The Event of A People

Riro, one of the New York Encounter organizers, shares the work and the beauty of the New York Encounter and its 2023 theme.

The New York Encounter is an amazing adventure culminating in a weekend that for thousands becomes an experience of gratitude, joy, and hope. As tiring as it can be, I always say that the NYE weekend is the one I expect the most, the one I enjoy the most, the one that inevitably cheers my soul and puts a smile on my face despite my grumpiness and even through all the challenges and the stumbling blocks which pop up constantly during the event. Why so? Because there is beauty everywhere. There is beauty in the care with which the venue, the stage, and the exhibits are prepared. There is beauty in the richness and depth of the theme and the program. But more than anything else, there is beauty in the faces of the people of the Encounter – in particular in the volunteers, who are the body and soul of the Encounter.

People come because the Encounter is contagious, and if you come you will see, and what you see will touch you. That is true also for our guests who find themselves immersed in something they have never seen before, embraced “completely and unconditionally”, to use Fr. Giussani’s words. Being at the Encounter might even change you if you keep your eyes and your heart open. It is the “event of a people”, as a dear friend calls it.

What you see when you arrive at the Metropolitan Pavilion is just the tip of the iceberg, the final fruit of long months of work which begins like a seed and step by step snowballs into an avalanche of more than 400 people volunteering their time, energy, and creativity. Giving their time and energy for what? For the work of Another. Giussani used to tell us that creativity comes from belonging. This is what makes us protagonists of something so visibly bigger than us. The New York Encounter is indeed the work of Another. The human glory of Christ becomes visible through our work. As a young friend said a few days ago, the Encounter's purpose is to witness a new life to the world, to witness Christ present among us.

Establishing “The Theme” of the Encounter is the first step in the year-long journey of building each new edition. The theme is the cornerstone around which the whole event is built. To establish it, twenty friends gather during a weekend in the spring to share our lives and understand what is going on around us and in our own hearts: questions, challenges, doubts, uncertainties, problems, and tragedies – the cry of the world, the cry of our heart.

The cry of the world becomes the first step of our journey. As we wrote this year, looking at what is happening with openness, tenderness, and the intelligence that comes from the charism that has embraced us. “Two years of pandemic have shown that the image of the self-made man cannot address the growing lack of motivation among young people and the silent epidemic of loneliness and mental illness”. In the face of this, today’s “big words” – ‘diversity’, ‘equity’, ‘inclusion’ – are completely powerless, and we are puzzled by new phenomena like the “great resignation”, the rise of influencers, and the spread of cryptocurrencies. And also, of course, the war.

Every conference, exhibit, and presentation is an attempt to understand the factors at play in our reality, and we do that by bringing among us those who are ‘searchers’ and ‘adventurers’; people who are living and doing their job with “an infinite longing for the Infinite”; people who are trying to respond to the cry of the world as well as their own. We invite them to share with us signs of hope, experiences of rebirth, works of love, and testimonies of lives changed, made new by an encounter. How do we do that? We simply knock at doors and extend an invitation to scientists, writers, economists, politicians, artists, religious figures, and ordinary people with extraordinary lives.

This time is given to test everything and retain what is good – because the other, no matter where he comes from and what he believes in, is a precious gift. We do all that with the awareness that we have received a lot, and we are called to give back.

Riro, St. Cloud, MN