Message to the 38th “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples”

“Innumerable are the traces of God’s presence”

August 21, 2017 Jim Fair   Francis

To His most Reverend Excellency 
Monsignor Francesco Lambiasi, Bishop of Rimini 
Most Reverend Excellency,

In the name of the Holy Father Francis, and mine personally, I address a cordial greeting to you, to the organizers and to the participants in the 38th edition of the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples.

Every year the Titles of the Meeting invite to reflect on aspects of existence that the pressing rhythm of the everyday often makes us set aside. Everything seems to slip from us, caught as we are by the anxiety of turning the page in haste. Life becomes fragmented and risks becoming arid. Hence it is precious to stop every now and then to consider the great questions that define the human being and that it’s impossible to ignore altogether. In this connection, we can also read the theme of the 2017 Meeting as: “All that You Have, Bequeathed to You by Your Father, Earn It in Order to Possess It” (Goethe, Faust). It is an invitation to us to re-appropriate our origins from within our personal history. For too long it has been thought that the inheritance of our fathers should remain with us as a treasure, which it was enough to protect to keep the flame lit. It hasn’t been so: that fire that burned in the breast of those that preceded us has little by little been weakened.

One of the limitations of present-day society is to have little memory, to want to get rid of as useless and a heavy burden what preceded us. However, this has grave consequences. Let us think of education. How can we hope to have the new generations grow without memory? And how can we think of building the future without taking a position regarding the history that generated our present? As Christians we do not cultivate a nostalgic withdrawal from a past that no longer exists. Rather, we look ahead with confidence. We don’t have spaces to defend because the love of Christ knows no insurmountable borders. We live in a time that is favourable for an outgoing Church, but a Church rich in memory, driven by the wind of the Spirit to go and encounter the man seeking a reason to live. Innumerable are the traces of God’s presence in the course of the history of the world; all in fact beginning with Creation, which speaks of Him. The real and living God willed to share our history: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God isn’t a memory but a presence, to receive ever again, as the beloved for the person that loves.

There is a sickness that can strike the baptized and that the Holy Father calls “spiritual Alzheimer’s”: it consists in forgetting the history of our personal relationship with God, that first Love that won us to make us His own. If we become :”forgetful” of our encounter with the Lord, we are no longer sure of anything; then we are assailed by the fear that blocks our every movement. If we abandon the safe port of our bond with the Father, we become prey to the whims and wishes of the moment, slaves of “infinite falsehoods’, which promise the moon but leave us disappointed and sad, in a spasmodic search for something to fill the heart’s emptiness. How can this “spiritual Alzheimer’s” be avoided? There is only one way: to actualize the beginnings, the “first Love,” which is not a discourse or an abstract thought, but a Person. The pleasant memory of this beginning ensures the necessary impetus to address the ever new challenges that also call for new answers, remaining always open to the surprises of the Spirit, which blows where it wills.

How does the great Tradition of the faith come to us? How does Jesus’ love reach us today? Through the life of the Church, through a multitude of witnesses that for two thousand years have renewed the proclamation of the advent of God-with-us, which enables us to relive the experience of the beginning, as it was for the first that encountered Him. For us also “Galilee is the place of the first call, where everything began!” and for this it’s necessary “to return there, to that burning point in which God’s Grace touched me at the beginning of the way. {. . .] when Jesus passed by my way, looked at me with mercy and asked me to follow Him; [. . .] to recover the memory of that moment in which His eyes met mine” (Francis, Homily in the Easter Vigil, April 19, 2014).

That look always precedes us, as Saint Augustine reminds us speaking of Zacchaeus: “He was looked at and then saw” (Discourse 174, 4.4.). We must never forget this beginning. See what we have inherited, the precious treasure we must rediscover every day, if we want it to be ours. Don Giussani left an effective image of this commitment that we can’t desert: “By nature, one that loves the child puts in his bag, on his shoulders the best that he’s lived in life [. . .]. However, at a certain point, nature gives the child, the one who was a child, the instinct to take the bag and to put it before his eyes. [. . .] Therefore, what we have been told must become a problem! If it doesn’t become a problem, it will never mature [. . .] To carry the bag before the eyes [. . .] is like one who sees inside, namely the one whose has put on his shoulders the Tradition, with the desires of his heart: [. . .] the exigency of the true, of the beautiful, of the good. [. . .] By so doing, he takes the physiognomy of man” (The Educational Risk, Milan, 2005, 17-19).

“To earn one’s inheritance again” is a commitment to which Mother Church calls every generation; and the Holy Father invites us not to be scared of the efforts and suffering that are part of the way. We are not granted to look at reality from a balcony, nor can we remain seated comfortably on a sofa and see the world pass before us on TV. Only by earning again the true, the beautiful and the good that our fathers handed us will we be able to live the change of age in which we are immersed as an opportunity, as an occasion to communicate to men in a convincing way the joy of the Gospel.

Therefore, Pope Francis invites the Meeting’s organizers and volunteers to sharpen their look to see — more or less explicitly – the need of God as the ultimate meaning of existence, so as to be able to offer people a living answer to the great problems of the human heart. May the visitors this year also be able to see in you reliable witnesses of the hope that doesn’t disappoint. Speak to them with meetings, exhibitions, shows and above all with your life itself.

While he recommends to pray for his ministry, His Holiness sends from his heart to you, Excellency, and to all the participants in the Meeting the desired Apostolic Blessing.

I unite my personal good wishes and, while waiting to intervene during the Meeting’s conclusive day, I assure you of my kind regards for your Most Reverend Excellency.

Pietro Parolin 
Secretary of State

[Original text: Italian]  © Translation by ZENIT,  Virginia M. Forrester

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