Traces N.7, July/August 2003

Everybody to the Meeting. The Meeting for Everybody

The Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples in Rimini, Italy, familiarly called “the Meeting,” is an event whose weight in the private lives of many people, and also in the so-called public life of Italy–and not only Italy–has become greater over the years. Its meetings on an international scale, its cultural events, the presence of religious, civilian, and political authorities, and the public made up especially of youth and of people of all backgrounds, have made it something extraordinary and unique. By now, it is taken for granted that at the end of August a people gathers in Rimini, putting together and proposing an event that is very serious and joyful at the same time. For many, it is a standing date–the media have it on their calendar, and a large part of the cultural, political, and ecclesial world awaits it for various reasons. It is practically taken for granted. However, every year, especially those who take a direct part in it encounter a reality that surprises them.
The current atmosphere of social and political life does not seem the most suitable for favoring events of this type. The harsh opposition between blocs, a narrow-minded defense of self-interest, the lack of gratuitousness in relationships, and finally a corrosive superficiality seem to be the distinguishing characteristics of our time. Italy, Europe, and the whole world are going through difficult phases of transition, for many reasons. The Meeting is not a child of this situation of confusion, but it is not outside it, either. The Meeting is born of an event of a people that in the past fifty years has been through many situations: constructing, not condemning; sharing, not setting itself apart in a protected enclosure, safe from the problems and temptations everyone faces.
Even this year’s theme–“Is there a man who desires life and longs for happy days?”–which is so simple and beautiful, might seem predictable. All the philosophers and poets, and even sociologists and psychiatrists, have talked about happiness, and we have all already discussed it, at least ever since we were in high school. But the theme of the Meeting, on closer examination, does not treat happiness like a topic for after-dinner conversation. Talk about happiness is boring. The experience of life teaches us this: happiness remains a beautiful but paradoxically useless topic until we run into someone who proposes the experience of it to us.
This is what happens–albeit confusedly, as Dante reminds us–to the boy who glimpses a sign of happiness when he falls in love, or the mother who responds to her child, or anybody who encounters someone or something that seems to promise the fulfillment of his desire. The question of happiness in life starts to be concrete when something or someone calls you to it, when the question of happiness meets the issue of freedom, ie, when it becomes a matter of responding. This is what was stirring the heart of young Rimbaud, the French poet, when he shouted, “I want freedom in salvation!” And it is what happened to Abraham at the moment when God called him, marking the beginning of a history that is still ongoing. Fr Giussani has just written about this in the letter that opens this issue of Traces: “The supreme drama is that the Being should ask to be acknowledged by man. This is the drama of the freedom that the ‘I’ must live.”
The line that provides the title for this year’s Meeting is not the beginning of a (boring) discourse on happiness. It is a proposal to free men, who are able to answer “Yes” to the Mystery that calls. Come and see.