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Thursday 12 February. Eucharistic Liturgy for the 41st anniversary of the Community of Sant'Egidio: a year’s events

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The Community of Sant'Egidio

celebrates the 41st anniversary of its foundation

Eucharistic Liturgy
presided over by Cardinale Agostino Vallini
Vicar General of His Holiness

Rome - Basilica S. Giovanni in Laterano
Thursday 12 February 2009 6.30 pm


A year’s events

The fortieth anniversary of the Community of Sant’Egidio was characterized by a particular commitment on the spiritual level and the level of biblical understanding, on a route of internal renovation which enhanced the presence of the Community’s places of worship in several Italian and foreign cities. It has been a programmatic year, in synthesis, of spiritual renovation, of reclaiming the roots of a broader vocation of peace during the entire existence of the Community, not limited to just mediation and efforts at reconciliation in conflicts.
A year accompanied by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Memorial of Martyrs of the XX century at Saint  Bartholomew on the Tiberina Island, during which he celebrated the Community’s anniversary with extremely affectionate and compelling words:

"Dear friends of the Community of Sant’Egidio, you took your first steps here in Rome during difficult years after 1968. Sons of this Church, which presides over charity, you have spread your charisma in many parts of the world. The Word of God, love for the Church, predilection for the poor, spreading the Gospel: these are the stars that guided you, testifying, under different skies, the sole message of Christ. I thank you for your apostolic deeds; I thank you for your attention to the poor and for your search for peace, which distinguishes your Community."

The President of the Italian Republic,  Giorgio Napolitano, who personally took part in the celebration for the 40th anniversary of the Community, officiated by Cardinal Secrety of State, Tarcisio Bertone, in St. John Lateran Basilica, pronounced these words:

“Yours is an ecclesiastic and social community”, he said, “you observe the events of the world with intelligence, driven by a Christian passion”. The head-of-State also stressed the need for a sense “sussidiarietà”  in diplomatic activity: “Our public institutions are needed”, the President said, “but so are institutions like yours which we know we can count on”

Prayer is at the heart of the life of the Community; where there is a Community of St. Egidio in several parts of Italy and the world, there is prayer open to everyone.
That explains how the main prayer of the Community of Sant’Egidio, which takes place in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, has become of point of pilgrimage and prayer in the city of Rome, with the participation of more the 300,000 people a year. The evening prayer, held every evening for the past 35 years, has made the church one of the most visited “urban sanctuaries” in Rome, the only one held in the evening. The prayer is aired live on the radio on the InBlu radio station in Italy and can be followed live on the website.

The 40th year of the Community closed with a beginning, an African beginning.

Bandakà, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The great river, the Equator, the beauty of nature there where no electricity arrives, there where the pygmies live and few whitemen arrive. What did arrive disruptively was AIDS . Just a few days ago the barges brought the last of the material needed for opening the first molecular biology laboratory and the first anti-AIDS healthcare clinic of the DREAM program, which provides for the start of complete therapy in the realm the global program of prevention and combating AIDS, aimed at covering all women the area and making sure that all babies are born healthy, including those born to HIV-positive or AIDS-stricken women. It is the most advanced program, as far as results are concerned, in all of sub-Sahara Africa, through which 98 percent of children in the program are born without the HIV virus from HIV-positive or AIDS-stricken mothers and more than 90 adults out of a hundred resume their lives and their jobs even though they had contracted AIDS. The program assigns a central and innovative role  to women, once excluded from civil society. It is an unprecedented initiative, bring to a rural area with environmental conditions both extraordinary and unfavourable to public health programs a prototype of how it is possible to seriously thwart AIDS in any condition. In collaboration with the Health Center set up by the Vincentian Family nuns: another example for the creation of services which protect life and human dignity, with access to all, free of charge, and which opens new fund-raising needs for the Community, but inaugurates a model that can be replicated on most of the African continent.
It is a direction worth taking, strengthened by international recognition, like the Award of New York’s business community and the award from Banca Intesa for the Malawi Project, of which DREAM is the cornerstone.

A direction which presents difficulties, in the time of a declining donations and initiatives of social corporate responsibility on a planetary level,  like development cooperation in most of the more developed countries of the world, especially Italy.

Last year as well, with service to the needy, participation in public debates and the daily practice of living,  represented a proposal for reinforcing the reasons for co-existence, the art of co-existing, in a period of sharpened discord. Press conferences on the gipsies, on poverty in Italy, proposals for ending the discriminatory aspects in terms of ethnic group or religion of the campaign for identification of the gipsies, which would have isolated Italy from the rest of Europe, the publication of the book “the Gipsy Case”, which coined the category of “antigipsyism” as an unresolved cultural and anthropological question of Europe, the numerous initiatives of friendship and dialogue with Italian and international Judaism in a time marked by tensions on the road of the historic Jewish-Christian dialogue, the last of which a joint assembly at the Pitigliani Center in Rome on the occasion of the Week of Jewish-Christian friendship: these initiatives give an idea of a year in the life of the Community of Sant’Egidio, while working on behalf of Christians in difficulty in Iraq, India and  Pakistan and on behalf of peace, or at least the end of fighting, in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.

In May the Carlo Magno (Charlemagne) Award - announced in October - will be presented to Andrea Riccardi on behalf of the Community of Sant’Egidio. It is considered one of the most prestigious European recognitions for outstanding and innovative work in building the cultural and civil the foundation of Europe’s role in favour of peaceful co-existence in the word, an award traditionally conferred upon European heads-of-state or political leaders and only on exceptional occasions given to a non-political figure.  

The year was marked by many visits and meetings of friendship and cooperation, from the Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast, to the President of El Salvador and to the president of the African Union. From testimonies of life and forgiveness, innocent men sentenced to die and freed after years on death row, like Curtis McCarthy, to Angela Merkel.   

But it was also a year marked, from the beginning, by the worldwide financial crisis and by distrust about the  market as the only self-regulatory engine of human development on the planet. And by hikes in food prices all over the world after decades of stability, with bread wars in several countries and capitals of the world and by an increase in the number of people who fell below the absolute poverty line. In 37 countries there were bread or cous cous or rice revolts, while the number of people in the developed world who fell below the line of relative poverty increased. The Community of Sant’Egidio was worked to reaffirm the reasons for co-existence,  oppose the temptation of blaming the poor and immigrants, help civil society in the developing countries where it operates to avoid triggering a culture of contempt for minorities, which risks becoming dangerous and  which with time assumes the form of anti-gipsy, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and the criminalization of social or ethnic minorities and immigrants in Italy, Europe, Africa and other continents. It also got emergency plans underway in support of the populations hit by shortages of food supplies and increased violence, linked to the scarcity of food and work, from Guinea Conakry to Mozambique. 

Work on the promotion of peace on an international level involved the Community last year as well in the job of humanizing and removing the motives of conflict, of promoting negotiations and peace talks from Darfur to Togo, to North Uganda, to the Congo, while it continued to pursue the battle against the death penalty on the international scene; from mobilizing more than 900 cities, including some in countries which still maintain the death penalty for the Day of Cities against the Death Penalty, Cities for Life,  to organizing an international conference which gathered 15 Justice Ministers from Africa, Europe and Latin America and establishing the legislative procedure and support mechanisms for the abolition of the death penalty and adhesion to the United Nations resolution; the definitive abolition of the death penalty in 2008 in Uzbekistan, Burundi and Togo and the increase of the number of favourable votes in the UN for the anti-death penalty resolution, 106-48, which are in part directly related to the work carried out by the Community together with WACADP and other international institutions, a strategy on which the Community of Sant’Egidio has worked for years and which has recently speeded up and showed significant success.

It is impossible to summarize a year, on all continents, full of events. All under the sign of peace which has become the feature of the Community of Sant’Egidio’s daily life. Peace in the March of the beginning of the year, in the March to memory with the Jewish communities in several parts of the world (more than fifty initiatives in the world and in Italy to eradicate anti-Semitism, with marches, public gestures and conferences in favour of the Jewish communities at time characterized by confusion between solidarity for the Palestinian cause and growing and dangerous anti-Jewish sentiment), in weaving the social fabric in danger of fragmentation in European cities under the blow of social and economic crisis, and in the world’s South, through a program of education about co-existence and peace, especially towards street children and refugee populations. Peace in actively opposing widespread violence in the poor suburbs of the world’s southern regions through the alternative proposals of “schools for Peace”, “Rainbow Country”, long distance adoptions, the program “Bravo” for registering the population in Madagascar, the Ivory Coast and other countries, on the eve a global registration plan in Burkina Faso, where the question involves more than a third of the population and half of new births.

Peace and dialogue. With the high and most visible point being the International Meeting of Men and Religions in continuation of the “spirit of Assisi”.

The XXII edition, for the second time in collaboration with an Orthodox Church, the one headed by the Archbishop of all of Cyprus, Chrystostomos, entered the heart of the last wound and division of Europe, in the heart of the Mediterranean.
The last frontier of Europe, characterized by a wall that divides the sector occupied by the Turkish army in the wake of the 1973 crisis, was crossed several times during the worldwide inter-religious meeting, with the exceptional participation of people of peace like Ingrid Betancourt and Rabbi David Rosen, like Bishop Slejman from Baghdad. Delegations from different religions and from the Community of Sant’Egidio met with the three parties in conflict, promoting negotiations for the reunification and contributing, with an icon of peace and dialogue, to imagining reunification with respect for everyone on the level of civil society.
It was a confirmation of the “spirit of Assisi” at the center of a “pedagogy of peace” and a historic necessity in a time of conflict and of the instrumental use of religion and national identities.

The participation of a delegation from the Community at the funeral of the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksij II and the enthronement of the new Patriarch of Moscow and of all the Russias, Kirill, in the framework of a close and historic friendship of ecumenical significance and of a personal nature, strengthened during many meetings in Moscow and in the participation of the then Metropolitan Kirill in the several initiatives promoted by the Community under the sign of dialogue and of collaboration between Christians: these are the most meaningful moments of many other phases of ecumenical commitment during the year.

Peace,. Dialogue, humanization and defence of weaker lives. From those sentenced to death to the elderly who are no longer independent, in daily practice, in the search for alternatives to institutionalization and premature death because of an incapacity to isolate pain. For a “vitalist” mentality, which has difficulty in recognizing human dignity in pain and in a society confused by the outspoken debate on the limits of life, tempted by simplification or codification of laws which are not immune to the temptation of euthanasia as a shortcut to dealing with the vast problem of solitude and pain in the later years of life.     

“It’s not an easy life, that of pacifier, and the Community of Sant’Egidio incarnates that life in and extraordinary and original manner”, said the great theologian and witness of the 20th century, Olivier Clement, who died this year. In a year which saw the passing of other people who accompanied with love and friendship the Community of Sant’Egidio: sister Emmanuel Cinquin, friend of the poor of the chiffoniers of Cairo and Chiara Lubich, testimony of the unity and vitality of Christian love the maternity of the Church in every circumstance.

“Only Christianity, generous and profound, can each time constitute the compass that enables us to navigate the ocean in the tough and complicated world we live in”. continued Olivier Clement in a book dedicated to the Community. “The play yours, friends of Sant’Egidio. It seems as though you play very well! To each Christian his play. And it’s nice playing on a wide field!”

It is this that we have made an effort to be and to live. 

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