2016 Festival Highlights

Imam Bashar Arafat, Mark Danner, and Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR: The Panel on St. Francis' Meeting with Sultan Malik al-Kamil

Imam Bashar Arafat, Mark Danner, and Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR: The Panel on St. Francis' Meeting with Sultan Malik al-Kamil

Nothing is More Interesting, a witness 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. 

Guido Piccarolo, Cynthia Smith, Suzanne Lewis, Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR, and Nancy Albin

Guido Piccarolo, Cynthia Smith, Suzanne Lewis, Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR, and Nancy Albin

I will be with you by Lucia O'Connor, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Festival of Friendship

Firstly, starting from Suzanne’s insistence that the people around me really are His Presence, coupled with the fidelity of Mark, Tamara and Denise in the two days of setup really helped me to face the other volunteers with gratitude. It helped me to be more free in front of their needs and questions, and attempt to respond to them without wishing that their needs didn't exist. I really lived this event understanding my role as ‘servant of the servants,’ that is, if the other volunteers are there to serve the guests, I am there to serve the other volunteers. However, if I exclude the Mystery and my own needs from this equation, being the ‘servant of the servants’ is very heavy, stressful and exhausting. It was evident from the beginning of the event that whatever was going to happen that weekend did not belong to me and was not something I could control, but the meaning of this lack of control-the grace that fills in the gaps-became evident over the course of the event. 

Starting with Pam's mom's illness [Pam was running the restaurant] and her having to leave the restaurant right before the start of the festival, I knew throughout the weekend, I was going to need to say ‘yes’ all the time to whatever the circumstances asked of me. It became clear that the circumstances were really (I don't know how else to say this) paternal, when Nancy Albin and Guido Piccarolo, who I was supposed to be hosting, jumped into the kitchen and helped me organize the restaurant's process, and then insisted on cooking meals for the guests until ten minutes before their talk. Their happy, intense, and intensely practical embrace of the situation, of me, and of the task in front of them helped me begin to embrace it as well.

The keynote panel discussion that night was You are Good for me, featuring Nancy and Guido as well as Sr. Agnes Therese Davis, TOR and Cynthia Smith of the local Urban Mission. Its emphasis on ‘planting seeds that someone else is going to water' and on God who gives the growth and spreads Christ's love ‘one person at a time’ formed a beautiful motto for me throughout the weekend. While our audiences were small, I felt that first of all, this event was meeting my need for Christ and expanding my heart and making me love more. 

The next morning, I was full of anxiety and excitement for how the day would go. I ran around like crazy for the first several hours of the day, and primarily, despite the beauty of the night before, I was full of resentment at the constant requests and all that was being asked of me. Stopping for a moment and seeing Suzanne in the tent, when she asked me how I was doing and I answered that I was just stressed and overwhelmed with all of the needs of the others, she encouraged me to take care of myself and to listen to some of the talks if I was able. Then Suzanne asked me to go and hear Sr. Agnes Therese's concert in the restaurant because she didn't have much of an audience. 

This was the moment where the weekend really changed for me, completely unexpectedly. Sitting with the sister and very few others, I heard her songs about her own relationship with God, often through the words of the Psalmist or the saints, a relationship that is based on trust and the continual practice of surrender, obedience and love that being a sister requires. For me, it was a gift, a moment of real peace in all the chaos I had been trying to manage. It became clear that the most beautiful thing, and indeed, the only thing to do for the rest of the weekend was to rest in the grace of what was happening, be that sitting and absorbing the concert, responding to constant phone calls and texts from the volunteers as needs arose, or trying to juggle orders in the restaurant. The fact that in everything we were doing, we were being held, was incredibly evident. For me, this meant that finally, I didn't have to meet every need, solve every problem, or make everything perfect for everyone else while ignoring my own needs. I could accept that even my needs and my and others' limitations and mistakes were given, and therefore answer the other's needs and questions with real charity and freedom. Knowing that the source of what was happening was outside of me, is another way to put it, I guess. 

I could write forever about how beautiful the rest of the weekend became from this point - the gift of Shane coming to volunteer for community service hours, who dove enthusiastically into the work in the restaurant and literally answered my prayer for someone to take that shift, the perfect example of the friend-in-disguise that Rebecca Bratten Weiss mentioned during the authors' panel on children’s literature, the beautiful conversations I had with friends from School of Community and Fraternity Group, where we were able to be open and real in a way that I rarely find possible as an adult, the loving gestures of almost all of my School of Community, not to mention our friends from the lower Midwest and Chicago, coming to the Festival.

I'll conclude this by saying that what moved me most this weekend is that I experienced the joy and peace that Christ promised to those who accept mission for His sake, for the sake of bringing Him to the others. ‘I will be with you.’ This is what happened for me this weekend, making me more myself, more able to love and to enjoy, all while running around like crazy working my butt off.

Maura Roan McKeegan, Marc Barnes, Sylvie Lewis, Rebecca Bratten Weiss

Maura Roan McKeegan, Marc Barnes, Sylvie Lewis, Rebecca Bratten Weiss

David Isaacs, Davide Bolchini, Tomas Pedrozo, Brad Tretter, and Tommaso Tebaldi of The Brad Boys

David Isaacs, Davide Bolchini, Tomas Pedrozo, Brad Tretter, and Tommaso Tebaldi of The Brad Boys

Something More, by Tomas Pedrozo, who organized the concert presentation

It was a beautiful weekend. … I'm struck by the fact that Christ and His presence makes (or, I guess, compels) us to do things that we wouldn't normally do. I did this presentation [on rock music] once before, at the Indiana Family Vacation and it wasn't what I wanted, because I wanted something very specific, something I could measure. But I realized rather quickly that the audience (all of them with their own hearts and needs and desires) wanted more than what I wanted, and it was beautiful that they were struck by this ‘something more.’ That recognition I received from doing this at the vacation made it possible for me to do it again and be free in doing it. Basically, I'm going about Another's work. The line ‘I'm glad I didn't die before I met You’ from one of the songs sums up how I've been feeling. I just want to burn for this great love. That's all.” 

You are a Good for me, by Brad Tretter 

It was great to be in Steubenville this weekend among friends! … I really enjoyed all the presentations. It was very fascinating to learn about [Richard Holm] and his work - I loved hearing the stories he shared. In the presentation about the meeting between St. Francis and the Sultan, I was struck by how little I know and how much I am influenced by the mainstream media regarding Muslims. In the presentation about the lives of American saints, I was very interested to learn details of their lives (struggles, joys) and understand the impact they had on others.  It is fascinating to see their stories come to life! We were talking on the way back Sunday - it is easy to get stuck in the routine of work and other activities, but it is presentations and events like these that really increase my desire to learn more and want more. I am really grateful for such rich friendships and opportunities like this. You are a good for me!”   

Sr. Philomena Clare, Jeff Zare, Sr. Rita Clare, and a friend all enjoy the exhibit

Sr. Philomena Clare, Jeff Zare, Sr. Rita Clare, and a friend all enjoy the exhibit

Divine Juxtaposition, by Hank Meldrum

The …diversity among guests, volunteers, speakers, and performers, [created] the sense of divine juxtaposition. Many things I had been stressing about or regretting, or just small coincidences turned out to be exactly what needed to happen given the circumstances. So many people were patient and gracious when they shouldn't have been, that it was clear they sensed the presence of Christ.  [I felt gratitude for] the attitude of service of both the volunteers and the guests, the joyful sacrifices that everyone working in [the “Our Greatest Cultural Reserves”, with speeches and writings from the four Americans mentioned by Pope Francis in his 2015 address to the US Congress] production performed without complaint… Hank, Steubenville, Ohio

 “The Festival of Friendship was very well done.  A beautiful atmosphere of truth and goodness.  I learned a great deal of information at the presentation on the four American Saints.  It was so so so good and inspiring!!” Sr. Rita Clare, TOR, Toronto, Ohio

Emanuele Colombo presenting American Dream

Emanuele Colombo presenting American Dream

What Compels Us, by Mark Thomas

As we engaged in the work of the Festival, I was particularly struck by the question: what is so compelling that it can make such an event occur? I was fortunate to firsthand experience the work necessary to get the Festival of Friendship up and running, which was only the tip of the iceberg of work from the weeks and months prior to make such an event possible. So what is it that compels us to do this? I think it's this yearning, which is a common denominator among us, to share beauty with others. This is true in the form of a public event; a private party at someone’s house would've done the trick, however, this would not have opened this up to the community. Christ is not only meant to be shared among us; we find Him in the beautiful relationships that should be, in turn, shared with others.  

I was grateful for the friendships among all the volunteers (which makes sense for the Festival of Friendship!). It is always nice to be united by a common interest and to spend time with each other. I was also grateful to have had the opportunity to experience beautiful presentations, especially the St. Francis talk with the Imam.