Rimini, August 26, 2017 – “Very beautiful. People who are sincere and trying to do something different. The Italy of diversity and variety. This is the new gaze in Italy.” This is the WhatsApp message sent at the end of the day yesterday by the Director of Bibliotheca Alexandria, Mostafa El Feki. A message that responds, from a distance, to Olivier Roy’s observation that, “There’s a need to open up new spaces for spirituality in Europe,” as an answer to the nihilism that generates violence. Or, as the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin reiterated today, “precisely at a time like this, when humanity is awash in violence, threats, fear and injustice, dialogue is the only strategy we can adopt. And the Church cannot fail to incarnate this strategy in word, message, entreaty and conversation.”
This was the heart of the 2017 edition of the Meeting for friendship amongst peoples, which took place from August 20-26 in the Rimini convention center. A Meeting that sought to reclaim the inheritance of its 38-year history, not with simple formulas, but with curiosity, patient encounters with others, attentiveness to diversity, and going deeper into the hot topics of the day. Including, for example, employment, in the exhibitions “Every man to his work” and “So that all may exist;” and the exhibits on contemporary art, the Custody of the Holy Land and on the “second generation” of children of immigrants. Focusing, once again, on the crisis, interpreting it in its many facets – thanks to the contribution from Luca Violante – as an opportunity for rebirth. As well as the performances that blazed new frontiers, such as the collaboration with China National Opera House for “Madame Butterfly” and the original productions, “Father and Son,” and “A Shock to the Heart.”
The 38th edition was a “vintage” year judging by content as well as numbers. The Fiera was packed (as proven by the number of sales in the food service area, which was 2,000 higher than in 2016); fundraising for the year was double that for the previous year, totaling 100,000 euros; at the exhibitions, the .mp3 audio guide files had 10,000 plays; and then, of course, the 118 talks with 327 speakers, 17 exhibitions, 14 performances with 21,000 attendees, and 31 athletic competitions. All in the 130,000 square meters of the Fiera (with 21,000 of those dedicated to food service) with the support of 2,259 volunteers, plus the 400 who worked the “pre-Meeting” from August 12-19. The communications totals were also significant: 600 accredited journalists (+20% compared to the previous year), 1478 printed articles, 1447 online, 316 TV spots and 154 on the radio, for a total of 3395 media transmissions. Social media had its own frenzy. The course of the week saw 1175 new Facebook fans for the @meetingrimini page, 515,000 unique visitors and 400,000 interactions including likes, shares and comments. Even more: 166,000 views for Facebook videos and 250,000 views on Twitter. In the area of costs, the 2017 edition of the Meeting, which receives very minimal public support, had a budget of 5,490,000 euros. The primary sources of income were corporate advertising (3.5 million euros) and earnings from food services (1,135,000 euros).
You could say that, for the Rimini Meeting, 2017 was the year of a commitment to peace. This was the underlying theme of the witnesses from Israel, Egypt and Venezuela; from Jerusalem with the witness of the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton; as well as of the prayers raised together, each in his or her own form, by people of varying religions in the space dedicated to the friendship between Msgr. Giussani and the Buddhist monk Shodo Habukawa. Peace was on the lips of the nuncio to Syria Cardinal Mario Zenari, as well as of the Director of Bibliotheca Alexandria, Mostafa El Feki, Monica Maggioni (who, with Paolo Magri, conceived of the “Walls” area of this Meeting) and President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani. And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wanted to underline that, “the world could really use a healthy dose of the spirit of the Rimini Meeting right now.”
This edition, opened with a speech from Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and described with a rousing address on its title by Apostolic Administrator to Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, had front row seats to the Vatican Secretary of State’s visit to Russia. The protagonists of that event, Metropolitan Hilarion and Cardinal Parolin, spoke in the main conference hall in Rimini on Thursday August 24 and Saturday August 26, respectively.
What was the secret of the 2017 Meeting? You could find it already in the words Pope Francis wrote in his message signed on August 20: “We do not have spaces to defend because Christ’s love knows no insurmountable limitations.” There’s nothing to defend because those leading the way are “trustworthy witnesses;” not those who offer ready-made answers, but those who help us to, “keep our eyes open to the many signs, more or less explicit, of the need for God as the ultimate meaning in life, so as to be able to offer to people a living response.”
“I want to underline this last adjective the Pope uses,” comments Emilia Guarnieri, President of the Meeting for Friendship Amongst Peoples Foundation, “because any response that is not living, that does not point out the road step by step and become a companionship of men and women together despite their differences, has nothing to say in today’s world. This is why the attention to young people called for by President Mattarella in his message to the Meeting did not devolve into the usual trite discourse on Millennials, but instead led to new initiative from our youth.”
The title of the 39th edition of the Meeting for friendship amongst peoples, which will take place in the Rimini Fiera from August 19-25, 2018, will be The forces that move history are the same that make man happy.