Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Long Journey Home - Part Two

[Continued from Part One]

I cannot recall exactly when we first met Peter Floriani. It may have been in the line at the refectory, or it may have been only when he asked if we would mind him sitting at our table. All I know for certain is that he was the first Chestertonian we met - and what a first impression! I remember thinking that if all the conference guests were comparably enthusiastic, we would be in for quite a weekend. His excitement and joy were contagious, and his charisma could best be described as effervescent. I knew instantly that we were lucky to have him sitting at our table, but I could not have guessed how lucky. My mind tried to come up with the connection through which his name was so familiar. Only after a little conversation did the truth come out.

We found out that Dr. Floriani was giving a talk at the conference in place of Nancy Brown. I told him that I was a reader of the Society's blog (which Mrs. Brown facilitates), and that I probably recognized the name from there. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I was not a complete stranger to him, either.

"Oh, Veritatis Visio, yeah, I've seen that," he said. Then, thoughtfully: "I can't remember whether I've written anything there, though."

"I don't know..." I said.

"Well, if I had it would have been under my other name anyway, 'Dr. Thursday'," he said with a grin.

My eyes widened with sudden recognition. I had long been a fan of Dr. Thursday's contributions to the blogosphere on his own site and many others across the web. Recalling the erudition of these postings, I felt a sudden urge to feel newly intimidated, but Peter's personality simply wouldn't allow it. He's one of the most personable Ph.D.s in computer science that I've ever met. Soon, our jovial conversation revealed more pleasant information, as we found out that Peter lives not far from the Seminary we attend. Suddenly the prospects of increasing Chesterton awareness at school looked much brighter in light of this new acquaintance. Steve, Mike, and I left the dining hall feeling invigorated by our first Chestertonian encounter and eager for more.

We stopped a brief while at the book tables in the conference hall before heading in to hear Dale Alquist's welcome address. Our initial sparks of excitement soon kindled into a roaring enthusiasm as Dale intelligently and hilariously kicked off the weekend. His sense of humor was one of the highlights of the conference for me, and I admired the dynamism of his "live" presentation. It was a pleasant contrast to the lower-key style I knew from his EWTN show.

After Dale, and a lengthy break for refreshments of the home-brewed sort, Chuck Chalberg took the stage as our man himself. (I can't resist the temptation: "Our man Thursday?") As Chesterton, Dr. Chalberg lectured on Islam, drawing significantly from Chesterton's The New Jerusalem. Several times, the prophetic import of Chesterton's musings sent chills down my spine.

With these two talks, the conference was off to a great start. I would love to describe each moment in greater detail, but I'm afraid even just the highlights would occupy far too long a time. I particularly enjoyed a panel discussion of The Man Who Was Thursday featuring Christopher Chan, Kerry MacArthur, and Aidan Mackey. Of this latter gentleman, more will be said later. I was impressed by Dr. Carl Hassler's presentation of "Just War" in Augustine, Aquinas, and Chesterton. I was moved by Geir Hasnes sincerity and faith, and moved also by his insight into Sigrid Undset. I was intrigued by Robert Moore-Jumonville's religious sentiments, both in presentation and in person. I loved Joseph Pearce's talk and his accent, and got his autograph twice to boot! And all throughout the weekend, Peter Floriani continued to astonish me. His presentations were absolutely wonderful, but even more striking was his personal kindness. He made us three strangers feel like old friends of his; and whatever we were before, I know we shall be friends hereafter. For his generosity and his hospitality, I am most grateful.

On our way into lunch on Saturday, a woman greeted us with the boisterous exclamation: "Hey! The three amigos!" You see, for the most part, Steven, Mike, and I had flown under the radar throughout the weekend. We'd introduced ourselves to people and made a few acquaintances when it was most convenient, but perhaps a lingering bit of inhibition held us back from being too sociable or outgoing. If we did keep to ourselves somewhat, I don't think any of us minded. Personally, I was awed by the people around me and just overwhelmed with drinking it all in. And whatever our shyness or closeness, it didn't feel a bit lonely. Somehow, I felt a strong sympathy with the other folks at this conference. Although we weren't all like-minded on all issues and came from so many different backgrounds, something common had brought us all together - somehow, we were all related. Peter Floriani had talked about feeling very much "at home" when he came to these events, describing it partly like a family reunion and partly like a sacramental community. As the weekend wound down to a close, I began to feel how right he was. Just how right, I would learn on Saturday night.

(Continued in Part Three...)

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