Though the New York Encounter is organized by members of CL, Catholics from many different groups — or none at all — attend.
“We have people coming from Opus Dei, Schoenstatt, the Neocatechumenal Way, the Sisters of Life, the Missionaries of Charity. When you see this, you get a sense that the Church is alive,” said Tomassi, who noted that non-Catholics also attend, drawn by the conference’s focus on thought and culture as a place where humanity’s God-given desire for goodness, truth, and beauty shines forth.
‘Unafraid of reality’
As a whole, the New York Encounter takes its bearing from a quote of Pope Benedict XVI, that “the intelligence of faith has to become the intelligence of reality.”
“This is a very enigmatic statement, which means that faith in Christ generates a new person who looks at all of reality differently,” Tomassi explained. “This new person is able to be unafraid of reality because everything that is made is loved by God. We believe that all of reality is God’s.”
Pope Benedict XVI had a long-standing relationship with CL. In fact, after his recent death, it became more widely known that consecrated CL women, known as Memores Domini, had been living in his household at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery within the Vatican walls for years. Their names are Cristina, Carmella, Loredana, and Rosella. Another, Manuela, was killed after being struck by a car in 2010. Pope Benedict XVI made a public statement about it at the time, lamenting the tragic death of a dear member of his household.
“Pope Benedict was very close to Don Giussani. One of his last major events before becoming pope was to preach at Don Giussani’s funeral,” Tomassi said.
In honor of CL’s friendship with Pope Benedict, the first panel discussion, on Feb. 17, will feature poetry, music, and discussion in memory of Pope Benedict XVI, with Cardinal O’Malley as one of the panelists.
Carlo Lancellotti, a math professor at the City University of New York and member of CL’s organizing committee, explained the mission of the Encounter as “trying to learn without preconceptions.”
For CL members, the deeper one goes in their relationship with Christ, the more one becomes open to the world.
“We develop more interest in life and what is happening in the world. Everything has meaning,” Lancellotti said. “The most natural desire is to discover new things, but also within the truth of faith. The encounter with Christ makes us open to life.”
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A broad appeal
Not all of the panelists at the Encounter are Catholic.
“The idea is to find people who are experts in their field because we are open to reality. We are open to having true encounters with people whom we may not agree with,” said Fiona Holly, a librarian from Wichita, Kansas, and member of CL.
“When we invite someone to be on a panel, we want someone who helps us look at reality and see more of what’s there, more than what we normally encounter,” Tomassi added.
Another part of the New York Encounter’s mission is, according to St. Paul’s suggestion, to “test everything and retain what is good.” Conversations and exhibits at this year’s Encounter treat a myriad of topics, such as the value of work, geology, hospitality, and the implications of rising inflation.
Past speakers have included Sohrab Ahmari, previous op-ed editor for the New York Post; Christine Emba, writer for The Washington Post; Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health; and David Brooks, New York Times op-ed columnist.