In recent years the month of August has become a significant time of rest and regeneration for me and this year the opportunity has continued. Some of these days are vacation in the true sense of the word, not simply a break from regular work routines, but an opportunity to step back and to look at my life with a broader perspective and a greater clarity. These are days when many people help me to re-focus on the big picture.
After a few days with my sister and her family I landed in Rome and (as you will know if you have been following recent posts) headed north with a couple of nights in Assisi then to a mountain gathering in the far north of the country with 320 friends, most of whom I have come to know and love as friends in recent years.
This annual meeting with people of all ages who seek to follow Christ is centred around a theme. This year, for a full week in days full of relaxed dining, walking in the mountains, Mass and prayer, testimonies from members of the group and others, we focussed on the theme: “Is salvation still interesting for us?”
When you think about it, this is a central question. If Jesus came among us to save us, and the gospel centres on encounters between needy people and Jesus who saves them, then if salvation has no interest for us (ie no awareness of the personal need / poverty that seeks a saviour outside of ourselves) what is the point in… well, what is the point in anything including life itself?
As a priest on this vacation my role might be described best as being a presence. For me every day from breakfast until late night was rich with faith-filled conversations. It was a privilege to again share the life of this community.
This week I’m in a very different environment. I could say that I am spending the week with 800,000 friends and that is true if a friend is one who shares the journey. The annual Rimini Meeting (for friendship among peoples) has for more than 30 years been an encounter of faith for people who travel from around the world, united by the deep sense that there must be something more.
It is impossible to communicate here the beauty and power of this gathering. To see thousands of people, many in their 20’s & 30’s crowding a lecture hall to hear abbot general of the Cistercian Order, don Mauro Giuseppe Lepori, or to sit in a room with just under 10,000 others hearing Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of the Holy Land Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa reflect powerfully on the theme of this year’s meeting: “All that you have, bequeathed you by your father, earn it in order to possess it”.
Many of these people from around the world have discovered the power of the original method of faith centred on the person of Jesus Christ who is God-with-us. The freedom that they experience in this relationship has enabled them to move to every periphery without fear. In 1969 the future Pope Benedict wrote of this:
“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticise others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon people, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by people, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality.