Photo by Margherita Daho
Upon arriving at the New York Encounter, a three-day cultural festival held in New York City each January, one is first struck by the conversations taking place; on the sidewalk outside the entrance, in the building’s vestibule, in line to check coats, clustered around the information tables, in aisles and stairways, in groups of two or seven or twenty-three, people pause in order to embrace, to update one another on joys and sorrows, or to work out dining or traveling details. What is clear is that participants know one another; they are friends.
One high school student, who had never before been to an event organized by the lay ecclesial Movement Communion and Liberation (the group to which the organizers of this cultural festival, and many of the guests, belong), exclaimed, “How does everyone know everyone else?!” In fact, some have only been introduced a moment beforehand, while others met as children and grew up together on the other side of the planet. The way that visitors to the New York Encounter know one another is not so much about acquiring superficial personal information. Rather, even before knowing the name of another person, those who are present here know that each of the others is animated by a desire for something extraordinary, something great, something infinite. This awareness is never far from the thoughts of those who gather to talk before or after the scheduled events.
To be friends with someone else means to recognize the other person’s humanity and to see, vibrating within one’s friend, a commonality. Some people build lives in common around particular similarities: the enjoyment of particular leisure activities or hobbies, sharing the same profession, or subscribing to the same political beliefs. No such common thread unites the people gathered in New York City this weekend for the largest Catholic cultural festival in the United States. They are not even all Catholic.
The only thing that these people do have in common, though, is that which they share with each human person on this planet: a heart that impels them to seek beauty, truth, love, or justice. If all people, everywhere, share these same desires, what makes this manifestation of friendship, here at the New York Encounter, seem so unusual? The difference is this: while each human being discovers, within, a need for truth, or beauty, or satisfaction, for visitors to the New York Encounter, this great desire itself is more valuable than any other possible point of connection. We know one another because we know our own need, and we can love one another because we are not afraid of this need; in fact, we treasure it. - Suzanne M. Lewis, first published here.