who demonstrated the significance of the modern individual’s lingering desire to find significance in the quotidian and ubiquitous. According to Greene, an art historian at St. Francis College, Warhol impacted the art world in three ways: he revived the image in contemporary art after a period of abstraction, he raised the issue of an “iconic” image through his manipulation of it, and he dealt with the notion of seriality in art through multiplications of the original. Through these actions, Greene stated that Warhol dared to ask: “Have we every really looked at our Campbell’s soup? Have you ever looked, really, at a bottle of Coca-Cola?” Greene called it “the shock of the ordinary.”

Furthermore, beneath Warhol’s intense search for meaning lay a religiosity many critics and admirers failed to see. Two hundred seventy religious paintings were found in Warhol’s studio after his death. One painting in particular, of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, was reprinted with allegorical commercial labels on top of the original. While some would consider the painting sacrilegious, Greene declared that “the labels are the filters that keep us from the Divine and our vision of the spiritual.” He received a standing ovation for his presentation after clearly demonstrating the importance of an artist often misunderstood by both the religious and secular.

Art historian Francis Greene

From one celebrated yet often misunderstood artist to another, “Something is Happening Here” provided an interesting yet unexpected discussion between a high school teacher, a “Dylanologist,” and one of the country’s most renowned conservative minds—who then went on to perform a trio of Bob Dylan’s songs. Annemarie Bacich, educator and curator of the Encounter’s exhibit on Dylan, moderated a discussion between Richard F. Thomas, Professor of Classics at Harvard University and author of “Why Dylan Matters” and Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, avid Dylan fan, and a musician in his own right. Referring to Dylan, Thomas stated, “One mark of genius is to be able to do what we can’t do but to create something meaningful for us as human beings.”

The group went on to discuss Dylan’s Nobel Prize win and its justification by Greek oral tradition, confirm the universality of liberation and belonging as they appeared heavily in Dylan’s music, and defer the particulars of Dylan’s religiosity—which, while certainly present, remains undefined. George’s performance of Dylan’s songs demonstrated what makes Dylan so easy to love. Accompanied by two talented female singers, George plucked on his guitar and sang “I Shall Be Released”, “Chimes of Freedom,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Despite the unassuming setup, the simple lyrics and melodies shined enough for the group to receive roaring applause.

On the second floor, a more serious and urgent tone was struck in Sr. Laura Girotto’s meeting with Kim Shankman, Dean of Benedictine College. After leaving a posh career as a dress designer at a prestigious fashion house, Sr. Laura felt called to join Don Bosco’s Salesian sisters. Sr. Laura was sent on mission to Ethiopia, where she found herself alone in a blue tent surrounded by nothing but fields. After a few nights, she woke up to find children playing outside her tent; “a Salesian is defenseless in front of children,” she said. From that moment, the small city of Kidane Mehret was born—a place for the inhabitants of surrounding areas to receive assistance and shelter from wars and extreme conditions of poverty. Sr. Laura did not come to the New York Encounter to tell a story however; she came to beg for assistance in building a hospital: “I tell you I am a shameless beggar…but I am asking nothing for myself.” Her courage was provoking, empowering, and a shot of reality to notions of service and sacrifice.

As the day progressed, the topics seemed to evoke even more powerful emotions. “A New Beginning. Life in the Aftermath of a Massacre,” saw Fr. Peter Cameron moderate the witnesses of Dawn Ford, an educator and survivor of the Sandy Hook massacre, and Jenny Hubbard, mother of Catherine Violet, a victim of the massacre. Both Ford and Hubbard tearfully recounted their experiences of the tragedy, and how they dealt with the aftermath. Ford, who hid in a conference room with colleagues during the meeting, was moved by the love and support from people all over the world. She received notes of comfort and healing from countless teachers and students and stated that after six years, she continues to be “moved by people,” especially a librarian who surprised her with compassion by decorating the public library. Hubbard on the other hand, was faced with a choice regarding her son Frederick after her daughter’s death. She wondered, “would we put our son on the bus and send him to school and put our faith in God? Or do we bubble wrap him?” She realized “something starts at the moment of abandonment. It’s not time to get started. It’s already starting.”

Somehow, Ford and Hubbard’s witnesses were followed by another witness that brought tears to just as many eyes at the Metropolitan Pavilion. In a video shot several years ago in Medjugorje, Servant of God, Chiara Corbella, testified to her decision to refuse cancer treatment so as not to risk the life of her then unborn son, Francesco. Corbella died shortly after on June 13, 2012. While some might think her witness a mere testament to the dignity of life, Corbella spoke more about the faith she placed in God from the beginning of her rocky relationship with her husband, to the deaths of two of her children, and finally to her return to Medjugorje for guidance and healing. The panel at the Encounter included Chiara’s husband, Enrico Petrillo and her doctor, Angelo Carfí. After attending the funeral of Chiara and Enrico’s second son, Davide Giovanni, Carfí realized, “ok, these guys are not religious freaks. Here, the religion is not “dumping” anything. There’s no anesthesia here, this is pure suffering. […] I understood that no human power could deliver that kind of joy […]” For Enrico, Chiara “is a star that shines on my path. We talk about her life, not just to remember her, but because her memory helps us to live.” The final panel of the Encounter encompassed the beauty of its events that day; a recollection of meaning, hope, and redemption to stay with us until next year.