On the occasion of the Annual Meeting for Friendship among Peoples, which normally opens in the Italian city of Rimini (but this year is being streamed out of COVID precautions),” Pope Francis sent a message, through the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, to the Bishop of Rimini, Francesco Lambiasi. Here is a ZENIT working translation of the message:
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From the Vatican, August 5, 2020
To His Most Reverend Excellency
Monsignor Francesco Lambiasi
Bishop of Rimini
Most Reverend Excellency,
The Holy Father wishes to express through you his good wishes for the good outcome of the 41st edition of the “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples,” which will be held primarily in a digital form. Pope Francis assures his closeness and prayer to the organizers and to all those that will take part.
Who has not found himself united to others by the dramatic experience of the pandemic? We have realized that we are in the same boat, all fragile and disoriented. The storm unmasks our vulnerability and leaves uncovered those false and superfluous securities with which we constructed our agendas, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows how ee have left asleep and abandoned what nourishes, supports, and gives strength to our life” (Francis, Extraordinary Moment of Prayer, the courtyard of St. Peter’s Basilica, March 27, 2020).
This year’s title, “Devoid of Wonder, We Remain Deaf to the Sublime” (A.J. Heschel, God in Search of Man, Turin, 1969, 274), offers a precious and original contribution in a vertiginous moment of history. In the search for goods more than for the good, many relied exclusively on their own strength, on the capacity to produce and earn, giving up that attitude that in a child constitutes the fabric of its gaze on reality: wonder. In this connection, G.K. Chesterton wrote: “The schools and the most hermetic sages have never had the gravity that rests in the eyes of a three-month-old baby. His is the gravity of wonder in the face of the universe, and this wonder isn’t mysticism but rather transcendent good sense (L’Imputato, Turin, 2011, 113).
There comes to mind Jesus’ invitation to become like children (cf. Matthew 18:3), but also the wonder in face of being, which constituted the principle of Philosophy in ancient Greece. It is this wonder that sets and restarts life, enabling it to begin again in any circumstance. ”It’s the attitude to have because life is a gift that gives us the possibility to begin again always,” said Pope Francis, emphasizing them the need to reacquire wonder to live. “Life without wonder becomes grey, routine; so does faith. And the Church also has the need to renew the wonder of being the dwelling of the living God, Bride of the Lord, Mother that generates children” (Homily, January 1, 2019).
In the past months, we have experienced that dimension of wonder, which takes on the form of compassion in the presence of suffering, of fragility, of the cord of wonder. How can one not experience the original sentiment of the precariousness of our existence? This noble human sentiment drove doctors and nurses to face the grave challenge of the Coronavirus with strenuous dedication and loving commitment. The same rich sentiment of affection for their students enabled many teachers to accept the effort of distance learning, ensuring the conclusion of the scholastic year. And it also enabled many to rediscover in faces and in the presence of family members the strength to face hardships and difficulties.
In this connection, the theme of the forthcoming Meeting is a powerful call to sink into the depths of the human heart through the cord of wonder. How can one not experience an original sentiment of wonder before the spectacle of mountain scenery, or listening to music that makes the soul vibrate, or simply in face of the existence of a loved one or the gift of creation? Wonder is truly the way to receive the signs of the sublime, namely, of that Mystery that constitutes the root and foundation of all things. In fact, “not only man’s heart is presented as a sign, but also the whole reality. To question oneself in the face of the signs and extremely human capacity is necessary, the first we have as man and women: wonder, the capacity to be amazed, as Giussani called it. Wonder alone knows” (J.M. Bergoglio, in A. Savorana, Vita di Don Giussani, Milan, 2014, 1034). Therefore, J.L. Borges was able to say: “All emotions pass, wonder alone remains” (The Desert and the Labyrinth).
If this gaze isn’t cultivated, one becomes blind in face of existence: closed in oneself, one remains attracted by the ephemeral and ceases to question the reality. Even in the desert of the pandemic, often dormant questions re-emerged: what is the meaning of life, of pain, of death? “Man cannot be content with reduced or partial answers, obliging himself to censure or forget some aspect of the reality. Within him, he has a longing for the infinite, an infinite sadness, a nostalgia that is only extinguished with an equally infinite answer. Life would be an absurd desire if this answer didn’t exist” (J.M. Bergoglio, in Vita di Don Giussani, cit., 1034).
Different people were driven to the search for answers or even only questions on the meaning of life, to which we all aspire, even without being aware of it. Thus something happened that was apparently paradoxical: instead of slaking the most pronounced thirst, the confinement reawakened in some the capacity to wonder in face of people and facts at first taken for granted. Such a dramatic circumstance restored, at least for a bit, a more genuine way of appreciating existence, without that complex of distractions and preconceptions that pollutes the eyes, blurs things, empties wonder, and distracts from asking who we are.
At the height of the health emergency, the Pope received a letter, signed by several artists, who thanked him for having prayed for them during a Mass at Saint Martha’s. On that occasion, he said: “Artists make us understand what beauty is, and without beauty, the Gospel cannot be understood” (Morning Meditation, May 7, 2020). How decisive the experience of beauty is to reach truth was demonstrated, among others, by theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar: “In a world without beauty goodness also loses its force of attraction, the evidence of its having to be fulfilled; and man remains perplexed in face of that and wonders why he must not, rather, prefer evil. This also constitutes a possibility, even much more exciting. In a world that believes itself no longer capable of affirming the beautiful, the arguments in favor of truth have exhausted the force of the logical conclusion: the process that leads to the conclusion is a mechanism that no longer implicates anyone, and the conclusion itself no longer concludes” (Gloria I, Milan, 2005, 11).
Therefore, the theme that characterizes the Meeting poses a decisive challenge to Christians, called to witness the profound attraction that the faith exercises by dint of its beauty: “the Jesus attraction,” according to a dear expression of the Servant of God Luigi Giussani. In connection with education to the faith, the Holy Father wrote about it in what is regarded as the programmatic document of his pontificate: “All expressions of genuine beauty can be recognized as a path that helps to encounter the Lord Jesus. If, as Saint Augustine affirms, we only love what is beautiful, the Son made man, revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable, and He attracts us to Himself with bonds of love. Therefore it is necessary that formation in the via pulchritudinis is inserted in the transmission of the faith” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 167).
Hence the Pope invites you to continue to collaborate with him in witnessing the experience of the beauty of God, who made Himself flesh so that our eyes should be astounded on seeing His face and our eyes find in Him the wonder of living. It’s what Saint John Paul II said one day, the centenary of whose birth we observed a short while ago: “It’s worthwhile to be man, because You, Jesus, were man” (Homily, April 15, 1984). Is this not perhaps the astounding discovery the greatest contribution that Christians can offer to support men’s hope? It’s a task from which we cannot exempt ourselves, especially in this hairpin turn of history. It’s the call to be transparencies of the beauty that changed life, concrete witnesses of the love that saves, especially to all those that now mainly suffer.
With these sentiments, the Holy Father sends his heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to Your Excellency, and to the Meeting’s whole community, asking them to continue remembering him in their prayer. I unite my cordial greeting to his, while I confirm myself, with sentiments of distinguished respect of Your Most Reverend Excellency,
Secretary of State[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]