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This weekend’s New York Encounter: Come ‘verify that our soul is still there’ 

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The New York Encounter, a three-day cultural festival taking place Feb. 16-18, 2024, will examine the theme “Tearing Open the Sleeping Soul” with panels, exhibitions, and artistic performances. / Credit: The New York Encounter

CNA Staff, Feb 14, 2024 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

“Ultimately, the New York Encounter is just that, it’s an encounter — an event that changes you,” said Holly Peterson, an educator with the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, who helped to organize the annual three-day cultural festival taking place in New York City this weekend.

“Speaking from experience, I always come home from the New York Encounter happier than when I went. Not because I’m rested or saw New York, but because my heart has been renewed,” Peterson told CNA.

The New York Encounter, taking place Feb. 16–18, is a Catholic event unlike any other. 

Now in its 16th year, the event — which is free of charge and open to the public — attracts thousands from across the nation and around the world. 

Held at the Metropolitan Paviliion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, the event features panel discussions, artistic performances, and exhibitions that look at the issues and challenges people face today, and, in Peterson’s words, “go to the root in a radical way.”

‘Our humanity is sleeping’

The New York Encounter was founded by members of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement. This year’s Encounter has the theme ”Tearing Open the Sleeping Soul” with the subtitle “What is happening to our humanity?”

At a three-day retreat held last year, the event’s organizers shared their concerns about both world events and challenges they face in their own lives, Peterson explained. 

“There is no shortage of reasons to ponder this question: daily images of gratuitous violence; an epidemic of suicide; feeling suffocated by the imposition of opposite ideologies and their language, starting in school; the potential threat of generative AI; a sense of paralysis in front of the future; suffering and evil devoid of meaning or redemption; general weariness, malaise, numbness, and lack of desire. These signs suggest that our humanity is asleep. What can reawaken it?” reads a description of the theme on the event’s website.

This year’s scheduled panels and exhibitions, some of which will be livestreamed, consider these issues to “verify that our ‘soul’ is still there, waiting to be rekindled,” according to the event’s promotional materials.

“Last year it was very apparent that, after the pandemic and years of recovery, we were not back where we were before 2020 — the war was ongoing, there was an explosion of AI, a national mental health crisis was in full bloom, there was a huge teacher shortage, many felt disenfranchised,” Peterson told CNA.

“The Church has something to say on all of these issues, and there are people, living witnesses, who know these topics well and go to the root, in a radical way,” Peterson said, adding that they “take seriously the human experience.”

These are “people who have ‘torn open’ not only their topic, but who have something to say to the human, to the heart of the person,” she said.

Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement in the Catholic Church founded by Father Luigi Guissani in Milan in the 1960s. As a young teacher at a Catholic high school, Guissani noticed that many of his students, while baptized Catholic, had “zero” interest in the faith of their parents, favoring instead the secular political theories coming into vogue. He introduced them to a new method of thinking, one where God is revealed in everyday experiences.

“The charism of Father Giussani has educated us is to see reality as a sign,” Peterson told CNA.

“And the New York Encounter seeks to do that, to see reality as the place where God communicates to us. God calls us through signs, through what the sign invokes. In short, we have learned to take reality seriously, including issues which are sometimes painful, controversial, or seemingly profane, because at the bottom of them is something an Other gives or allows to happen to communicate to us something more,” she said. 

Attendance at the New York Encounter has grown exponentially since its founding — from 5,554 in 2015 to 15,500 in 2023. It is modeled after a meeting held in Rimini, Italy, every August attended by more than 800,000. While there are many Catholics and members of Communion and Liberation among the New York audience, the event attracts people from many different backgrounds. 

“All kinds of folks come to the Encounter — from babies in strollers to older people, from religious to lay, from Christians to nonbelievers. This is one of the unique features of the Encounter. There is no audience who is not welcomed,” Peterson said.

“The Encounter does not target any particular age group, but because of the nature of the topics — politics, the arts, literature, science, etc. — it draws people from every age group and every walk of life,” she said.

Attendees can pick and choose which panels and exhibitions they would like to attend, take time to socialize, line up to have their books signed by author-panelists, or fortify themselves with an espresso, Italian sandwich, or gelato — a nod to the event’s ties to Italy. 

In addition to the authors, scholars, experts, and artists taking part, leaders of the Catholic Church play a prominent role. This year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, will be celebrating Mass on Sunday. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston; Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S.; Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, OFM, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica; and Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, are among the weekend’s featured participants.

Here are a few highlights from the panels and exhibits scheduled for this year’s New York Encounter:

Current events:

●  Saturday, Feb. 17, at 11:30 a.m.: “A Fundamental Difference”: A close look at artificial intelligence with Jonathan Stokes of Symbolic AI and Jennifer Strong, producer of the tech podcast “Shift.”

●  Saturday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m.: “A Torn Open Wound”: A conversation on the war between Israel and Hamas and any conceivable road to peace with Shadi Hamid, columnist and editorial board member for The Washington Post, and Jacob Siegel, senior editor for the Tablet.

●  Sunday, Feb. 18, at 12:45 p.m.: “Fratelli Tutti”: A conversation on Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti encyclical with Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., and Mrs. Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

● Sunday, Feb. 18, at 2 p.m.: “An Incurable Wound?”: Eyewitness accounts of the life of Christians in the Holy Land with Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and Father Gabriel Romanelli, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza.

● Sunday, Feb. 18, at 4:15 p.m.: “Beyond Left and Right”: An exploration of the Supreme Court and its future with Stephanos Bibas, judge of the United States Court of Appeals, and Jeffrey Pojanowski, professor of law, University of Notre Dame.

Arts and language:

●  Friday, Feb. 16, at 6:30 p.m.: “A Soul Waiting to Be Reawakened”: The Encounter will be opened by creative offerings from Christian Wiman, poet, and Kuok-Wai Lio, classical pianist.

●  Saturday, Feb. 17, at 9:30 a.m.: “The Power of Language”: A presentation on the nature of language and the danger of ideologies with Andrea Moro, professor of general linguistics at the Institute of Superior Studies, Italy, and Marguerite Peeters, director of the Institute for Intercultural Dialogue Dynamics, Brussels.

●  Saturday, Feb.17, at 6 p.m.: “What Beauty Can Do to the Soul”: A conversation on the power of art to rekindle our humanity with Patrick Bringley, writer, and Jean-François Martel, author.

Education and hope:

●  Sunday, Feb. 18, at 11:30 a.m.: “Made to Be Free”: A discussion on education in light of Father Luigi Giussani’s pedagogy with Hans van Mourik Broekman, principal of Liverpool College, U.K., and Aaron Riches, professor of theology, Benedictine College.

●  Sunday, Feb. 18, at 5:30 p.m.: “From Death into Life”: Stories of forgiveness and hope with Gilbert King, journalist, and Rachel Muha, founder of the Brian Muha Foundation.

When and where is the New York Encounter?

The New York Encounter takes place this weekend, from Friday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, in New York City. Admission is free of charge, and no registration is required.

To learn more and see a complete schedule visit the website for the New York Encounter.


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