Encounter fosters community, helps young, old look at reality with faith

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Anna Capizzi

NEW YORK (CNS) — This year’s
New York Encounter drew a crowd of 10,000 for a three-day cultural gathering of presentations,
exhibits and performances centered on the theme “Reality has never betrayed

What struck first-time
participant Giovanna Maiello
was the “bridge of intellectual and heart and life” that allowed her to “enter
into these talks and feel like you can really get a lot out of it for your own
personal journey, your own faith life.”

The Jan. 13-15 public event, now
in its ninth year, was organized by the Catholic lay movement Communion and
Liberation and held at the Metropolitan Pavilion.

Maiello told Catholic News
Service that she hoped to take away “little things” that “help me to realign my mind
back to the right reality.” How to be a sound consumer, for instance, she said,
referring to Carolyn Woo’s comments during a panel discussion, “Economy With a
Truly Human Purpose: Is it Possible?”

Woo, the former president and
CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said, “We underestimate our power as
consumers,” pointing to the need for informed choices even with small purchases
like shrimp or seafood, whose industry has “a lot of slave labor embedded” into

Another panel — “An American
Dream … Come True!” — highlighted the lives of saints with historical roots in
North America, like St. Katharine
Drexel and the eight North
American martyrs, who include St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and
St. Charles Garnier.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan recounted the life of St. Damien of Molokai, the 19th-century Belgian missionary who ministered to people with
Hansen’s disease in Hawaii before dying of the disease. The cardinal also spoke of Detective Steven
McDonald, the New York City police officer who was shot and paralyzed 30
years ago, and forgave his assailant. He died Jan. 10. McDonald, the cardinal said, “teaches us
that saints are for now.”

The weekend brought together a
range of ages. Anujeet Sareen,
father of eight and member of the Communion and Liberation movement, brought a
group of middle schoolers from Pennsylvania. The aim, he said, “is getting them
to use their reason. What did you see? Why was it interesting? What did you
take away from it?”

For middle school, high school and
college students, “ultimately the purpose,” Sareen explained, “is to say, look,
whatever faith we’ve commuted to you as your parents, you have to start to make
it your own.”

The way to do this, at Encounter
and beyond, he said, is through connecting youth with experiences in their
lives, music, movies, and getting them to discuss those experiences with their
peers and other adults. Otherwise, “it’s not going to stick.”

That method originates from the
approach of Father Luigi
Giussani, who founded the Communion and Liberation movement in 1954 in Italy, when he saw a
need for high school students to take ownership of their faith and see its
relevance in their everyday experiences. The movement is now headed by Father Julian Carron.

The theme of the weekend — “Reality has never betrayed me”
— “speaks to all of us,” said Father
Jose Medina, the U.S. coordinator of Communion and Liberation.

It means “one very simple thing,
that you have to be willing and certain and eager to trust reality — meaning
the things that happen in your life — as a sign of goodness,” he told CNS. The
jump then to experiencing the goodness of God is easy because “once you
experience a sense of goodness toward you,” Father Medina said, “you recognize
it as divine.”

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who celebrated Mass along with
Archbishop Christophe Pierre,
apostolic nuncio to the United States, told CNS he comes to the New York
Encounter each year. Cardinal O’Malley’s relationship to Communion and
Liberation began through his close friend, the late Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, former U.S. leader of
the movement.

“The very name of the movement,”
Cardinal O’Malley said, “tells everything. Communion at a time when there’s so
much individualism in our country and the autonomous self is seen as the

This name, he said, “highlights
the themes that are so precious and important for the church today.” Looking at
reality with faith, said Cardinal O’Malley, “helps us to penetrate the
appearances and discover what really is authentic, what really is beautiful,
what really is true.”

John’s Gospel is filled with the
word “remain,” said Father Medina. “And that’s what we have to offer. A place
where you can remain,” he said, “a place to be and remain and be moved and

“You can tell how much it’s a
community feel, with the kids running around, all the strollers, and all the
people coming in and out,” Maiello said. “Even though I don’t know any of
them,” she admitted. “It’s very much like we’re all just one.”

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