“To Catch Every One of the Ripples”: Meeting Lorenzo Albacete At the New York Encounter

The life of Monsignor Albacete was the object of a beautiful exhibit at the NY Encounter 2021, we share here the disarming power of encountering him through the many witnesses during those days.

During her introduction to Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete’s new book, The Relevance of the Stars, Lisa Lickona described the legacy of Albacete as “the pebble that gets dropped in the pond” from which there is “a ripple effect.” As the first evening of the New York Encounter drew to a close, Lisa spoke of the many encounters with those who knew Albacete scheduled over the course of the weekend. Not wanting us to miss a single one, she invited those watching from home “to catch every one of the ripples.”

For me, the New York Encounter was this experience of watching—and catching—these ripples. After seeing the imprint of Albacete on those who knew him, what became eminently clear was that Albacete was a man who disarmed the other—whether by his apparent irreverence, his irrepressible humour, or his hopeless disorganization. But for so many who met Albacete, as Lisa pointed out, “this shock soon gave way to affection, excitement, surprise.” What was the source of this affection, excitement, and surprise? Time and again, the word used to describe the cause of Albacete’s disposition was “Mystery”—his uncompromising fascination with the Mystery.

In one witness, Santi Ramos recounted a conversation in which he expressed a fear of the afterlife, to which Albacete replied: “No, that’s good, because you’re trying to understand what the Mystery is. Mystery is bigger than what you perceive.” In one interview, Albacete remarked that his captivation with the Mystery was rooted in the fact that “there is something beyond appearances I want to know. Something calls me … I look for it, but I can’t pinpoint it in a definitive manner … This search preoccupies me.”

For some, Albacete was a father who accompanied his children through moments of great difficulty. In this sense, his greatest gift was his ability to help the other look at himself in a truer way, even when facing the most painful experiences. But even this accompaniment was not the product of a great piety or missionary gesture. Instead, as Rita Simmonds explained, “Monsignor was always a great provocation because he was always himself.” Albacete could stay with any person he met with total charity simply because, as Michelle Riconscente put it, “he never heard a sin confessed that he didn't find a trace of himself having committed.”

Perhaps the greatest gift of the weekend was seeing how this ripple effect did not end with those who met Albacete. Fr. Ryan Mann described his encounter with the Monsignor after reading his articles and watching his videos online: “I remember deep in my heart just saying, ‘finally,’ I finally found someone who could say things that I was feeling and intuiting. … I just knew right away, I somehow have to stay close to him, and ‘oh crap, what am I going to do now, the guy’s dead.’” But the New York Encounter also showed that Albacete is not confined to the annals of history: his presence could be felt throughout the whole Encounter, permeating my discussions with friends and even reaching into my home and provoking conversations with my parents.

For those who received his affection, it could not be overlooked that Albacete was himself the recipient of the affection of another. As one friend said to Jay Roussel after he shared his amazement with meeting Albacete: “If you were so struck by this man, imagine the man who struck this man.” Albacete himself had had an encounter with Fr. Luigi Giussani in the 1990s, proudly declaring himself “a son of Giussani.” It was fitting, then, that the two men should take centre stage at this year’s Encounter. Indeed, it was Fr. Giussani—“the man who struck this man”—whose words best captured the distinctive feature of Albacete’s legacy: “May all of this not finish among us.”