We are sitting in a circle in Villa Vrindavana’s (near Florence, Italy) spacious meeting-room, surrounded by paintings representing various images of Krishna. The warm afternoon sunlight drains the large glass windows, everything shines golden in this blazing brightness and the circle is waiting for the first talk. We are at the Interfaith Convention “Meeting God”, organized by Parabhakti Das, Chief Manager of Villa Vrindavana.
Talking with Parabhakti before the event, he made me notice that during every interfaith meeting we end up talking about meditation, peace, social issues, ethics, but we tend to avoid pronouncing God’s name. Well, this time this ‘shyness’ has been swept away and the convention has been named “Meeting God” tout court
. Ambitious, maybe even scary, this title can lead to direct counter-positions or to sophisticated philosophical debates, to highly intellectual academic speeches or to over-opinionated positions.
What happened in Villa Vrindavana on June 16 is an authentic miracle though, let me say this – the circle of speakers and listeners truly represented unity, source and goal with no beginning and no ending for spiritual energy outreaching from the core to the peripheries and vice versa
, involving all the people present in a synergy of empathy, experience, memory, sweetness and sincerity.
Moderator Marco Lazzeri introduces in first place Marco Romoli’s presentation, President of “Un Tempio per la pace”, global interfaith organization from Florence. The speeches follow one another like beads along the thin line of a necklace: Silvio Biagi’s talk faces from a Catholic point of view the difficult subject of the individual experience of God, a playground on which every believer can meet the others. Then it is Teresa Vogel’s turn, representing Baha’i faith, founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th Century Persia and persecuted since then in Iran.
Fabrizio Bencini speaks in the name of Yogananda’s Hindu pupils and Radha Gupta represents the Brahma Kumaris tradition. Saverio Scuccimarri, from the Adventist Community, moves the audience by recalling his own personal story of physical and moral persecutions endured by his mother and himself in a small village of Southern Italy (Puglie), starting with his father’s aversion towards this religion – unknown and ‘scandalous’ at that time in that particular place.
Scuccimarri shares with us also the joy of the final conversion of his father after deep understanding of this faith and supporting Saverio’s decision to become a pastor. Finally the young wife of Scuccimarri sings a beautiful, simple prayer holding their newborn child in her arms, touching the whole audience with this witness of sweet devotion.
Enio Provaroni represents the Native Americans’ spirituality singing a ritual, powerful song vibrating with the earth and the whole creation’s connecting sounds. Concluding the first part of the convention Abdul Hamid witnesses the Sufi religious path and tells the story of his old spiritual Master from Cyprus, the one who introduced him to this way requiring a total dissolving in God’s great gift.
After a short break, the meeting goes on (and the audience increases reaching the top of almost 100 persons). Parabhakti Das starts the second session recalling and sharing a tender memory of his childhood; during a school excursion, his first devotional practice consisted in offering flowers to Jesus. He remembers the first doubts and questions while talking to a very open -minded priest, discussing the ‘naïf
ʾ question ‘Where can I meet God? The priest said: you have to look into India. It was the counter-culture, self-conscience time and in one of these meeting with other young people Parabhakti for the first time listened the story of a ‘blue God’ named Krishna. After this, the whole life of Parabhakti changed with the trip in India, the occasion of knowing the Hare Krishna Temple of Rome, the Bhakti discovery. Parabhakti remembers now the verse of Bhagavad Gita where Krishna says to Arjuna ‘Offer to me with love and devotion a leave, a flower, a fruit, I will accept with pleasure your offer’ concluding that when we search for the love of God we can find the true key of any dialogue.
Laura Drighi represents Tibetan Buddhism; she emphasizes how the issue of the meeting is difficult remembering that even Buddha did not answer the direct question about God. Afterwards, Andrea Stigler acts for Sukyo Mahikarì, a Japanese spiritual path, expressing the centrality of a God’s love project for everyone, the needing to rebuild a personal contact with God trough producing a vacuum that we shall fill up with a new spiritual meaning (Andrea gave to the people present a little gift, an empty little colored stick as a symbol to be fill with the humility and simplicity of our spiritual search). Then it is the turn of the catholic priest Andrea Bigalli, who recalled our human frailty trough the St. Paul’s words ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’.
Orlando Valente remembers his biography, the military experience, his passing through a hard existential crisis, until the meeting with an Indian Guru and his spiritual rebirth. Alvise Rossi, author of “Lettera ad un amico”, describes his personal experience of ecstasy trough the repetition of a Christ invocation.
Finally, the monk Axel of Camaldoli’s St. Benedict order underlines that everyone experiences God in his life and on the basis of this personal experience we can truly meet each other sharing the greatness of God’s revelation.
In this “Meeting God” convention, during this peaceful mind exchange, everything has been illuminated and everyone has had the opportunity to a spiritual vision.
At the end of this day the blasting finale: the Indian dance performance by Sanatani Dasi and the overpowering Kirtan conducted by Mrtyuhara Das with the participation of all the convention’s speakers and listeners, followed by a delightful prasadam prepared by Indian devotees.
I wish to remember the words of Radhanath Swami:
“In the darkness we cannot see anything. Transcendental knowledge is that light that reveals the truth. The higher truth dwells inside each of us, just covered by forgetfulness.”