Rimini in Jerusalem

A Mysterious Presence

On his return from the Meeting, Muslim Professor Ali Qleibo, of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, wrote a long article published in the local newspaper The Jerusalem Times. His encounters, the religious sense, Fr Giussani, and the hopes for peace

Professor Ali Qleibo teaches at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. At the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples in Rimini, Italy, he participated in a discussion with Rabbi Cohen, of Haifa, Israel, entitled, “Palestine: A Possible Peace.” On his return from Rimini, he wrote a series of articles for some Jerusalem newspapers. We offer here passages from the one published in The Jerusalem Times.

This year, every year and for the past twenty three years members of ‘Communion and Liberation” reunite in the religious “Meeting in Rimini”. The participants this year exceeded five hundred thousand and I was fortunate enough to be among the four hundred guests to the meeting which carried the title “The Feeling of things and The Contemplation of Beauty.”

I arrived to the conference with an essay about the “Importance of Jerusalem in Muslim Theology” for the session I was invited to center on the relevance of the Holy City for the monotheistic religions. Immediately following my arrival I understood that this was a unique religious experience that addresses itself to the discourse of the “religious feeling” as a personal inner experience.

Luigi Giussani
Father Luigi Giussani is the dominating figure in the meetings of the “Communion and Liberation”. Father Luigi was in a train on the way to Milano when he met a group of high school students–50 years ago. During his conversation and in answering their questions, he realized their ignorance in the basics of the religious sentiment specially as it touches the question of personal inner religious experience.

Soon after he quit his work as a theologian in his seminary in Milan and began working with the youth in high schools. Through teaching and sharing with the youth their existential questions, he developed his methodology using the feeling of things and the contemplation of beauty as a point of departure to religious feeling.

The Religious Choice
On my way to Bologna Father Zannoni gave me Giussani’s book, The Religious Sense. I was instructed to concentrate on chapter ten. I read chapter ten and the other chapters. The central question revolved around logic, its limits and the horizons of human knowledge to conclude that logic and experience if they indicate something this ‘thing” does not exceed being an overwhelming feeling of the presence of an “Other.”

Man is not alone in the universe. Parallel to man’s existence there is an “Other.” Experiential reality, the “things” in existence, become a point of departure towards the transcendent and the contemplation of beauty is the rational means to the sublime. Logic and rationality lead to the recognition of God and liberation is the method of bypassing all psychological, sociological, economic, political and ideological constrains.

By liberating oneself from prejudice one comes to terms with reality with a free mind and an open heart. Through “liberation” the recognition of the truth–the presence of a transcendent Other–is achieved in freedom. The religious feeling is exercised as an act of conscious choice.

That the essence of religious experience is an overwhelming feeling of a transcendent Other is not a novel idea for the Arab intellectual. The literature of the Liberal Age, specially the works of Tawfiq el-Hakim, speaks of the kernel of religious feeling as the intimation of a transcendent other. The Italian and Arabic objectives meet for both Tawfiq el-Hakim and Luigi Giussani seeking to protect the educated middle class from the danger of secularism, communism and religious fanaticism.

In his book, The Religious Sense, Luigi Giussani does not address himself directly neither to Christianity, nor to Judaism nor to Islam. Rather he turns the attention of the reader to what our author Tawfiq el-Hakim describes as the religious feeling. In Guissani’s The Religious Sense the intimation of the other as the foundation of the personal religious sentiment does not touch Christian mysteries, dogma nor theology, the proposed thesis, the logical arguments were induced to indicate the beyond with which our being is bound.

“Anxst” and Secularism
The Arab intellectual and his Italian counterpart in the twentieth century faced the same danger; the threat of secularism.

In this context in which religious doubt and existential anxiety reached its climax Luigi Giussani emerged to provide an other alternative: the religious choice. But religion could not be presented as fear of God or escape from reality. It is not a normative religion that stresses rituals and religious ceremonies.

The teachings of Giussani are neither preaching sermons. For, as he argues, the religious feeling cannot be prodded neither through fear of the day of judgement nor through the promise of eternal reward in paradise. The basis for the religious feeling is the awareness of presence of God in man, as a moral bridge between the individual and the Other; between the individual and his community and with humanity at large in a relationship built on friendship and love.

Concern about humanity
The 23rd “Meeting in Rimini” lasted for one week. The diverse cultural activities included several music concerts, art shows, sports and literary, political, economic and religious discussions. It s range included the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, TS Eliot’ poetry, Veneziano’s paintings and “Phado” recitals in a highly charged intellectual context. The religious meeting is permeated with a deep sense of concern about humanity at large that finds expression in the range of topics discussed.

Annaliza, my translator, explained that “the religious feeling” is a point of departure, “towards a more sensitive honest interaction with the totality of the human experience. The inner personal religious sentiment underlies a compassionate communion with the other.”

Father Ambrogio Pisoni further explained that love and compassion provide a constitutive aspect of the Christian mystery of the “The transcendent becoming imminent”, i.e. Jesus. For divine revelation and the “intervention” of God in history expresses in the first place the act of love, the love of God for humanity. “The Meeting of friends in Rimini”, the meeting of the members of the spiritual religious party “communion and liberation” is to a great extent a meeting with Jesus.

A totalizing presence
The idea underlying the twenty third meeting in Rimini, gives expression to the religious understanding among Giussani’s followers namely: that God’s is always present with us. (For the religious feeling is not an abstract philosophical conclusion but a totalizing presence)

The Giussani concept of religious sense places us in the kernel of religious feeling as an intimation of the Other in the Christian form; i.e. the transcendent becoming imminent in the human/divine mystical nature of Jesus Christ.

The meeting is not restricted to the moment of prayer; it is in the details of social life, at work, at home and in the street.

With Giussani we are face to face with one of the major concerns of the twentieth first century, to preserve faith in the struggle against secularism, historical materialism and fanaticism.

An original method
During one of our dialogues father Ambrogio Pisoni learned of my role in Al-Quds University in developing and coordinating the compulsory cultural course, “World Civilizations” from an anthropological perspective. I was not surprised to discover it is Giussani’s method. Through a highly varied selection of music ranging from Mozart, Shubert and Penderescki to folk Spanish and Portuguese music, literary compilations including excerpts from Sophocles to TS Eliot, and a wide range of paintings and sculpture he methodically “through the feeling of things and the contemplation of beauty” leads the individual to create room within himself for the sublime.

His ideas continue to be disseminated by his students throughout Italy. His followers in Milano or Imola, in Rimini and Bologna and in all the cities and towns meet on a weekly basis in cultural religious workshops.

In the workshop, the text, irrespective whether it is a book, a poem, a piece of music or a film is analyzed. In the discussion, individuals are encouraged to actively participate by drawing parallels between their own individual experience and the text, lead by a guide well trained in the Giussani method and in his philosophical principles. The reading is not arbitrary it is methodological.

I inquired about the financing. Father Ambrogio Pisoni told me it was all voluntary and gratuitous. Beginning with the building of the theaters and auditoriums, which are re-assembled after the week is over. The chauffeurs, the escorts, translators work voluntarily. Almost everyone is a volunteer. In everyday life they are professors and factory owners, civil workers, accountants but at the Meeting in Rimini they all cooperate voluntarily .

I felt welcome
In Rimini I felt welcome and at home as a Muslim. This acceptance is not a form a politeness .

The Catholic Church’s open-hearted acceptance of the others as equal witnesses to the Divine Presence is not prompted neither by fear nor weakness.

In Rimini being religious is not tinged with arrogance. There is no feeling of condescension or patronization of the other. The religious feeling is not used to formulate a nationalistic political identity. Moreover there is no fear or sense of threat from other religious systems. Giussani by using the religious sense as the point of departure, by methodically liberating the individual and presenting (for the catholics) Jesus and the Church as a religious option, has laid the foundation for a confident religious identity that is not threatened but that recognizes God’s presence, in different expressions cross-culturally. The Giussani method, as such, and from a religious perspective humanizes other societies.

In my meeting with His Excellency the reverend Patriarch of Jerusalem Monsignor Michel Sabbah and in the context of a discussion about problems in the homeland I suggested establishing workshops in the Giussani method that would bring together Muslim, Jewish and Christian youths. For religion, and this is the main principle, depends first and foremost on the freedom of choice. The experiencial concept of “liberation,” “the religious choice” are necessary steps in the ubiquitous presence of God within human space, the human community.

Rimini in Jerusalem
Before leaving to Jerusalem Father Zannoni joined me at breakfast. Our conversation about God, the transcendent, the imminent and Divine interventions in human history continued... I expressed my fear of leaving Rimini where peace reigns.

“Fear not,” he said,”the feelings will stay with you, you will carry the feelings to begin the next stage of work. And work has its method and it is more difficult. But do not forget that our meeting in Rimini is only the first. From now until the next meeting you will not be alone. We will be with you.”

In Jerusalem I closed myself up in isolation surrounded by the beautiful feelings its taste still lingering vividly in my memory.

“But,” I told myself, “I must leave and return to reality.”

I remembered Annaliza’s words, “The religious feeling is not an escape from life but a deeper involvement and greater sensitivity to reality. From our faith we derive the courage to face reality. Religion is not escape but total engagement and sensitivity to life as a totality.”

Hope for peace
Back in Jerusalem the war continues. I return to the bereaved Holy City suffering Israeli occupation. Hate storms within the hearts as Israelis and Palestinians satanize each other...

I return with my memory to Rimini and my friends in “Communion and Liberation” and I realize that their presence and that of Giussani in Palestine in a “Meeting in Jerusalem” is a step that would revive the hope of peace in the Holy Land.