Meeting 2003

Ecumenism Destined to Eternity The Supreme Drama of Freedom

A Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian: Three men who answered “Yes” to Mystery’s call came to the Meeting, in an encounter that is a prophecy of the always-desired peaceful coexistence

by Giorgio Paolucci

Out-of-this-world things, here in this world. A Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian looking each other in the eyes. They listen to each other and seem to take each other by the hand. They recount “their” happiness, not in order to theorize it, but to testify to it to those who, like the people at the Meeting, have placed the experience of happiness at the center of attention in one week in August in order to hold onto it for the whole year. What unfolds in the overflowing, quiet auditorium is not an encounter among theologians, with each one intent on reeling off the foundations of his own religious doctrine, each one reiterating the rightness and superiority of his own positions. On the speakers’ dais are three men measuring themselves against a demanding question: Why am I happy to be Jewish, Muslim, Christian?

DAVID BRODMAN: The day of rebirth
“ We are not alone and God is close to us,” said Rabbi David Brodman, Director of the Savyon Center near Tel Aviv. “Happiness is the fact that we are God’s people, that we Jews every day are close to the Mighty One and He is close to us.” The recitation of the Psalms that accompanies every moment of life renews this certainty and comforts those who have undergone persecution for centuries with King David’s words, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because You are with me.” The companionship of “God with us” is engraved deep in Brodman’s memory. Moved, he remembers his deportation at the age of 7 with his family, and his young mother who every night before going to bed, in the hell of the concentration camp, would ask him the same question, “David, have you recited the Psalms yet?” “My mother is the example of a simple woman, not a student of theology, not particularly learned, but a woman who lived her faith in the Lord, no matter what happened.”
The reasons of the Mighty One are difficult to understand, often unknown even to the prophets, and the Bible is full of men who ask, “Why? Why?” Israel’s consolation lies in discovering that God does not abandon the people He has chosen. “We know that the Lord is merciful and has a purpose, and in the end we shall understand his reasons.” But there is not only the wait for the future, but also a present to be enjoyed: this is the Sabbath, the day of rebirth on which Jews stop, talk, sing, and learn from each other. And the rabbi dreams of sitting the 7,000 people listening to him down at the table set with this joy. He embraced them with these words, “I would like to invite you all to take part in a Sabbath–I have to ask my wife if she agrees!–but it would be beautiful. This does not mean that I am trying to make you understand that your life is not the right one.” Brodman did not hide the fact that “for thousands of years we have fought, there have been wars, we have tried to convince our counterparts that we were the best. It is a miracle of our day that now we can accept the other, just as he is, without making compromises with our own faith.” He concluded with a prophecy that brings a shiver these days, “With God’s help and with our help, a day will come in which we and Islam will be friends. We will talk with each other and together, all together, we will be among those welcoming the kingdom of God when the Messiah comes.”

ALI QLEIBO: Happiness dwells in hearts
Where do we find the happiness of Ali Qleibo, a Muslim and a teacher at Al Quds University in Jerusalem? It is not found in books or the tradition; it is something that dwells in hearts. It is living in God’s grace; it is thinking that everything we receive comes from God–a good harvest, a good wife, children. It is feeling satisfied inside because, as a saying goes that is placed at the entrance of houses in Islamic countries, “To have a feeling of satisfaction is an inexhaustible treasure.” We have to know God in order to answer the invitation the Mystery extends to man, as is written also in the Koran: “Remember me so that I can see you. I am very close to you and I listen to everyone who calls me.” It is through signs that we can recognize the presence of God; it is in the sign that reason intuits that there is Something that goes beyond reason, “and with this reason that has been given to us, we make choices; happiness lies precisely in succeeding in staying faithful to the decisions, the choices we have made, remaining at the same time in God’s grace.”

GIANCARLO CESANA: Embraced by the Mystery
The great question, then, is being able to look the Mystery in the face, to have Him as your traveling companion, to be able to perceive at least His whisper, and from that whisper to arrive at being embraced by His presence, which passes through the flesh of the embraces of those who care for our destiny. Cesana has no doubt about “the meaning of life that I perceive in a concrete embrace, in the embrace of Fr Giussani, my wife, my children, of those whom I have found surprisingly as companions at work, because it is companionship in life.” When we hold each other close with truth, we perceive that there is a third person, an Other who makes that relationship true, who injects into that gesture an energy stronger than the physicality of which we are capable and that, left to itself, risks exhausting itself or harming us. Experience shows that “we cannot love man if we do not love God; otherwise, that embrace suffocates us. This is the experience of so many who embrace and, at the same time, stop breathing. The true embrace, the embrace of someone in love, is the embrace of someone who perceives in the presence of the other, in the communion of the other with his own life, the infinite for which he strives, and then the world opens wide.” But this does not mean that pain is abolished, that evil is eliminated from the earth. Reality remains harsh and often it turns ferociously against us; it forces us to clash with the hostilities we would never wish to meet, with a pain that we cannot explain. But precisely this pain becomes a cry, as in Cesana’s words: “Pain makes us understand that we did not make ourselves, that we did not make the world; an Other did. And Christ testifies to us that God became like man, suffered like man, in order to tell him: even if you suffer I will make you whole, I will put you back together.”
This consolation about the meaning and outcome of human existence is what enables us to look with a new gaze both at our person and at the person next to us, even when he seems far away, even when he does not think like we do, even when everything around us seems to be plotting in favor of violence, just as is happening in the land where Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lived together for centuries. Thus, the words with which Cesana ended his testimony, looking at Rabbi Brodman and Professor Ali Qleibo, seem to go beyond even the thick armor of the political analyses on the Middle East to indicate the only direction in which it is possible to move with realism, the direction that leads to a Fourth who can fulfill the expectations of the three who spoke in the auditorium: “The hope for fulfillment that I have in me increases my desire to be in unity with them, in unity with everyone, because it is not God who wants war. And if man seeks God, he no longer wages war, but can do without it. We are not in the world in order to be right; we are in the world in order to love.”