|01-02-2006 - Traces, n.2
Three hundred on
the Freedom Trail
by Michelle Riconscente
Historic Boston, Massachusetts, is the site of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile path linking the centuries-old buildings and parks that witnessed the birth of the American Revolution. From Faneuil Hall, America’s “cradle of liberty,” to Bunker Hill and the Boston Common, this brick and cobblestone city was home to men and women who united to risk everything for the ideal of liberty.
This January, Boston was home once again to seekers of liberty. Over three hundred CL responsibles from thirty-two states, Puerto Rico, and Canada gathered for the United States National Diaconia, following another trail to freedom signed with the provocation: “The Christian Drama is the Human Drama.”
Our 4 pm
Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete introduced the weekend, sketching the path first traveled by Apostles John and Andrew: It was 4 pm. “Like the Apostles, we too have had that encounter, we’ve had our 4 pm, otherwise we would not be here. But,” Albacete keenly inquired, “what happens at 4:01? Jesus asks them, ‘What do you want?’ This question puts us in front of the human drama, because at 4:02 each of us must respond. Above all, it is a drama about what it means to be an ‘I.’”
The following morning, many shared their judgments and experiences, sticking close to the provocation, “What do you want?” Greg, a recent college graduate, found himself questioning the meaning of work and desiring more for his life than “a successful career as an IT consultant.” Maria Teresa spoke of facing the death of a dear colleague and mentor, not content to simply “come to terms” with the situation. And Chris, highlighting the Diaconia’s theme, pointed out that, “In our culture, it’s easier to say ‘Jesus’ than to say ‘I.’”
A new civilization
A central question was posed by Paul Kotlowski, who directs youth ministry in the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, where only 4 percent of the population is Catholic. “Where I live, this phrase, ‘The Christian drama is the human drama,’ would be dismissed as Catholic gobbledy gook, because, even if it is understood, it presumes that we know what it means to be a person in a culture that spends billions of dollars to distract us from the questions, ‘Who am I?’ ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Why does this matter?’ ‘What am I searching for?’”
In response, Giorgio Vittadini thanked Paul. “He helps us understand what the true step is.” Making a parallel between how Fr. Giussani first began teaching in Milan’s high schools and how St. Benedict faced the destruction of humanity in the sixth century, Giorgio continued. “After the fall of the Roman Empire, Benedict began to rebuild the link between his own humanity and reality by asking himself, ‘What does Jesus have to do with this problem?’ without assuming he already knew the answer. Every one of us who begins to ask himself this question and to act on it begins a new civilization. St. Benedict started monasteries as places where people could begin to understand the meaning of Christianity for themselves, because without Christianity human beings don’t make sense. We, too, must ask Christ, ‘What is the meaning of everything?’ In order to build a new civilization, Jesus needs Paul, needs us, needs people who live daily life differently. The possibility that Christ is the answer for everyone depends on my ‘I,’ on whether the method is the answer to my ‘I.’ I need an answer for desire. If communities are the place where this can be asked, then they can be an answer for everyone.”
The three hundred present at the Diaconia witnessed the beginning of this new civilization that afternoon, when Boston’s Archbishop Sean O’Malley took the stage alongside The New Yorker senior editor Rick Hertzberg and high school physics teacher Fr. Jose Medina to discuss education. While the nation battles a culture war between the poles of conservatism–the censorship of desire–and liberalism–the dictatorship of desires–the crowd that packed historic Faneuil Hall witnessed a dialogue that challenged, by its very occurrence, the notion that ideology is the only way to face society’s most controversial questions. (See the box, “Public Meeting”, by Marco Bardazzi).
The beauty that formed the context for the weekend was yet another indication of the newness that is growing through the charism. Above the stage, Giotto’s tender depiction of John reclining on Jesus’ shoulder captured the attention of all, who were drawn further in by the choir’s harmonious music. Saturday evening, pianist Chris Vath introduced participants to works by Bach, Rachmaninov, and Chopin. And there were new songs to learn, composed by Fr. Rich and Riro, songs that reflect a life on the move.
Sunday evening, following a tour in below-freezing temperatures of Boston’s historic landmarks, the group was transported into the world of Dante’s Divine Comedy by Providence College professor Dr. Tony Esolen and Risk of Education Center Director Chris Bacich. The themes of community and desire ran through the presentations, underscoring the depth of human desire and the possibility to find rest in its fulfillment.
From the unity expressed in song, discussion, and activities, to the impetus to engage in life and society in the encounter with Christ through the charism, this was a gathering different from any other, that documented not only the human desire for freedom, but a lived experience of it that continues to grow with each step on the road.