New friendships were formed, fun memories were made, great ideas learned, noble aspirations inspired, and spiritual lives strengthened.
The Free Society Seminar 2018 has just concluded, and with it, new friendships were formed, fun memories were made, great ideas learned, noble aspirations inspired, and spiritual lives strengthened. This was the impact of the 9-day program to the participants.
Although these young people who participated in this program came from different backgrounds, they all share the same interest in the intersection of religion, culture, and politics in the context of today’s “free societies”. Although not everyone studies or has a degree in Liberal Arts, they all are seekers of Truth, and concerned about the widespread confusion in today’s world, especially in the so-called free societies in the West.
Monica Wojciechowski, for instance, has a Bachelor’s degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and she shared that what made her interested in these subjects and decided to join the program was her reading of “George Weigel’s biography of Saint Pope John Paul II” where she got “a glimpse of all the wisdom hidden within his theological and social contributions.”
What does it mean to be free? How ought we organize ourselves in a free society? Is religion still important? These are some of the questions that FSS seeks to answer, and have been grappling with since the year 2000. Led by professors from the United States, every year students from the US meet with students from Europe in Slovakia to read the great thinkers, discuss the pressing questions, and learn from each other.
And every year, the FSS community keeps on getting bigger, and its reach wider. This year, in fact, there were two young Filipinos in the group who joined because of their passion on the subject and their eagerness to learn from the people in the West on how to confront the challenges in the modern free societies.
More interestingly, despite the geographical differences, the students recognize the same problems in today’s world, and thus could understand and learn from one another. In amazement after the seminar, the 19-year-old Political Economy student from the Philippines and the youngest in the group, Marco Pantaleon related, “my world has been considerably broadened. I never thought I would be in the company of such intelligent and like-minded people. Whether from the Philippines, the US, or Slovakia, we’re all bound by the same great ideas.”
The 9-day program was packed with intense seminar discussions and immersion to Slovak culture, history, and discussions in European politics which participants coming from other places really find interesting, with most of the free times spent bonding with each other.
The seminars were the most memorable for Maria Overy, a student from the University of Oxford, who remarked how they “surpassed [her] overall learning experience at the university, especially because the teachers, she says, “care so deeply about educating us: imparting great subject knowledge, creating a space for genuine discussion, and always encouraging us to ask questions.” But what completes the picture of a community life was the Daily Mass celebrated by one of the lecturers, Fr. Derek Cross, an Oratorian Priest based in Canada.
The combination of activities was what made the program unique because, according to Monica, “you rarely have the pleasure of joining in intense intellectual discussion with a group of other young adults and experienced instructors, swim in turquoise Slovakian lakes surrounded by sunflowers, tour new cities, attend Mass, and spend each night with the company of a guitar, dancing, and good conversation.” The Holy Mass happens every afternoon after all the lectures for the day were done, and even though it was optional all the students attend every single day.
Perhaps it is true that a little more than a week was too short to exhaust all the answers for questions that thinkers have been wrestling with since time immemorial, or even for the questions unique to our own period in history, but that does not prevent FSS from pursuing its goal of providing light to the young people in the face of the problems confronting free societies of today. Peter Van de Voorde, an American who is now finishing his graduate studies at Jagiellonian University in Poland, remarked how the whole experience brought him “renewed confidence to strengthen the Free Society in [his] own place and station.”
In the end, the impact that FSS hopes to achieve was not necessarily a direct and radical changing of society, but that of inspiring each person who in their own ways could help in creating a truly Free Society, as that would be a more stable and firm foundation. It would be good to end this with some sort of a summary of the whole program as captured by Veronika Cigáneková, a high school student in Slovakia, whose main take away from the program was that we should “live life according to virtues, in truth and make beautiful memories. Instead of saving the whole world, try to focus on people and souls around you.“
Francisco “Bino” Socrates