Catholic Family News
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CFN Interview with Dr. John Rao on Gardone Riviera Summer Symposium

CFN Interview with Dr. John Rao on Gardone Riviera Summer Symposium

2015 Theme: “Forbidden Topics: A Free and Rational Catholic Challenge to the Frightened Modern Mind”
- June 29-July 10, 2015, 11 nights

"Words can't explain it. You have to live the Summer Symposium to know why people come back again and again" - Dr. John Rao

Learn about this magnificent Catholic event, help young people attend!

CFN: What is the Gardone Riviera Summer Symposium?

Dr. John Rao:  This is a program inaugurated by the Roman Forum with a Solemn Pontifical Traditional Mass celebrated by Alphons Cardinal Stickler in February of 1992 at St. Agnes in New York City. The idea was to fill a gap in systematic teaching of Catholic Church History and Culture by means of lectures in New York from September to May that would be coupled with an eleven-day stint in Italy. 

CFN: What is the purpose of such a gathering?

JR: The idea of the Italian Program was both to attract an international audience as well as to “live” a holistic Catholic experience – academic, spiritual (with Traditional Masses as well as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), musical, artistic, theatrical, and gastronomical. We wanted to take people out of an Americanist and puritanical (which means both libertine and Jansenistic at the same time) environment and show them that, sharing the same Faith, they could learn, pray, and have fun together – actually doing things like singing, playing instruments, and putting on plays.

We wanted to do this in a physically beautiful atmosphere that had still had the “shell” of Catholic civilization that we would be the ones to enliven anew. I like to call it a “basic training” for Catholic militants, who, by sharing this “frontline experience” with one another, become a “band of brothers”. This is our twenty-third year in operation, and we have a number of people who have come for all twenty-three sessions!

CFN: Do young people attend? 

JR: We usually have 50 people or so, and of these, anywhere from 25 to 50% age from 14-30. There are sometimes very young children and even infants. Whole families of six and more have participated. The town is traffic free, with stunning views of the largest lake in Italy and the mountains. We very much “take over” the village, to the great delight of the townsmen, who now themselves join in in providing delightful performances of local music, dancing, and the like. Because it is so international, we have an international set of speakers and participants who represent a history of the Traditional Movement in and of themselves. Michael Davies and William Marra were participants from the outset until their deaths. Dr. David White had been head of our theatrical program and a speaker for many years. Large numbers of priests and seminarians – SSPX, Fraternity, Christ the King, secular and religious from the “mainstream” regularly come. 

CFN: What is the theme this year?

JR: We have gone beyond our normal limited topic because of the vast number of speakers of so many different disciplines and talents. This year's theme is “Forbidden Topics: A Free and Rational Catholic Challenge to the Frightened Modern Mind”.

CFN: What is the significance of the theme: “Forbidden Topics”

JR: The so-called “modern world” is a fraud. Its attack on the Faith in the name of “Reason” and “Freedom” has destroyed both of the latter. Modern men not only do not think; they hate it. Modern pluralist men are not free; they are terrified of being “divisive” through the use of their freedom. Today, it is only serious Catholics who think and are willing freely to put the consequences of their thought into action.

It seemed to me that with the tremendous diversity of the speakers coming this year, the best thing to do would be to let them have a go at the topics that modern men are most frightened of tackling in their specific disciplines: historical subjects, political, social, cultural, and scientific problems; matters dealing with papal and episcopal authority, etc. Charles Maurras said that it was necessary to “shock the bourgeois mentality”. I hope we can shock the unthinking Catholic conservative and progressive world through a display of audacious orthodox thought! My dream is that the “front line experience” of confronting “Forbidden Topics” will cause participants to continue to do so when they return to the “home front”.

CFN: Is there any other unifying element in this year's Symposium?

JR: Yes: the sense on the part of all the speakers that the situation is rapidly moving to a “final showdown”. What form this final showdown will take I am not quite certain, but I do think that divisions under the peculiar reign of the current Pontiff will become more pronounced, and that outright persecution of Catholics is threatening everywhere – and I do not mean simply in the Middle East, but in the “tolerant” West as well. All of us feel quite militant right now and think that the “basic training” reference is not misplaced. 

CFN: But you still sing, dance, eat, and drink through it all?
JR: Of course! Because we are Catholics! We know we are going to win in the end, and our victory needs to be based on appreciating the fullness of human life. The pluralist world around us wants us to abandon the seriousness of our Faith and our Reason, accepting unity in commitment to base material goals that get more and more vulgar as time goes on. We fight that mentality head on at Gardone. On the other hand, the pluralist world around us is an enemy of everything truly beautiful and exalting, from families dining together to making their own entertainment together. We are one, large Catholic family here, fighting for Truth while enjoying ourselves. That means hiking, swimming, bicycling, taking excursions in the vicinity and anything else normal you can think of!

CFN: And you pray.

JR: The Seventeenth Century parish church at our disposal is magnificent. You can see photos and videos of the program at the Roman Forum site: We have a professional Traditionalist organist who comes and a choir made up of the participants. We usually have five or six Masses a day, aside from the main sung Mass at noon. Generally, vespers are sung before cocktail hour and dinner.

CFN: Do you need or accept sponsorship, especially for young people who want to attend?

JR: We both need and accept sponsorship, and we very much want as many young people as possible to come. The older folks feel more secure about the future the more young, enthusiastic faces they see around them.

CFN: Do you follow up with your alumni, that is, those who attended Gardone seminars and are now working, living their lives as even more serious Catholics?

JR: Follow up is not quite the word. Nobody loses contact with us! We have had three marriages and a number of priests and nuns who have emerged from our ranks. And the international character of the Catholic contacts that people have developed keeps growing.

CFN: Any final words?

JR: Words can't explain it. You have to live the Summer Symposium to know why people come back again and again.

Contact information:
Dr. John C. Rao, Director
The Roman Forum
11 Carmine Street, # 2C
New York, NY 10014
Email: On the web (donation page, info, etc.):

Gardone Riviera Summer Symposium
“Forbidden Topics: A Free and Rational Catholic Challenge to the Frightened Modern Mind”
Faculty, Clergy, Musicians

• Dr. Miguel Ayuso Torres (University of Madrid)
• Rev. Mgr. Dr. Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula (Human Life International)
• James Bogle, Esq. (President of Una Voce International; author of A Heart for Europe)
• Dr. Patrick McKinley Brennan (Villanova University)
• To be announced (Director of Musical Program)
• Dr. Danilo Castellano (University of Udine)
• Rev. Bernard Danber, O.S.A.
• Dr. Roberto de Mattei (European University, Rome)
• Bernard Dumont (editor, Catholica, France)
• Christopher A. Ferrara, J.D. (President, ACLA)
• Rev. John Hunwicke (Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham)
• James Kalb, Esq. (Author, The Tyranny of Liberalism)
• Michael J. Matt (Editor, The Remnant)
• Dr. Brian M. McCall (University of Oklahoma)
• Professor John Médaille (University of Dallas)
• Sebastian Morello (Benedictus College; Centre for Catholic Formation, London)
ª Rev. Dr. Richard Munkelt (University of Fairfield)
• Dr. John C. Rao (St. John’s University)
• Dr. Thomas Stark (Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule, Austria)
• John Vennari (Editor, Catholic Family News)

- from the December 2014 Catholic Family News (went to press November 27 - will be mailed on December 1-2).

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