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A New World Within the World

An Interview with New York Encounter chairman Riro Maniscalco.

Editor's note: In anticipation of the new digital Encounter coming to our homes on February 12 to 14, the Newsletter had a conversation with Riro Maniscalco, chairman of New York Encounter.

CL Newsletter: So, the Encounter—it is happening!

Riro Maniscalco: I have one simple message: It is actually happening! It is going to be extremely virtual, but it is happening, and, God-willing, it’ll be different and great! It has been challenging putting together this Encounter. We have been in uncharted territory. We knew how to do the real thing. We learned in time. The beauty of the Encounter shows it’s the work of Another and that it takes the work of a lot of people, cheerful givers.

This year it is, at the same time, the same and yet different. We did not know where to start from, how to build something with the technicalities involved. But it is going to happen because thousands of people look forward to it and because of a group of friends who are deeply involved year-round to put together this thing that I call “a gift.” We offer what we have and what we are. The three wise men brought gold, incense, and myrrh. We bring the Encounter. That is what we offer.

CLN: I love the statement this year. It is piercing, a reflection of the times we live in.

RM: Every Wednesday we have a conference call with the group of people who pull it all together. And last night I was thinking, with what is happening in Washington, DC, should we re-think everything? The Encounter is like life: you make your plans and then “reality hits.” But I think the way the theme was conceived and written, it covers what happened.

Picking a theme is not a mind-game. Augustine said, “An intelligence that applies itself is the beginning of every good.” You look at yourself, you look at what is happening around you. You try to focus on what seems to be more crucial, more vital, even more hurting, if you wish—and that becomes the battlefield. That becomes the theme.

CLN: I see that the program is out. I was wondering which event you are looking forward to seeing this year?

RM: I wouldn’t know, and I am happy to say that, because for me, as tiring as the Encounter can be, that weekend is probably the most beautiful days of my year. I always get there filled with expectation, and I am ready to keep my eyes open, my heart open, and, as much as I can, my mouth shut. It is something I would like to absorb completely. I know that it is going to be an event and the event always surprises you--like reality.

You can say it is a “cultural” event, and some people might get confused and start to think it is an intellectual experience. But no, it is a life. It poses all the risks and offers all the beauty that real life offers. What you experience when you go to the Encounter—and we hope it will be experienced this year in a virtual way—is another world within this world.

Every time I step inside our venue on Friday, I remember the first time I met a community of CL: there were teenagers, college students, parents, grandchildren—and my one clear thought was that this is a piece of world within this world, and it is different, but I didn’t know back then what made it different. That is what I want to experience, a new world within the world.

CLN: Every year I go and there is some talk that I have chosen to skip and someone comes up to me and says—“that was the best talk.” But I missed it! I think the advantage of the digital format is that you do not have to miss anything. You can sit and binge-watch New York Encounter this year! And we can share it with our friends. Are there any local events planned?

RM: This is uncharted territory once again, faced with lots of desire. This year you don’t need to run and rush or pick and choose between events. The program will not be as thick as it used to be because we have limited capacity for survival in front of a screen. You can really experience it all. The Encounter comes to our homes.

It would be beautiful to get together with a few families and friends and follow certain events. That is why we are suggesting--mindful of all restrictions due to COVID--that people create what we call “watching stations,” a place in which you can get together with some other people and experience it at that human level that is usually so intense and powerful.

The other suggestion is to create something locally. Our friends in Washington, DC, were particularly struck by the proposed presentation on mental health: Why on Earth? An Online Discussion on the Epidemic of Suicide and Mental Health in the time of COVID. One friend decided to start planning a local event that will follow the presentation and then, through a Zoom format, people will be able to continue the conversation.

These are “ironic attempts”—as Giussani used to say. I hope that, to our own eyes and the eyes of those who are participating, the virtual New York Encounter becomes even more visible as the work of Another.

CLN: We have friends who are interested in the Encounter, but usually cannot come. This year I can say to these friends, this year you can see it! It has given me a new impetus to invite people.

RM: We are going to offer it to the whole world--and particularly Latin America. This year all major events will be translated in Spanish in the livestream.

The Encounter is an act of love, an act of gratitude. And gratitude is always the source of gladness. That is what you experience when you go to the Encounter. And I am sure it will show, in an unforeseen and unforeseeable way.

We are trying to the tell the world: it is happening! It is going to be different. It is going to be beautiful. We are going to bring it to your home. Tell your friends!


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