A rabbi, an imam and a Belgian catholic colleague. A post-doctoral Paraguayan student moderating the debate. A small cultural and religious microcosmos. This is the formation that I managed to bring together for the second presentation of my last book: Between identity and pluralism. Diary of a Christian dialoguing with the religions of India. I did not want to hold a meeting to praise my work. I rather wanted to offer speakers the opportunity to see and experience a moment of dialogue. In the first case, one forgets the effect within a couple of hours or, at best, a few days. Differently, in the second scenario, as a personal experience, the effect sticks in the mind and heart. Considering the feedbacks, I might say the strategy was successful. For example, this morning I received the following message from a post-doctorate student. «Good morning, Roberto. I would like to thank you for yesterday. I attended the presentation of the book and it was a beautiful and enriching moment. You reunited the world in a small space, a temporal space even! What was said was enlightening and I found extraordinary the deep, personal relationship with the rabbi and the Imam. From their words, one could feel the mutual effort that made you create the universal family over the years. I already wanted to buy your book, now I cannot wait! Thank you again and have a nice day». I received also many other meaningful feedbacks.
The event took place in the Teatina Hall of the Center la Pira in Florence with the attendance of about fifty people and approximately a hundred online participants. The presentation was set in Florence for a very specific reason. In February, mayors and bishops from several Mediterranean cities will meet here. It is then a reference to the genius intuition of the historic mayor of Florence Giorgio La Pira. Between the fifties and the early sixties, in the midst of the Cold War and the first tensions between Israel and the Arab world, he had understood that the culture of encounter is better than any other strategy, especially than war. Consequently, he had started to gather in Florence the mayors of dozens of cities along the Mediterranean generating a peace culture and mindset. For precisely this reason, together with the colleagues of the Sophia University Institute it was decided to hold this presentation in this geopolitical-social context.
According to the people participating in it, the presentation was really engaging. It started with the welcome greeting by Maurizio Certini and the institutional greetings by Assessor Alessandro Martini. By connecting with the topic of dialogue the book aims to spread and explain, both emphasized the meaning of the presentation event of this book during the preparation of the meeting of the mayors and bishops of the Mediterranean area. Evidently, because of the place hosting us and its prophetic role in the industry of dialogue, numerous references to Giorgio La Pira were made. Then, followed the speeches by Imam Izzedine Elzir and Rav Joseph Levi.
Despite being completely different in terms of approach, both underlined some aspects of the book as indicator for people committed to dialogue. The imam focused his speech on the centrality of the word ‘identity’. The rabbi shared some quotes and segments of the book that struck him and helped him enriching his experience of dialogue. It is interesting to note that both speakers highlighted the fact that dialogue is not to be taken for granted even in the communities, which often tend to focus on their own context and struggle opening to what is ‘different’. The speech by Prof. Bennies Callebaut recalled the author’s dialogic experience emphasizing some aspects, especially vital aspects. He also underlined aspects to think about written from everyday life. Finally, as author, I concluded the presentation by highlighting the mood of the evening aiming not just at talking about a book one can read, but also showing the meaning and value of dialogue in the personal and community relationships between the speakers.
Personally, I must admit the greatest gratification was the one I received today back at the Institute. Several students thanked me for the experience they lived. One of them told me she felt God was waiting for her at an event like that to suggest a real vocation to dialogue. Another one was struck by the humility of the speakers’ words. This proves that the event touched the mind and heart of the audience.
Watch the event here on the Sophia University Institute You Tube channel