The 30th Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples was the largest of its kind this year, with an attendance of nearly 800,000 and a lineup of speakers looking like a “who’s who” of the Church and international politics.
Among the 300 speakers at the Aug. 22-29 event hosted by Communion and Liberation were Cardinals Carlo Caffarra of Bologna and Antonio Maria Ruoco Varela of Madrid, presidents Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, Robert George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, also delivered speeches, along with many Italian politicians, including Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti.
All spoke on a subject related to “Knowledge Is Always an Event” — a theme that pointed to the need to recognize “the profound relationship that exists between one’s experience and culture,” according to Alberto Savorana of the Italian Foundation for Subsidiarity, a think tank.
The event, he said, aimed to help participants “reawaken a journey toward knowledge, not with abstract explanations, but through an encounter with people who are familiar with reality in a different way.”
Giorgio Vittadini, founding president of the foundation, observed that a major part of the reason for the financial crisis was that knowledge in the form of economic theories was too abstract and far removed from reality.
Economics professor Stefano Zamagni, a contributor to Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), argued in the context of the meeting that the principle of subsidiarity (the idea, originating in Catholic doctrine, that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks that cannot be performed at a more local level) should evolve into a “principle of fraternity.”
Glendon spoke of “elementary experience” as the root of human rights, while Nobel Prize-winning scientist John Mather and others showed the importance of “widening reason.”
Many speakers referred to the Holy Father’s social encyclical, with Tremonti saying its political merit lay in its emphasis on the diversity of society and the centrality of the human person, which could represent “a political road map” for the future.
On Aug. 27, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a keynote speech to a packed auditorium of several thousand people who gave him a rousing reception.
In a speech filled with rhetorical flourishes, he spoke of how, as prime minister, he tried to roll back the state to empower individual enterprise and volunteer groups. He called on European Catholics to stand up for their Judeo-Christian heritage, and he praised the role of faith groups in bringing about peace.
He also credited his wife, Cheri, for his recent conversion. However, he avoided mentioning life issues, perhaps because he supported policies on abortion, fatal research on human embryos and same-sex unions when he was prime minister. The fact was noted by George.
“The policies enacted by Tony Blair pertaining to the right of every human being to the protections of the law were reprehensible,” George said after Blair’s speech. “It is shocking that Tony Blair did not renounce these policies and express regret for them before being publicly received into the Catholic Church.
“It is even more shocking that he has, since being received into the Church, given every indication that he continues to support policies that result in the destruction of innocent human beings in the embryonic and fetal stages of development in vast numbers.”
George also was “a bit shocked” at the movie-star reception Blair received, attributing it to the audience supposing that Blair accepted the Church’s teaching at his reception ceremony.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s speech was less rhetorical, but all the clearer and direct for being so.
He issued a strong attack on the spending proposals of the Obama administration, warning that the government’s policies will enlarge the role of the state at the expense of personal freedom. He then suggested subsidiarity as the alternative to high fiscal spending and gave as examples three highly successful faith and community-based initiatives he developed when he was governor of Florida from 1998 to 2006.
He also cited the family as a better welfare system than the government’s trillions-of-dollars spending plans. “An alternative approach recognizes that the family is the most important political organization ever created,” he said to loud applause. “In fact, if wholesome family life were the norm in the U.S., a significant amount of the demands placed on government would evaporate.”
Bush, also a convert, said the meeting had been “amazing” and an honor to attend, adding that it would be “wonderful” to have a similar Communion and Liberation event in the United States.
“There are people there who are starving for a higher purpose in their life, so I congratulate the founders of this movement and this meeting, and I hope the United States plays a greater role,” he said.
It was put to him whether his brother, former President George W. Bush, might appear at a future meeting, and perhaps as a Catholic.
“That would be a great thing, but you won’t see him here as a Catholic — he’s pretty comfortable with his Methodist faith,” he said. “I’d like him to come here, though. It would be fun.”
Communion and Liberation announced that the theme for 2010 will be “That Nature Which Moves Us to Desire Great Things Is the Heart.”
The meeting’s organizers called the event an “authentic miracle” in a final communiqué, and they paid tribute to the nearly 4,000 volunteers who made it possible.
The organizers said the event served to show that “the journey of knowledge is not initiated by abstract speeches and explanations, but in the meeting of persons who know the real in a new and attractive way, because such a meeting is charged with a promise of truth and goodness.”
Edward Pentin writes