Traces N.7, July/August 2002

A Good Meeting

We are coming to the middle of a summer that arrives as a relief. This is desired by all, and it is also fitting, if it is true that God Himself rested on the seventh day.

In the world, a “fiscal year” particularly dense with events and change has come to an end. What happened in America last September, the war that followed, the long tragedy of the Middle East, the end of the division of the world into two blocs (East and West) with the partnership of Russia and NATO, the new attention to the questions of inequality between North and South, and the phenomena of migration and its consequences that are sometimes harsh and still undecipherable. The political wind that is changing in Europe, the bitter trials of a social conflict stirred up for political reasons in Italy, the return of terrorism with its mysterious contours of connivance, the troubling acts of violence aimed at the young and the little ones.

So we all want to go on vacation, in order to spend some time in freedom. The problem is that once we get free, we often tend to spin our wheels aimlessly. The thought might come to some that life would be great if people were not what they are, if history were not the problem it is. And so, hurrah for vacation, which is a bit of distraction in the midst of the stormy sea (or the doldrums, which is the same thing) of living.

We think this way without really thinking it, without saying it out loud. It is the thought that might come over us, under the beach umbrellas or on the mountain slopes, on the highways and at the boarding gates for flights and cruises. It is the same one we find in books by many philosophers and opinion-makers, in the press, and on TV. History is unbearable and so are people. Thus, it is better to try to avoid what is “ugly” in life in order to contemplate what is “beautiful.” But by doing this, by dint of avoiding and taking away, very little is left; it seems that beauty has been banished from human experience, and that at most it is a good that can be perceived in a few fleeting instants, the substance of dreams, like a flag fluttering over nothingness. We seek out perfect instants in an imperfect history. We put our trust in laws, norms, diets, magicians–in anyone who has a “rule” for correcting the vice man has of being human.

Most people think that life does not lead to any definitive experience of beauty and good. The feeling of things is thus dominated by dissatisfaction and anxiety, and a resulting sterility. But in the end, the desire remains (even aggravated) to find a place where we can finally rest, i.e., have some peace (exactly what we ask of our vacations).

The Meeting in Rimini is a big vacation (and also hard work for those who run it!). This is why so many take part in it, perceiving it to be a moment of rest without putting the brain on hold, and above all as an opportunity for our freedom to find an interesting proposal to which to adhere.

This summer’s title, then, is particularly well-suited: “the feeling of things” and “the contemplation of beauty” are not opposites; they do not negate each other. There is not the time of dull toil and that of carefree amusement. There have been and there are in history people who feel it is possible to discover beauty within the sphere of human experience, without censorship. There is a people with no distinguishing marks except this different awareness of living, this different judgment on reality; a people that does not look at the world thinking, “I hope it has as little to do with me as possible.” This is an enormous difference. It is born of the belonging to the only substantially different reality among all those acting in history: the Body of Christ, the Church. Since it is a reality generated not by men’s strength, but by the strength of God who lifts the sky and drowns the sea, and who with the life of His Son embraced the frailty and desire of us men. The gesture of the Meeting, with its exhibitions, shows, meetings, work, and companionship, poses an enormous challenge in this hour of the world, and offers an opportunity for everyone to come to terms with their lives (including the summer).
Happy vacation, everybody!