Acton University 2010 (Grand Rapids, USA)

Posted on 06/17/2010


“Get lost from my porch, or I’ll break your neck right now” – said the 70 years-old lady, Mrs Rabinovitz, to Robert’s friends, when they were swashbuckling in the Brooklyn neighborhood by deliberately haunting the old lady’s wooden porch. Astonishingly  – having heard a harsh threat that  seemed – every one would admit it – very unrealistic, the bunch of energetic teenagers obediently withdrew. What is more –  under the spell of the reprimand the young gentlemen behaved properly through the remaining part of a day.

Many years later Robert Sirico, the American priest of Italian ancestry became the founder of Acton Institute – the American think-thank devoted to promoting liberal and faith-based view on economics and society.

He recalled the said childhood story during the opening lecture of Acton University 2010 – the annual conference on the future of economic liberty (Grand Rapids, USA). “How could this be”, asked Sirico, “that one phrase by a weak elderly woman could have had an effect on the group of young healthy men, who certainly knew that such a threat would never be fulfilled? I bet today one would need a dozen of policemen to harness destructive attitudes among the youth”.

Of note is that Mrs Rabinovitz knew not philosophy of Saint Thomas, nor she – together with the teenagers – was acquainted with the theories of justice and social order. But once, seemed to say Rev. Sirico, there were non-negotiable values in the air that were smoothly imprinted under the tissue of the society that allowed peaceful social performance based on the godly human’s relation to Transendence.

It is precisely the hierarchy of values, together with their materialization within the economical system that was researched at  this year’s Acton University. The lectures featured, inter alia, the reflection on demographic decline, modern economic theory, theology of globalization (sic!) or Muslim approach to the market economy. The curriculum was personalized to the participants’ needs (to my greatest joy), as many parallel sessions took place simultaneously.

Apart from the academic content, it seems that many participants had experienced a profound catharsis that sensitized them to the tragic situation in Africa. The emotional speech by a survivor of Tutsi-Hutu genocide, Immaculée Ilibagiza (the author of the book  “Left to Tell: Discovering God  Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust”), profoundly moved the gathered – after the last word of the speech was uttered, the whole audience hall was standing upright. This catharsis was shared even by the producers of the documentary regarding her story. The journalist recording the movie reported from the TV screen, almost stunned: “And here’s this lady, who said: ‘His brother killed my family, can you make a picture of us hugging’ ? She then added ‘It’s all ok’. How can you say, Mrs Immaculee, how can you say it’s ok? My Western mind revolts – for its not ok, it is radically not”.

Could there be a better testimony of what it means to be Christian in XXIst Century than the open hearted attitude of  Immaculée? In spite of what she experienced, her eyes remained astonishingly bright.