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NEW YORK ENCOUNTER 2013/ Freedom is the Most Precious Gift

SUZANNE LEWIS reports on the opening evening of the New York Encounter in the Manhattan Center, Friday 18. Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete introduced this year’s theme: Experiencing

New York Encounter 2013 (Photo by Nicholas Erickson) New York Encounter 2013 (Photo by Nicholas Erickson)

"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.