by Meghan Berneking
In talking with others, I understood right away that none of us knew what to expect. But at the invitation of a friend, we decided to ‘come and see.’ The presentations were all very beautiful, but many of us were particularly struck by the discussion, on Saturday afternoon, about St. Francis and the Sultan, which featured Imam Mohamed Arafat, Mark Danner, and Sr. Agnes Therese Davis, TOR. To see a Catholic sister and Muslim Imam on the same stage in small town Ohio was almost surreal. But what was more interesting was their shared desire to follow the examples of those who came before as a path to mutual understanding and friendship. In the encounters throughout the weekend--both in the presentations and in the meetings with others who were there--I understood that authentic friendship is quite rare in our culture, but when one does meet a true friend, nothing is more interesting. For me, personally, the Festival of Friendship was a sign of this great Encounter in my life. My 10-year high school reunion was the same weekend, and I was debating whether I should go to that instead. But the choice to go to the Festival was obvious, not only because the proposal is more interesting, but attending the Festival was an affirmation and verification of the great gift that I've received by encountering the Movement. Attending the Festival was a gesture of gratitude for me, and of the hope that is born in this friendship…I was so impressed by [the volunteers’] attitude this weekend. It was very clear that [they] were grateful for whatever was given for the Festival. I think if I had been in [the same] situation, I would not have had the courage to invite my friends to travel and share their witness; I would have been frustrated by all the ways it perhaps didn't meet my expectations, or by which friends could or could not attend. But it became clear to me that you all had encountered an interesting proposal for life that you simply desired to share with your friends that you live with every day in Steubenville. And to me, that is a more remarkable witness than if 1,000 people had turned up to hear a talk.
This excerpt first appeared in a collection of testimonies about the 2016 Festival of Friendship. Read the entire thing (and see lots more photos, including of Rebecca Bratten Weiss) here.