01-08-2007 - Traces, n. 8


Enthralled by the Attraction of the Truth
A guide to what happened this year in Rimini: Muslims who really engage in dialogue with Jews and Christians, scientists struck by beauty, politicians and businessmen who pick up the thread of the common good, exhibitions, performances, and restaurants… The Meeting in August was a place where reason thrown open to the Mystery demonstrated that the “journey to the truth” is an experience possible for all

by Giorgio Vittadini*

The final press release of last year’s Meeting 2006 said,  “This year’s Meeting showed, following the charism of Fr. Giussani, that man’s reason is a ‘window open wide on reality.’ Through the testimony of those taking part, the Meeting began to unravel an attitude that rejects an adequate use of reason and so becomes fatalism, fideism, and, inevitably, war. So the Meeting was a place of encounter, friendship, and dialogue. That is to say, of peace.”
This was confirmed again this year, in ideal continuity with 2006, by the Muslim Wael Farouq, Professor of Islamic Sciences at the Copto-Catholic Faculty in Cairo, and Sari Nusseibeh, President of the Al-Quds University of Jerusalem. The laceration between faith and reason produces the fundamentalist violence attributable not to religions in themselves, but to fanatical people. But a man who welcomes the nature of reason, which means openness and an endless search, can, in the words of Benedict XVI in his greeting to the Meeting during the Angelus of Sunday, August 19th, “realize the deepest vocation of man: to be a seeker of the truth and so a seeker of God.”
For this reason, Meeting 2007, on the theme, “The Truth is the Destiny for Which We Have Been Made,” as the final press release says, responded to this expectation above all through the encounters between religious figures, Jews and Muslims, Orthodox and Protestants “desirous of making the reasonable journey toward the truth.” Above all, it has shown how the fracture between religions, faith, and reason leads to a relativism and nihilism that render man “more solitary and confused in the face of his own desires.” Cardinal Bertone, during the sermon at the Meeting’s inaugural Mass, confronted the causes of this confusion by affirming, “One sometimes has the impression that in the atmosphere of relativism and skepticism which pervades our civilization, we have even reached the point of proclaiming radical distrust in the possibility of knowing the truth.”
In the same spirit, Giancarlo Cesana quoted revealing statements by well-known intellectuals, such as: “The only truth is to free ourselves from the wicked passion for truth.” This attitude, he observed, inoculates the young with the tendency to love nothing and nobody, in a sort of “Chernobyl of the conscience,” as Fr. Giussani defined it. Continuing along this path, the British Protestant theologian John Milbank, describing the reduction of love to mere subjective feeling, spoke of the pernicious “fracture” that separates love from knowledge. The Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas showed how, in American religious experience, and hence in today’s dominant mentality, man presumes to choose the times and ways to encounter the Mystery. So, after choosing God in the form each prefers, people now want to choose the son, the wife, the other they prefer, and become violent in the demand to eliminate anything that fails to correspond to their desires. Instead, as the Jewish-American Professor Joseph Weiler pointed out, only if we accept and imitate the respect for the dignity and freedom of man shown by God Himself, who chooses men and a people but allows them to reject Him, is a world possible in which man’s freedom will be respected and enhanced.

A stirring of the heart
What steps can we take to emerge from the deceit that claims it is not worth taking the trouble to seek the truth? It is not enough to reflect theoretically. As Cesana pointed out, the truth is a proposal: “An engrossing, binding experience, which compels you to take a stand… It is an encounter that moves you.” You cannot choose an encounter of this kind; you have to either reject or accept it, and if your response is acceptance, it causes an upheaval, the need to change, because it is an attraction that stirs the heart, a sense of wonder for something that we have always wanted. This theme was taken up by Fr. Francesco Ventorino, in an impassioned rereading of Fr. Giussani’s journey toward the truth, rich in quotations from Thomas Aquinas to Leopardi, from Nietzsche to Pirandello. Fr. Francesco concluded, “The nihilists are wrong; man is saved by the love of a God made flesh”–a God who is Beauty present in the world; not Apollonian beauty, but that which is mindful of the sacrifice and pain that Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of on his visit to the Meeting in 1990. This experience of beauty was much talked of at this year’s Meeting. It was crucial, for example, in the Orthodox conception described by the philosophers Aleksej Kozyrev and Vladimir Legojda and testified to in the message of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to Emilia Guarnieri at the presentation of the exhibition on the Church of Santa Sophia. “What greatness Christian art can attain when it is the fruit of communion with the living God, the source of wisdom and charity!”
But beauty at Meeting 2007 appeared above all in the marvelous performances, in the regional restaurants, and in the exhibitions, particularly that of Cometa, a work of community and acceptance, which bears testimony to how, when we live the encounter with the truth, the “I” coincides with the work without being blackmailed by the result. Beauty, as a source of correspondence with our own humanity, bred in the volunteers an order, a punctuality, a precision, noted by the Russian guests and by many others, such as the Nobel Prize Winner George Smoot, all attentive to what was going on (even informally) around them, and astonished by it. Strangely and mysteriously, it is the same correspondence of which the scientists spoke, which produces the immensity of the visible universe, described by Smoot, or which we can find in the objectivity of mathematical rules, evoked by scientists like Giorgio Israel, Laurent Lafforgue, and Enrico Bombieri.

Possible hope
The Rimini Meeting, in its original title, is presented as the “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples.” Is this name still relevant? Today, as in the 1970s, the truth is a force for peace. Our dialogues with the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, the Vice-President Mario Mauro, the Basque politician Gotzone Mora, the Lebanese Tarek Mitri, and the Iranian writer Marina Nemat, showed signs for possible hope in deeply troubled areas of the world, when we refuse to reject a difficult personal and collective quest.
Likewise, in the discussions about the law, Italian Judge Guido Piffer (criticizing the conception that sees the law as valid because it is an act emanating from authority), Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and Paolo Carozza, Associate Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School and a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, discussed the American Constitution and showed that true law cannot forget that there exist truths valid always and everywhere, because they are inscribed in the heart of man and perceived as self-evident.
Hence, we note the importance of subsidiarity, because the true needs of man cannot be understood in the abstract, but only by identifying ourselves with them and enhancing them in the quest for the truth of the person, which is also expressed in the development of the social bodies to which he belongs.

True democracy
It is essential to restore sovereignty to the citizens, in part through mechanisms, supported by all political forces, which restore power to the electorate because, as Fr. Giussani wrote, Democracy is not just a respect for formal procedures, but a dialogue that stems from “active respect for the other, in a correspondence that tends to affirm the other’s valueand freedom,” which creates a “communion among the various ideologically engaged freedoms” (see L. Giussani, The Journey to Truth is an Experience, McGill Queen’s University Press, 2006, pp.128-129).

Changing the “I”
The vision of subsidiarity, also in the economic field, underpinned meetings with major figures. These debates heeded the words of Cardinal Bertone, who, on the first day of the Meeting, issued a summons to the “duty to pay the taxes according to just laws,” together with the need to avoid “injustice in the distribution of the resources of the State.” To support widespread business skills, the engine of the renewal of Italian development, on the one hand it is right to respect every state law, while on the other it is a crime to waste money on public expenditure that favors entrenched positions and perpetuates an iniquitous and ineffective welfare state, particularly in the school system. As testified by the representative of the OECD and Commissioner for Education of the European Union, Ján Figel’, despite its enormous expenditure, the Italian school system is among the worst for quality on the international level. Attaining true equality by funding junior and senior high schools, as announced by Minister Fioroni on the last day of the Meeting, is a matter of survival for the country of Italy.
Nevertheless, there will be no breakthrough, above all in education, if there is no change in the “I.” Everything that happened and was said at the Meeting showed that even these hopes for freedom in education will lead to nothing unless we are free and true in all our lives, in keeping with the wish expressed in the book by Fr. Giussani presented on the last day: Certain of a Few Great Things. “Certainty means an abandonment of the self, it means overcoming oneself, it means saying that I am small, I am nothing, and the true and great thing is another… because the law of man is the love, …the affirmation of the other as the significance of oneself.”
As Professor Giulio Sapelli said in presenting the volume, this work poses “an active concept of culture as the whole set of knowledge and feelings that enable society to realize ‘works’ …. What is the truth if not this way of opening up to ourselves and God?”
For this reason, the final press release of the Meeting 2007 says, “After the Meeting on desire and freedom, after that on reason and truth, the title of Meeting 2008, to be held in Rimini from August 24th to 30th, is: ‘Either Protagonists or Nobodies.’

*President Fondazione per la Sussidiarietà (Foundation for Subsidiarity)