This August sees the 44th edition of the Meeting for Friendship among Peoples, held in the Adriatic resort of Rimini. Though not strictly speaking an activity of the movement Communion and Liberation, the annual Rimini meeting is very much associated with that movement. The theme for this year's meeting is "Human existence is an inexhaustible friendship", and it is possible to see in that choice of theme a reflection of Pope Francis' writing and activity in favour of fraternity among peoples.
The theme is presented in the theme and poster for the Meeting 2023. It is interesting, I think, to offer this reflection on the nature of friendship at a time when the public conversation about LGBTQ+ issues so often features the assertions that "we should be free to love who we choose" or that "love always wins" - without any attention to exactly what that word "love" really means. Pope Francis' message to the meeting takes up the theme:
Addressing the young, the Holy Father exalted the value of true friendship, which expands the heart: “Faithful friends … are also a reflection of the Lord’s love, his gentle and consoling presence in our lives. The experience of friendship teaches us to be open, understanding and caring towards others, to come out of our own comfortable isolation and to share our lives with others” (Christus vivit, 151). And we can couple this with another reflection from Don Giussani: “The true nature of friendship is to live freely together for destiny. There cannot be friendship among us, we cannot call ourselves friends, if we do not love the destiny of the other above any other thing, leaving aside any advantage” (Attraverso la compagnia dei credenti, Milano 2021, 184).
And it is possible to recognise in this the idea of a love understood as wishing what is true and good for the other (cf, I think, Thomas Aquinas).
A scroll down the programme of the meeting, listing day by day each of the main events, gives an idea of the range of the exploration of the theme. Do persevere down it, to get a feel of the very wide range of te engagement with the idea of friendship.
What particularly attracted my attention in the meeting programme was one of the exhibitions, that dedicated to Eugenio Corti's novel The Red Horse. I am linking to the Italian version of the page describing this exhibition, as it is more complete than the English page: Il Cavallo Rosso di Eugenio Corti.
The exhibition offers a re-reading of the 1280 pages of the work, with particular attention to the dynamics that led the author to conceive the activity of writing as a task assigned to him by Providence. In fact, the path intertwines the biography of the Brianza author with the events narrated in the novel, observing, in some respects, almost an overlap between his life and the content of the work.
Eugenio Corti's novel places its characters in a very wide ranging account of the Italian involvement in the Second World War, from the participation in the German campaign in Russia (Corti himself survived that campaign), through the Italian surrender and the subsequent events in Greece (cf Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and its account of the killing of essentially unarmed Italian soldiers by the Germans), to the fighting by Italian soldiers on the Allied side after the surrender. This latter includes, alongside the better known partisan activity in the mountains of Northern Italy, the much less well known part played by Italian soldiers at Monte Cassino. The novel continues after the war, as its protagonists engage with the post-war election and the campaign on the referendum on divorce.
Alongside the exhibition, a series of presentations introduced participants to each of the key characters in the novel. There are also a series of more academic presentations about Eugenio Corti and his novel. The one of these that struck me was the one entitled "From The Betrothed to The Red Horse: a Lombard connection". Whilst it is now a few years since I read The Red Horse, it is only a couple of months since I finished a reading of Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed. In their different historical settings, both can be seen as classics of Italian literature; both have a setting based in the Lombardy region of northern Italy; both place their narratives within a historically accurate context; and both contain an expression of a profoundly Catholic culture. It is very striking to read The Betrothed after our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. The narrative of the novel is to a significant extent set against the background of an outbreak of the plague brought to northern Italy and to the city of Milan by an invading army. One can recognise in the account of the experience of the plague a number of things that are familiar to us from the COVID-19 pandemic: plague denial in the early stages, with reluctance to limit population movements; isolation of infected households in the city, though enforced more drastically than for our pandemic; overwhelmed medical provision in so far as such existed at the time; conspiracy theories; and, towards the end of the novel, an instance of meeting out of doors with social distancing that might have been part of our regulations in 2020 or 2021.
And my final thought. Another of the exhibitions is dedicated to Giovanni Guareschi's characters Don Camillo and Peppone, with the title "Always rivals, but never enemies". Guareschi's writing and life story occur simultaneously with the family story described in The Red Horse - his work on posters for the elections in 1948 is referenced in the novel. I first read Don Camillo stories before I left home, as they were on the bookshelves at home. I now possess a complete set, and am currently re-reading some of them.