Sunday, August 19, 2007

Destiny: Truth. Destination: Rimini.

Benedict XVI's favorite of the church's "new movements" kicked off its annual seaside conference this morning with a word of encouragement from afar and, befitting its still-increasing global profile, a more succinct message than in years past.

Held every August in the Adriatic resort town of Rimini, Comunione e Liberazione's weeklong "Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples" has long been a magnet for Italy's ecclesiastical, cultural, political and academic classes. In recent years, however -- and particularly since the election of one of its red-clad cheerleaders to the chair of Peter -- the conference's net has gotten even wider. Case in point: tucked into the lengthy days of concerts, caffè meetings, presentations and round-table discussions is a panel on American jurisprudence headlined by none other than Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Begun in Milan by the late Msgr Luigi Giussani -- whose 2005 funeral homily was preached before a packed Milan Duomo and Italy-wide TV audience by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, exactly two months before his first public liturgy as Pope -- the CL is better appreciated in practice than explorations of its foundational texts; a long-running line in church circles is that few, if any, can comprehend Don Gius' published streams of thought. In that vein, while last year's Rimini, drawing from the founder's pen, took "Reason is the need for the infinite and culminates in the longing for and the presentiment of this infinite becoming manifest" as its topic, this year's theme is the (much) more easily-approachable "Truth is the destiny for which we have been made."

The meeting's formal opening event last night was a musical on Joan of Arc (written by US composer) played over the backdrop of a 1928 silent film on the French heroine, but events kicked into full gear this morning with a Mass celebrated before a crowd of 10,000 by the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, acting as papal legate.

"In the current socio-cultural discourse," Benedict's "Vice-Pope" said in his homily, truth "has come to lose its universal value, becoming a 'relative' reference. In fact, the term 'truth' has often become equalized to that of an opinion, which then necessarily descends into the plural: there then exist many truths, many opinions which are often quite different. Sometimes one has the impression that, in the climate of relativism and skepticism that pervades our civilization, this has the effect of proclaiming a radical distrust in the possibility of knowing the truth."

Bertone contrasted his perception of modernity with the Sunday reading's recounting of the prophet Jeremiah who, he said, preached "not a truth of compromise or of comfort, an opportunistic truth, but the truth for its own sake, a truth correlated precisely to the divine will, however uncomfortable."

"The one who hears hears God, the one who clashes places himself against God," he said, comparing Jeremiah's consignment to the cistern to the crucifixion of Jesus "for having given testimony to the truth."

In its coverage, the Italian press has focused more intensely on Bertone's post-liturgy press conference, where he made comments underscoring the moral imperative on paying taxes. The issue was raised amidst calls by the separatist leader Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League party, for a "tax strike" as a protest against the government of Premier Romano Prodi.

The Pope's ties to the cielini -- as the CL's adherents are known -- run far and deep. Four laywomen of the movement's communal arm, the Memores Domini, comprise the household staff of the papal apartment, and one of the women leads Benedict and the others of the household in the weekly "School of Community" catechesis every Saturday.

Meeting with a St Peter's Square-ful of cielini in March to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Holy See's recognitio of the Comunione's statutes, the pontiff praised Giussani as his "true friend," through whom "the Holy Spirit raised in the Church a Movement -- yours -- that would witness to the beauty of being Christian in an age when the opinion was spreading that Christianity is a difficult and oppressive way to live."

Further underscoring his ringing endorsement of it as his "model" ecclesial movement, Benedict said that the CL "offers a profound way of life and it actualizes the Christian faith."

The Pope said that "the Pope still wants yet again to repeat that the original pedagogical intuition of Communion and Liberation lies in reproposing the Christian event within contemporary culture in a fascinating and harmonious way, perceived as a font of new values and able to orient one's entire existence."

And with a line like that, you can tell he's read Giussani.

At the close of today's Angelus, Benedict offered his closeness in prayer to the Rimini gathering, confident that it will enhance awareness of "the most profound vocation of man: to be a seeker of truth and, thus, a seeker of God."