On the occasion of the 40th annual Meeting for Friendship among Peoples, which opened Sunday in the Italian city of Rimini on the theme “Your name was born from what you gaze upon,” Pope Francis sent a message, through the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, to the Bishop of Rimini, Francesco Lambiasi. The meeting closes later this week.
Here is a ZENIT working translation of the message:
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To His Most Reverend Excellency,
Monsignor Francesco Lambiasi, Bishop of Rimini
On the occasion of the 40th Meeting for Friendship Among People, I am pleased to send the greetings and best wishes of the Supreme Pontiff to you, the organizers, volunteers and all those who will take part in it.
The theme chosen this year is taken from a poem by St. John Paul II, referring to St. Veronica, who makes her way through the crowd to dry the face of Jesus on the Way of the Cross: “Your name was born from what you gaze upon” (K. Wojtyła, “III. The Name”, in Id., Tutte le opere litterarie, Milan 2001, 155). Servant of God, Don Luigi Giussani, thus commented on this poetic verse: “Let us imagine the crowd, Christ passing with the cross, and her staring at Christ and opening a gap in the crowd, looking at him. Everyone looks at her. She who had no face, was a woman like the others, she acquired a name, that is a face, a personality in history, for which, we are still remembering, for what she was staring at. […] To love, is to affirm the other “(La Convenienza Umana della Fede, Milan 2018, 159-160).
“He was looked at and then he saw; […] if he had not been looked at, he would not have seen “(St. Augustine, Discorsi, 174, 4.4), says St. Augustine about Zacchaeus. This is the truth that the Church has been announcing to man for 2000 years. Christ loved us, He gave his life for us, for each of us, to affirm our unique and unrepeatable face. But why is it so important that today, this announcement resound again? Because so many of our contemporaries fall under the blows of life’s trials, and find themselves alone and abandoned.
They are often treated as statistics numbers. Think of the thousands of individuals who flee wars and poverty every day: first of all, they are faces, people, names and stories. We must never forget it, especially when the culture of waste marginalizes, discriminates and exploits, threatening human dignity.
How many are forgotten and urgently need to see the face of the Lord in order to find themselves again! The man of today often lives in insecurity, walking as if groping, alien to himself; he seems to have no more consistency, so much so, that he easily lets himself be gripped by fear. But then, what hope can there be in this world? How can man find himself, and hope? He cannot do it only through reasoning or strategy. Here then is the secret of life, that which brings us out of anonymity: to fix our gaze on Jesus’ face and become familiar with Him. Looking at Jesus purifies our sight and prepares us to look at everything with new eyes. Meeting with Jesus, looking at the Son of Man, the poor and the simple found themselves, they felt loved deeply by a love without measure.
Let’s think of in the book I promessi sposi when ‘the Innominato’ is found before Cardinal Federigo, who embraces him: “The Innominato, melting from that embrace, covered his eyes again with one hand, and, raising his face, together they exclaimed:” God [is] really great! God [is] really good! I know myself now “(A. Manzoni, I promessi sposi , Milan 2012, 481). We too have been looked at, chosen, embraced, as the prophet Ezekiel reminds us in the wonderful allegory of the love story with his people: “You were the daughter of strangers, you had been put aside; but I have passed and I have cleaned you and taken you with me “(Ezek 16). We too were “foreigners”, and the Lord came, gave us an identity and a name.
In an age where people are often faceless, anonymous figures because they have no one, to lay their eyes on, the poetry of Saint John Paul II reminds us that we exist because we are in relationship. Pope Francis loves to emphasize this by referring to the Gospel of Matthew, his original vocation: “One day like any other, while he was sitting at the tax collection desk, Jesus went by and saw him, came up and said to him: “Follow me.” And he got up and followed Him. Jesus looked at him. What a force of love the gaze of Jesus had to move Matthew as he did! What strength those eyes must have had, to make him stand up! […] Jesus stopped. He did not pass by hastily, but looked at him without haste, looked at him in peace. He looked at him with eyes of mercy; looked at him like no one had looked at him before. And that look opened his heart (Homily, Plaza de la Revolución, Holguín [Cuba], 21 September 2015).
This is what makes the Christian a presence in the world different from all others, because it brings the announcement of which – without knowing it -men and women of our time are more thirsty: it is among us, the One who is the hope of life. We will be “original” if our face is the mirror of the face of the Risen Christ. And this will be possible if we grow in the awareness to which Jesus invited His disciples, like that time after having sent them on mission: “The 72 returned full of joy” for the miracles performed; but Jesus says to them: “Rejoice rather because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20-21). This is the miracle of miracles. This is the origin of the profound joy that nothing and no one can take away from us: our name is written in the heavens, and not for our merits, but for a gift that each of us received with Baptism. A gift that we are called to share with everyone, without exception. This means being missionary disciples.
The Holy Father Francis hopes that the Meeting will always be a hospitable place, where people can “assign faces,” experiencing their own unmistakable identity. It is the most beautiful way to celebrate this anniversary, looking forward without nostalgia or fears, always supported by the presence of Jesus, immersed in His body which is the Church. The grateful memory of these four decades of hard work and creative apostolic work can arouse new energies, for the witness of faith open to the vast horizons of contemporary urgencies.
His Holiness invokes the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary and, from his heart, sends his Apostolic Blessing to Your Excellency and to the entire community of the Meeting.
I add my personal good wishes and take advantage of the circumstance to confirm to you, my sense of distinct homage.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Secretary of State[Original text: Italian] [Working Translation by ZENIT Sr Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov]