The Hildebrand Project commenced its 2010 International Conference exploring Dietrich von Hildebrand's philosophy of love at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross on Thursday.

"This is the largest Hildebrand conference ever convened," John Henry Crosby, the young director of the Hildebrand Project, told CNA. "I think for a forgotten figure to have this much attention, finally, after so many years of general neglect ... to have this sort of attention right in the heart of Rome, that's exciting to me."

"The Christian Personalism of Dietrich von Hildebrand: Exploring His Philosophy of Love" is the title of the May 27-29 conference that has drawn participants from every continent , including non-Catholics, to Holy Cross. Crosby added that he thinks the diverse nationalities of the participants is one of the most important aspects of the conference.

The feat of gathering 300 people for a conference on von Hildebrand was so great, Crosby said, that “It's almost like the people being here matters more than what's said, they're here united by an interest and they're enthusiastic and hopefully they'll take it home."

For Crosby, the highlights of the first day's events included the fact that two people who knew von Hildebrand, Josef Seifert and Michael Waldstein, gave talks and a third who "never met him but knows him well," Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione, "energized the room" with his words on von Hildebrand's philosophy.

The Hildebrand Project director reflected on the conference's ability to bring together a variety of philosophical ideas, calling it "a milestone of intellectual relations within the Catholic world," which he hopes will result in the spread of von Hildebrand's ideas throughout the world.

To carry on the effects of the conference, Crosby said the Legacy Project has the goal of encouraging partner organizations to invite its speakers to give their talks again in other parts of the world. In that way, he said, the excitement wouldn't just be a "flash in the pan" but would be perpetuated.

The full texts of presenter's talks will all be published on the Hildebrand Project's website, which offers live feeds from Rome for the entire conference.

Speaking with CNA over lunch, John F. Crosby, the director's father and the chair of philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville, explained that the event was organized in part on "the idea that the richness of his thought is very little known and has been neglected for various reasons.

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"So," he said, "the idea in founding the legacy project was to bring his work out of this state of neglect and not just to revive it among his students but to set it in dialogue with thinkers."

After some discussion at the dinner table, the elder Crosby and the philosophy professor Josef Seifert highlighted the merits of Hildebrand's legacy in his works on the defense of purity, chastity, and his thought on transformation in Christ.

The Hildebrand Project exists, said the elder Crosby, primarily to "retrieve" this philosophical work.

As "one of the greatest philosophers of love of all time," said Seifert, Hildebrand's works contribute to "a very new and much more human and phenomenological analysis of love and of marriage, and of human sexuality, also of its meaning in marriage.”

"I think he opened up to many young people and to many people (in general), a very new positive vision on these topics, thereby also, I think, like (Pope) Wojtyla, taking care to be one of the fathers of this new theology of the body."