Selection of testimonies from those who worked as volunteers at the 2014 New York Encounter
MESSAGE BY RIRO MANISCALCO (PRESIDENT) TO ALL VOLUNTEERS
Friday afternoon, as I was sitting in the VIP room waiting for the first guests to arrive, I found myself praying to Mary.
For me the days of the Encounter have always been a time of gladness. I really do enjoy every instant of it - and that includes also the (inevitable) mistakes and shortcomings. Yet when the time came on Friday, I felt like a shadow was looming over me. I’ve always had “the blues sadness, the “desire for an absent good”, as St. Thomas defines it. I was afraid this Encounter might not touch me as it had in previous years; that it might be “life more than life” for everybody except for me. So I started praying to Mary, not for the outcome of the Encounter, but for me. I then realized, immediately, that it is the same thing because without “I” there’s no “We”.
Ask, keep your eyes open, don’t hide that “desire for an absent good”, and you receive the hundredfold.
So I did, and it happened again, because our Lord keeps his promises. And this is why I would like to thank each and every one of you, the “human face of the Mystery”. I especially thank those I don’t know, those, who (not knowing me) kept offering me the program booklet as I was pacing restlessly back and forth. You constantly helped me to remember that we are really serving the work of Another. We are all protagonists of the work of Another.
My wish, to myself and each one of you, is the same as last year: to hold dear what you brought home from the Encounter, and that you may share it with everybody so that it continues to bear fruit.
From Peg Wentz, Rochester, Minnesota
Thank you for your note. I, too, worried that this Encounter would not be as good as last year's (this is only my second time attending) and was astounded at the gift that it became. I watched you pace except for the time you had your grand-baby sleeping in your arms on your chest and thought the babe had the best seat in the house.
Being an usher was absolutely no hardship as I did not miss any of the presentations. I felt bad for the kitchen helpers and wondered if a monitor could not be hooked up so they could listen, too while they worked.
That is the only suggestion I have.
From Liam Marshall, Gobles, Michigan
Hello, my name is Liam Marshall from Michigan! I was able to go to the Encounter and volunteer in the food service department and frankly I loved it. Being able to work with some truly beautiful people and meeting new faces was a privilege. Also being at the Encounter and seeing my GS friends was a real eye opener and has deepened my faith in God. I can only thank the countless people who gave me this experience and it would be an honor to volunteer again!
From Brenda Blini, Kensington, Maryland
Dear Paolo and Riro,
This was my first year volunteering in any of our events in the Movement. On Friday evening I was sad, because I realized I was going to miss something (the meetings that I could not attend and my friends meeting all together). Tom Black said that our goal as ushers was to "make the people aware of something that was happening (the meeting)". But even so, I was missing that SOMETHING by volunteering because I could not listen carefully at every talk. It was important for me to speak with Tom and Nino who helped me look more deeply at this "something". They told me that that which lies at the origin of the talks or exhibits or my friends is the same thing that happens in our volunteering. Tom said one thing that struck me: "we are volunteering, helping, so participating in that thing that SAVES the world". Volunteering this year challenged my way of looking for the good in things. It's no longer me deciding where this good and beauty are (talks and friends), but me waiting for this beauty that is in everything. I could see this beauty in the way the other volunteers and I were working together, the security guard who was so interested in Carron speaking. Life is still difficult, I still have lots of sadness and grief, but I can't forget the beauty I saw and that came to me.
Thank you for your presence and certainty.
From Loretta Fernandez, Wexford, Pennsylvania
I had the same sensation as you when I went to the NY Encounter. I was going for my daughter and, even if I was glad I was going, it was not much for me, but for her. Instead from the beginning it was really for me. The experience of volunteering was the proof of it. I meet the responsible of the lottery tickets, Lizzie, and it was as if we always knew each other, because we share this friendship in Christ that makes us not anymore strangers but friends, part of a people. Then the work started and we were sent in couples to sell lottery tickets, as the apostles to spread the gospel. I have to admit that before coming I was so uncomfortable of being in the lottery sales, but being there and going from the "I" to the "we" everything changed. The Holy Spirit was there helping us sell the tickets and enjoying the talks. Nothing was more incredible that finding that Pedro Noguera, who is an authority in my field of research, was one of the speakers. This experience was for me, transformed me and this was the most important testimony that I could give to my daughter. Enjoying the final party as I used to do 25 year ago was the proof that this was definitively for me.
Thank you very much,
From Francisco Ramos, Overland Park, Kansas
I have been to the NYE the last three years and this year was something totally different for me.
Saturday morning at the meeting, Nino said something interesting that stayed with me: that even when volunteering means you are missing out on an event you want to see, it is not something against you. That in the end, helping with whatever seemingly small task you have is serving the same Person that is seen through all of the events. This was a big reminder for me. And as I thought about this throughout the weekend, I looked around to all of the volunteer leaders (Oli, Paolo, Nino, Riro, Daniel, etc.). These people were so surprising to me. They were always so happy to see any volunteer or so helpful when a problem came up. But it never seemed an obligation to them but that they wanted* to go out of their way to take care of someone's problem. In other words, you ask one of them for help and they are immediately on their radio solving the problem in some way.
Up in the volunteer office, Nino constantly said that we were there to serve the volunteers with a big smile on his face. On Saturday afternoon, I helped Oli get the chair for the stage for mass. As we walked to St. Michael's, she mentioned to me the fact that she had not seen a single event of the NYE. I thought, how is it possible that one of the people that are helping organize the entire event has not seen it? But at the same time I looked at Oli and did not see a single bit of bitterness about that fact. This was amazing to me. How can you spend most of the year working for the NYE and not mind that you haven't experienced the "big day"? I thought: These are the types of people that I want to work with and for, these are the people I want to work like... In that moment I saw the point of this job, however small and mundane it may become (at one point I tore perforated sheets of paper for the tickets... so there is no shortage of small jobs...), it really was to serve Something much bigger than me; being able to contribute anything to that was a gift in itself.
And so these people, and all of the volunteers showed me how the "I" to a "We" theme of the weekend was something that, looking back, was a part of every moment as a volunteer. Volunteering or working for the NYE wasn't some little project to "get ahead". Riro not being recognized in the lobby, Oli not having seen events, Nino stuck up in the office, Paolo running around doing something whenever I saw him, and so on... These people were not doing this for some sort of reputation or small personal gain or "promotion" of some sort. It was all for something much bigger. That, as Riro said in his email, it was that we all really were serving the work of Another. And this has stuck with me now after the NYE. I have not been perfect for any means, but I can see that everything I have been doing this week, the conversations I have had, the plans I have made with friends, have all been with this same focus: It is to serve this same Person (that was present with us at the NYE).
So for these things I say thank you to everyone involved and I can't wait to be back next year.
From Catherine Glazer, Kensington, Maryland
Something very simple that happened to me was that I asked a friend from the CLU why he wasn't volunteering. He told me that he had never heard any convincing reason why he should be a volunteer, and so he wasn't. The freedom of my friend in answering amazed me, and made me understand Riro's freedom in singing on Sunday night (someone so professional, singing with his whole heart with a bunch of kids!?), and Fr. Carron's insistence to the CLU on Saturday morning that the curiosity about life has to be alive in me if any proposed answer is going to be interesting. My friend showed me the kind of person Christ is capable of generating in the Movement: a person who cares for his "I" with a different intensity from anywhere else in the world. This is the kind of person I want to be generated into, and I need so much help on the journey. At the Encounter, I was invited into the "we" that makes me understand and desire more than ever the truth of my "I."
From Paolo Caimi, Chicago, Illinois
The following is the transcription of a few verses written Sunday night, minutes after the conclusion of the New York Encounter and of the tear-down, in my hotel room one block away. Here I tried to express the acute perception of difference, of "contrast" between the inside and the outside, that I so evidently felt in the instant I walked out of the place where for a whole weekend we, together, experienced a great newness.
For me personally, I am once again amazed by the intensity of friendship and of sincere love that we experienced, as volunteers but also as part of the larger "people of the NYE," throughout the weekend. Truly I was able to journey from the 'I' to the 'we' in every moment of our being together.
Chiara Borsotti, Bronxville, NY
During the New York Encounter 2014 I worked as a photographer. You would think that among the many volunteer jobs, to go around and take pictures is definitely something easy. You could go almost everywhere with your PRESS ID, shoot some images and then enjoy the event. So at the beginning I thought it was mainly a relationship between my eyes and my camera. But from the beginning I realized it was an encounter of my “I” with the “We”, where the “We” were the people, both working and attending the NYE.
On Friday afternoon I had to document the setting-up and I found myself immediately struck by the groups of volunteers working together. I almost felt guilty holding my camera while I was watching them carrying heavy boxes, raising panels for the exhibitions, cooking food and setting up the display tables. I could see how the commitment and the effort of the few people who had worked all the year in the organization of the NYE was becoming real through the contribution of every person working there. It was not necessary to know each other but simply to recognize the belonging to a people.
This belonging became clearer the day after when I discretely followed the visitors gathering together in the outside lobby or in the restaurant, and when I followed the speakers to the VIP room chaperoned by their hosts. The friendship observed the first day among the volunteers was generating a sense of belonging in the public and in the guests.
It’s true that the master events were taking place on the stage and in the exhibitions but the first encounter of the “I” with the “We” was happening beyond the main scene.
Rose, New York
I wanted to share with you some things that I have been thinking about today and over the weekend in relation to my experience with the Manoppello exhibit (The Face of Christ). I was very stuck by a particular thing in the presentation on work (Is it Possible to Work this Way?) - a prayer by John Henry Newman that the professor from CUA quoted from. I think in a way it encompasses my thoughts - here is the part I am talking about:
“…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am; I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.”
One thing I realized yesterday and the day before is that volunteering for the NYE this year has been a time when I really saw how work, even if it is tedious or exhausting, can be beautiful. The care that some of the volunteers showed for the exhibit, for each little thing that they did, for each of the other people who were volunteering, and for each person who came to the tables and the exhibit, was such a beautiful sign to me of how work can become a human endeavor, instead of simply mechanical, or something we do for the purpose of doing other things later, or because we are obliged to do it.
Maddy Zucchi was particularly helpful to me in this. It was so clear to me that each thing she did for the exhibit was done out of both her fascination with and love for the beautiful thing we were hoping to make available to the visitors to the Encounter, and a complete openness to being surprised by the people she met - the other volunteers, the visitors, etc. This brought meaning to even the smallest thing, like handing out schedules to people, or telling them when to come back, or giving out programs. To me it seemed that she saw staying at the table for long periods of time as another chance to be in expectation and gratitude. I could even see how, for example, I have a tendency to focus primarily on the other person volunteering at the table - maybe just chatting, or maybe having a good conversation - in order to alleviate boredom, often at the expense of really being present to the people coming up to visit the table. But for Maddy this wasn't the case. The second someone came up to us, she stopped what she was doing and turned to focus her attention on them, with so much sincere enthusiasm and care - it was so beautiful and astounding to me!
When I think about the exhibit itself - The Face of Jesus: From that Gaze the Human Person is Born - I see even more clearly the importance of how Maddy and many of the volunteers I observed, both in our exhibit and throughout the New York Encounter, were working - What is the point of having people sit at the table, rather than just having a bunch of info and brochures there? What is the point of people presenting the exhibit in person, rather than just making a video of the presentation, or a documentary? Why should so many people put in the effort of learning all about this, and memorizing the history and the research and standing up in front of a group and risking forgetting things, or getting nervous, or speaking too fast or too slow? Why should all these volunteers miss the presentations and performances in order to give the tours and sit at the tables? It must be because there is a connection between His face and the face of the volunteer. It must be because there is no way to convey the beauty of this information, this research, and this reality - the veil of Mannopello and the history of our nostalgia for the face of God, without the presence of the personal face of the volunteer.
Thank you everyone for your friendship and for your presence this weekend volunteering for the exhibit.