Eyecrush Productions was proud to present the Pittsburgh premiere of their film, Under the Flower, as a wonderful conclusion to the 2017 Festival of Friendship.

The film began as the brainchild of Franciscan University of Steubenville student Hank Meldrum and alumnus Lilianna Meldrum Serbicki, a brother and sister team. Meldrum asked Serbicki to write a screenplay for him, and the two were joined by director and classmate Giovanni Stroik to create the largest independant film ever produced by students at the university.

The film became “a labor of love,” said costume designer Maria Perez. About 30 students in the cast and crew gave up sleep and comfort to get most of the filming done within a single week.

Their hard work paid off stunningly. The film features beautiful shots of the characters and creative uses of movement and color. The plot centers around the main character Jane, as she works through her conflicting thoughts personified in the anxious Simon and apathetic Celeste.

Serbicki said the film is about unity, the “integration of all the parts of ourselves.” Meldrum said the theme was very much “like a family… like the Church as well;” as different parts come together to create a whole, each works in unity to create something bigger and better than the individual.

The team of students, many of whom are studying theater or communication arts, said they were excited to get hands-on experience in the field and a chance to apply the theories and techniques they’ve learned in class. Stroik said the project gave many of them a renewed “passion” to take back into the classrooms.

Eyecrush Productions is putting the finishing touches on their creation, and plans to present it in film festivals in the near future. Under the Flower is certainly not a film to miss.

The Beauty of Labor

October 4, 2017

by Maggie Pawsey


Exploring the beauty of labor, Mayela Cabrera and Linus Meldrum presented on the exhibition “Men and Women at Work in the Paintings of Jean-François Millet.”

The exhibition originally took place in Italy, and Cabrera shared her experiences presenting it again in New York. Many of Millet’s paintings center around “highlighting the toil of those who work the land,” Cabrera explained. The 19th century French painter saw toil as a part of life, not something to object to or complain about, but to find meaning in. “Life is toil,” Cabrera said of Millet’s work, “but there is also drama, a drama surrounded by splendor.”

Many of the paintings portray the sacredness of work and the beauty to be found in someone doing the task given to them. Cabrera and Meldrum both emphasized a quote from Millet, who said, “Beauty does not reside in the face, it radiates from the whole figure… It lies in the harmony between a person and his or her industry.” Nothing was more beautiful than the simplicity of a mother taking care of her child, or a farmer planting seeds. Cabrera explained that to Millet, “Work… is men obeying Christ.”

Meldrum, giving his personal reflections on Millet, said that he was touched by the “sparkle” in the paintings that convey to the viewer, “the mysterious experience of the world around you.” Speaking from his time as a manual laborer, Meldrum connected with the working subjects of the paintings, and the dignity Millet saw in them. As he showed the audience several of the artist’s pieces, Meldrum explained that the paintings constantly return to finding the “riches of labor… gratefulness to God, for the earth.”

Pictures of the paintings and research portions of the exhibition were on display panels at the Festival of Friendship. Meldrum encouraged audience members to go see Millet’s work in person, and we extend the invitation to you, dear reader, to further explore the artist’s paintings if (and when) you see anything that strikes you.

Overcoming Human Trafficking

October 4, 2017

by Maggie Pawsey


“Desperation, poverty is a breeding ground where human trafficking survives,” said Diana Mao, President and Co-Founder of Nomi Network. The solution, then, is to combat those forces by providing victims opportunities for a better life.

In the panel discussion, “Overcoming Human Trafficking,” Mao explained that trafficking exists because of “poverty, lack of rule of law… systematic violence against women and children, and uninformed consumers buying slave-made products.” She reported an estimated 68% of raw materials are produced by some sort of slavery and said the corrupted economic system is deep and complex.

That’s where Nomi Network comes in. The organization’s vision is: “A world without slavery where every woman can be known and know her full potential.” The organization serves many people in danger of slavery, from women in sex trafficking, to survivors of domestic violence, to the poor and disabled.

Nomi Network seeks to train and enable these people to produce and sell items for fair wages. Mao said the organization also aims to rebuild the communities that foster dangerous situations because of caste systems or societal violence. She explained the network’s name invites people to “Know me. Know my story,” and to take action against trafficking.

To learn more and to shop the beautiful creations of these women, visit https://www.buyherbagnotherbody.com and nominetwork.org.

Kathleen Spinnenweber, professor of Spanish at Franciscan University of Steubenville, continued the discussion by examining a literary side of trafficking. Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was a victim of trafficking. Spinnenweber explained that Cervantes was kidnapped and held for ransom for five years, and this horrible experience made its way into Cervantes’s writings, especially the play The Trade of Algiers. Cervantes was able to escape his situation and use his voice to provoke change; change is still deeply needed in modern times, and we must hear the cries of those calling for it today.

Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee elaborated on the change we need to see. She quoted Pope Francis by saying, “What we need is a cultural transformation that restores the human person at the center.” She identified a few elements needed to make transformation possible:

  • Encounter - Schnyder von Wartensee explained that many people are able to say, “I changed because I met [a human being].” Personal encounter with others, especially victims, is the first step to bringing about recovery.

  • Risk - “Risk something of yourself… to walk with this person,” Schnyder von Wartensee challenged. To change the culture, we as Christians have to give of ourselves.

  • Commitment - “We need time to change,” she said. To commit ourselves to our fellow human beings is to restore human dignity.

The fight to overcome human trafficking must be a cultural and a personal one. We must claim our inheritance as a Church of servants to rebuild a culture of love and respect, “with the human person at the center,” where he or she belongs.

Not Numbers but People

October 4, 2017

by Maggie Pawsey


Younus Mirza and Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee discussed how to recognize the humanity of migrants and refugees in their panel presentation on “Refugees: Not Numbers, but People.”

“We see people as either with us or against us,” said Mirza, Professor of Islamic Studies at Allegheny College, speaking on the current refugee crisis. “But it’s important to see them as friends.” This recognition of the refugee as a human person, as a friend, seems to be a crucial step toward the problem’s solution.

Schnyder von Wartensee, a research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, spoke on her experience of visiting Libyan migrants passing through the island of Lampedusa on their way to Italy. “Libya is like hell,” she said, “one of the worst places to be right now in the world because of human trafficking, because of smuggling, because of violence.”

Migrants and refugees travelling to Italy are at such a disadvantage, as the majority do not know the language and have very little to support themselves on. Schnyder von Wartensee explains that there is, “a struggle to welcome the stranger, struggle to welcome the other, and then the Pope saying, welcome everybody, welcome the stranger.”

This will only be possible by grasping the full importance of human dignity, and by seeing the refugees not as threats or statistics, but as our brothers and sisters in need of help.

The Meeting Ground of Two Mysteries

October 1, 2017

by Maggie Pawsey


“It is the meeting ground of two mysteries,” Rebekah Rojcewicz said of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. “The mystery of God and the mystery of the child.”

Rojcewicz, experienced catechetic and member of the International Council of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, presented on “The Child as Maestro,” or “The Child as Teacher,” to finish out the day of panels for the Saturday portion of the Festival of Friendship.

Rojcewicz said above all, the Catechesis, “honors that the child is a mystery,” and seeks to be honest with children about God’s great love for them, especially through the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The environment creates a space where children are not held back from the fullness of the faith and their own dignity.

This form of Catechesis also allows our children to teach us in simplicity what we might tend to take for granted as adults. Rojcewicz said children lead us to, “a path of wonder, being in awe of reality… being able to respond in a whole-person way… to thoroughly engage in the truth.”

Children have a “capacity for wonder,” Rojcewicz exclaimed, and a capacity for mystery. She showed the audience some pictures children have drawn while in classrooms of the Catechesis. Many drew Jesus as a shepherd with a smiling face, and one picture portrayed the child and Jesus holding hands, both exceedingly happy and in absolute friendship. The simplicity and honesty of the drawings showed that children understood and found joy in the stories they learned.

When asking children in the class, “What makes Him [Jesus] so good?” Rojcewicz said the most common answer was simply, “He knows his sheep by name.” What an “incredibly personal nature” of the love these children understand.

How much joy would the Church experience if we learned to live like that? Rojcewicz ended her presentation with the simple but powerful prayer: “Give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out.”

To learn more about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, please visit cgsusa.org.

“What makes technology human?”

October 1, 2017

by Maggie Pawsey


“What makes technology human?” asked Davide Bolchini and Marita O’Brien, presenting on the topic of “How Can We Claim Our Technological Inheritance?”

Bolchini, professor of Informatics and Computing, said, “We want to understand, what does it mean to be human when we interact with technology, when we design technology, when we engage with technology.” Bolchini explained how computers were designed with the human brain in mind. Early computer scientists, such as Vannevar Bush and Ivan Sutherland, worked to make computers collaborative with us, using “interactive displays of linking” between documents and information to work as the human brain does through linking concepts and ideas.

On a more psychological level, we have to be, “thinking about technology as being more than just devices that have batteries, computers,” said O’Brien, professor of psychology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She connected technology with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, to examine what makes a human environment, and how technology can play a role in that.

O’Brien continued, “It’s certainly part of our heritage as Christians, to be thinking about new ways to make technology more human and in thinking about some of these examples, thinking of counterexamples to what we see in the media about technology just dehumanizing us.” The counterexamples she gave were of ordinary people helping each other through the devastations of Hurricane Harvey, keeping in contact through cell phone apps, and raising millions of dollars for relief through online websites.

Technology becomes more human, or perhaps humanizing, when it, “enables more frequent and natural interactions… extends our communities… fosters innovation and innovative thinking,” O’Brien said. Technology can certainly be a tool to use to better ourselves and become more connected with each other, and for Christians to reclaim as our heritage of care and celebration of humanity.

A Musical Journey Across Continental Europe

September 30, 2017

by Maggie Pawsey


Chatham Baroque took us on “A Musical Journey across Continental Europe” on Friday, September 29, as Pittsburgh’s Festival of Friendship got off to a lovely start.

The group’s violinist, Andrew Fouts, explained that the selections for the night were pulled from several important countries of the baroque era, to give a sense of diversity in the music. The concert included pieces ranging from “Sonata Arpeggiata” by Italian composer Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, to “Toccata in G minor” by Portuguese Carlos Seixas.

The energy in the room was tangible as each member put themselves into their performance, their bodies moving enthusiastically with their instruments, just as pleasant to watch as to listen to. Each performer built off of the others’ liveliness, passing smiles back and forth during particularly fun pieces.

In between sets, the musicians introduced themselves and their instruments, explaining what the uniquely-shaped theorbo is (an instrument of the lute family), and giving anecdotes about the composers they played from (did you know Johann Heinrich Schmelzer wrote music for horses to dance to?). The ensemble ended the night to a standing ovation from a thoroughly pleased audience.

Chatham Baroque is a Pittsburgh-based group that has been playing and performing baroque music all over the country for 27 years. They have produced ten CDs, and another is in the making! You can listen to their music, and learn more about them, at chathambaroque.org.

The concert was a free event put on by Revolution of Tenderness as part of their annual Festival of Friendship. The Festival includes presentations on various topics of the Arts as well as current social issues. The weekend is open to all, and music lovers are welcome to come to Synod Hall on Saturday, September 30, at 7:30 pm for a traditional Appalachian music performance.

An Encounter Among Friends

January 20, 2013

Photo by Margherita Daho

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.

Photo by David Galalis

Photo by David Galalis

"Freedom is the most precious gift that heaven has bestowed upon men; with it we cannot compare the treasures which the earth contains or the sea conceals; for freedom, as for honor, we can and ought to risk our lives; and, on for the other hand, captivity is the greatest evil that can befall man."   - Cervantes

The 2013 New York Encounter, the largest Catholic cultural festival in the United States, opened yesterday evening in the Manhattan Center with brief remarks given by Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, who began by reading a telegram sent by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò; in the telegram, the Nuncio expressed his friendship with the New York Encounter and assured participants and organizers of the Holy Father’s spiritual closeness to all present. 

Monsignor Albacete said, “We’ve been asked to reflect during these three days – not on a definition nor on a theological concept, but on the experience of freedom.” He suggested that there were people present at the New York Encounter who had had this experience of freedom and were anxious to share it, and he recommended, “During these coming days, you look for that. Look for people who are experiencing something that you are somehow attracted to.”  He also noted that the theme chosen for this year’s New York Encounter coincides with the theme that the US bishops have chosen for the Year of Faith: religious freedom.

“Obviously,” Albacete explained, “The experience of freedom is one of the fruits of what is classically called grace.  Christ sets us free.  He died to set us free.  Freedom is one of the fruits of Christ’s work.  Freedom is not a concept, not an idea, not a philosophy, not a theology, but merely the presence of a Person: the presence of Jesus Christ, risen and triumphantly present…  Everything that concerns Christian faith is related to the experience of the Presence of Someone, Someone who comes to you, addresses you, and you can, above all, speak back.  We’re not silent before the Mystery.”

Then Albacete described the impulse in us to deny or restrict freedom as “a virus that lives within us. … The work of this virus is to reduce our freedom, therefore to separate the life of faith from the life of freedom.  But since we saw that faith is the experience of a Person, what this virus wants to do is to separate this person from our self, from our deepest self: to disincarnate Christ.”  And Albacete described how this “virus” works: “By changing the meaning of the words.  The Christian vocabulary remains untouched: faith, hope, love, freedom, but what are changed are the meanings of these words.  These words no longer convey the experience to which they once referred.  On the contrary, many times the use of a word conveys the very opposite of what it once did.  We use and hear and talk about the word freedom and many times we are talking about the very opposite of freedom.  This crushing of meaning is equivalent to a diminishment in our capacity as human.”

Albacete’s final remark was about reality and contemplation: “The experience of freedom is the experience of being a contemplative as you look at reality … [so that we] can see the Beauty that attracts our freedom.”

Then Albacete introduced a video interview, from 2008, with a prison inmate in North Carolina named Joshua Stancil.  Stancil encountered Communion and Liberation, first through discovering short quotations from Monsignor Luigi Giussani, in Magnificat magazine, and later through visitors who maintained monthly meetings with Stancil over many years. His testimony, that he is free in prison, is one that provokes whomever comes into contact with him. He explained, in the video interview, that if he allows his circumstances – prison walls, coiled barbed wire, strict prison routine – define him, then he would not be free; then he said that if he were out of prison, and the circumstances of daily life (a car, a house, other elements of life) were to determine and define him, then he would not be free, even outside of a prison.

After the video, Tony Hendra, author of Father Joe, then read a letter from Stancil dated January 2013, in which he describes his current life.  Upon finishing the letter, Hendra provided a dramatic reading of Charles Péguy “Freedom”, a poem that is part of the collection, The Mystery of the Holy Innocents.

The evening concluded with a concert given by the Manhattan Wind Ensemble, directed by Christopher Baum, with a commentary given by Jonathan Fields, who guided the audience’s listening by giving historical background, interpretation, and personal anecdotes.

Entry into the enormous conference center, where the Meeting for the Friendship Among Peoples is held, is free.  Indeed, for each of the past 31 years that this extraordinary cultural festival has been held at the Italian seaside resort town of Rimini, entrance to the exhibits and talks has been free.  

We often think of “free entry” in negative terms: there is no charge, one does not pay; however, the gratuitousness of the Meeting in Rimini does not represent a lack, but rather a fullness.  

Immediately upon arriving at the Fiera of Rimini, one can see that the turnstiles, with their rotating metal arms, have been disabled; the metal spokes all hang down to allow free passage into the gigantic space that is completely filled:  with fascinating exhibits and lectures given in halls filled to capacity, with concerts and dramatic readings and theater performances and film presentations, with sporting events, with shops, with signs, with restaurants, and with thousands of people (800,000 visitors and 40,000 volunteers during the week-long annual event).  

Each year the Meeting has a theme around which the exhibits and talks are built.  This year’s theme was, “That nature which pushes us to desire great things is the heart,” and at the Meeting, there were eight large exhibits: 1) “A Use for Everyone. Each to His Work. Within the Crisis, Beyond the Crisis,” concerning the recent ongoing economic crisis; 2) “From One to Infinity. At the Heart of Mathematics,” created by the Euresis Association, an international group of scientists that has created many stunning exhibits for the Meeting in past years; 3) “Flannery O’Connor. A Limit with Infinite Measure,” concerning the life and work of the great 20th Century American author; 4) “At the End of the Road Someone Is Waiting For You. The Splendor of Hope in the Portico of Glory,” an art historical meditation on the beautiful arch at the pilgrimage destination of Compostela, in Spain; 5) “Stephen of Hungary. Founder of the State and Apostle to the Nations;” 6) “‘But I Put Forth on the High Seas’.  Ulysses: When Dante Sang of the Stature of Man,” concerning a passage from Dante’s “Inferno”; 7) “A Heaven on Earth. The Samba of the Hill,” about the birth of the Brazilian dance in the favolas; and 8) “Gdansk 1980. Solidarity,” tracing the events that led to Polish independence from the Soviet Union.

If the Meeting in Rimini were only to include these eight exhibits, it would be a great cultural event; but in addition to these larger exhibits, there were many smaller exhibits, presenting various diverse subjects including: the frescoes within the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, Italy; education as something belonging to the human heart; the life of St. Gianna Beretta Molla; the relationship between love and literature; the work of particular missionaries in Africa; the Russian pianist Marija Judina and her relationship to Stalin; and more.

Each of these exhibits, large and small, was created by groups of individuals with an intense passion for their subject matter and a desire to communicate their fascination to others.  Many of the curators provide guided tours within the exhibits.  They also train additional volunteers to give guided tours that are then offered in many different languages.  It is incredible that passion is the only reason for the huge expenditure of time and work that each exhibit requires; no one receives a financial gain from mounting these exhibits and there is no governing body that awards prizes to the best exhibit; thus neither money, nor glory, nor professional advancement, nor even a spirit of competition is involved in the decision to begin work on an exhibit or in seeing the project through to completion.  In fact, there is no evaluation process (questionnaires, exit interviews, etc.) in order to provide market analysis or to assure attendance at future Meetings.    

And the curators and guides are not the only people with a passionate interest in the subject explored in any given exhibit.  Close observation of the thousands of visitors who file through the exhibits reveals faces in deep concentration, hungry to soak in every detail, whether communicated by the guides or present on the many panels covered in texts and images.  All this effort and work is, moreover, for something that most people consider ephemeral and unnecessary for daily survival: cultural study.  

This passion alone holds the key to the meaning of the Meeting.  It generates the exhibits and also finds expression in the many talks and panel discussions offered in several large lecture halls simultaneously throughout each day of the Meeting.  Often there is not enough room in auditoriums that hold thousands of people and the crowds spill outside the doors, onto the floor in order to watch the proceedings on large video screens.  Imagine a talk about mathematics by a professor from Princeton University (and no one’s grade depends on it), where hundreds of people cannot fit into the lecture hall and must sit on the floor, watching on a screen!  These discussions and talks are given by exhibit curators and experts in many fields.  Among the many speakers at the Meeting in Rimini this year were Rose Busingye, a nurse and the Coordinator of Meeting Point of Kampala, a center for Ugandans with AIDS; Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland; Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Bishop of Ratisbona; Miguel Diaz, the US Ambassador to the Vatican; Joshua Dubois, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership; Diarmuid Martin, Archbiship of Dublin and Primate of Ireland; John Milbank, Lecturer in Religion, Politics and Ethics at Nottingham University; Edward Nelson, Lecturer in Mathematics at Princeton University; Mario Livio, Senior Astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute; William McGurn, Journalist with the Wall Street Journal; Chen-Hsin Wang, Lecturer in German Language in the Departments of Music and Psychology at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei, Taiwan; Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice; Angelino Alfano, Italian Minister of Justice; David Maurice Frank, Native American from the Ahousat Reserve, Vancouver Island, Canada; Aliyu Idi Hong, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Shah Mehmood Quereshi, Minister of Foreigners for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Shōdō Habukawa, Buddhist Monk and Lecturer at Koyasan University; Tareq Oubrou, Rector of the Mosque of Bordeaux; Joseph H. H. Weiler, Director of the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice and Co-Director of the Tikvah Centre for Law & Jewish Civilization at the New York University; and many leaders in Italian government and business -- to name only a few!

How is it that so many professionals from diverse fields find the passion to offer their work as a free gift to anyone who approaches?  And what is it that draws these crowds, year after year, to a fascinated engagement with the cultural exhibits and lectures at the Meeting?  Where does this passion come from?  The theme of the 2010 Meeting offers a clue: the human heart.  The heart, unimpeded by calculation and not distracted by the dream of personal gain, can and does open out toward whatever is true, and beautiful, and just.  The Meeting is the fruit of this discovery and its consequence: an embrace for every aspect of reality, because all is a gift, all has been given by Another.  

Photograph by Sofia Wiener

Photograph by Sofia Wiener

“It is the presumption of old age that reality is shaped by our ideas.  The experience of the child is wonder in front of something that is completely given, always new, unexpected and appealing.  Life is either the continuous, exciting discovery of something that was unknown, or it is an inevitable slide into boredom” (from the Mission Statement, published on the Crossroads Cultural Center website).

The New York Encounter, a cultural festival that took place in Times Square, January 16-18, was organized by the Crossroads Cultural Center, an initiative that was born five years ago out the shared passion of four friends who belong to the lay ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation.  During the New York Encounter, Crossroads organized a presentation on the history and work of the cultural center.

Angelo Sala, one of the original four founders, told of how they decided to meet after discovering that each of them, simultaneously, had a similar strong desire to communicate the passion for culture they had first encountered at the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples, held annually in Rimini, Italy. For five months, the group met regularly, at a Starbucks coffee shop, because there was no other place to meet.  They discussed every aspect of the endeavor, from the name to the logo for the new cultural center.  The name “Crossroads” communicates that the center is a meeting point, a place that is open, where friendship can develop and where roads meet in a time of change.  The logo was adapted from a painting by Piet Mondrian, “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; they chose this painting because it expresses the theme of the open meeting place of roads, and because it is a local painting that depicts the place where the new cultural center would be born.

Five years after the first Crossroads event was presented, the cultural center has organized over 130 public events, in New York, Washington DC, Houston, Chicago, New Bedford and other cities.  Sala emphasized that speakers and topics are chosen based on how he and his friends are struck by reality and never according to a preconceived idea.  Crossroads activities can be categorized by four main areas of interest: 1) “Human Affairs”: these presentations concern current events, “because what happens always contains a suggestion, a hint that affects or may change our lives”; 2) “Memory and Identity”: an exploration of our cultural heritage, “because the fabric of our life is woven from all the events that happened before us”; 3) “Beauty Will Save the World”: a title taken from a quote by Dostoevsky, which expresses “the wonder and attraction at the origin of human experience and the adventure of knowledge”; 4) “Meetings at the Crossroads”: opportunities to encounter particular people, “because every human being is an irreducible novelty... regardless of any cultural, religious or social boundary.”  In addition to public events, the Crossroads Cultural Center offers a blog, called “Paper Clippings” and an extensive reading list on its public website, and traveling exhibits that may be used in other cities.

Above all, Sala stressed that Crossroads was born “from a renewed sense of belonging to the Catholic Church, [which] opened us up to reality.”  The new point of view, offered by faith in Christ, introduces a new perspective that “launched us into the adventure of knowledge.”  For Sala and his friends, the pursuit and love of knowledge are not an intellectual hobby.  He insisted that “everybody must respond to the unquenchable thirst” for knowledge that is born from an acknowledgment that humanity has been given the task and the power to “name, have dominion, and recognize [the] meaning” of reality.  We “only possess things when we recognize their meaning.”  Sala further elaborated that once we are able to recognize that we share the thirst for meaning with all human beings, then we begin to be interested in every aspect of reality.  The aim of Crossroads is to propose a hypothesis, best summarized by an observation made by the poet, Jacopone da Todi, “Each and every thing and everything together speaks out and cries out for one thing, love.”  Sala explained that because this hypothesis is the starting point for all encounters, “we can meet and have dialogue with everybody, without fear of losing our identity.”  Thus all Crossroads activities are characterized first by openness and second by the desire for true friendship with whomever we meet along the way. 

After Angelo Sala introduced the work of the Crossroads Cultural Center, two speakers were invited to give their perspectives on Crossroads. The first was Francis Greene, a professor of Italian languages at St. Francis College in New York. Greene observed that the Crossroads mission has a great affinity with the charism of St. Francis of Assisi, who “plunged himself into the nitty-gritty of daily life – nothing was off the table.” St. Francis and Crossroads each demonstrate that “through material things, one can be led to God.” The second speaker, Paolo Valesio, an art historian and professor at Columbia University, told us, “What struck me was not just enthusiasm but also friendship.” Valesio has observed a tension in his own life, one that opposes defense of the Catholic faith to unconditional acceptance of the other. He has noticed, though, that his friends at Crossroads have shown him a new way to be with others: “Without preaching to me about friendship, […] through their lived experience, predicated on a certain idea about destiny,” they have embraced him: “Every time I assert, in a polemical way, my Catholic belief, I encounter some form of charity.”