FROM THE POOR TO PEACE
In the last ten years the Community of Sant'Egidio has become increasingly well known on the international level for its contribution to peace building in the world. . The media has spoken of the
"UN of Trastevere" and of "the diplomats of Sant'Egidio". For these activities, the Community of Sant'Egidio has been honored with various prestigious awards and recognitions. In the Catholic Church and in other churches the Community is regarded as an important point of reference where the strong spirit of Christian unity is felt. Among the great religious leaders of the world Sant'Egidio has become a name of peace and dialogue. For many peoples and in particular for Africans, Sant'Egidio is a "house of peace" where many have sought and seek the end of conflicts that stain the world with blood. Many observers and experts consider the community as one of the most interesting examples of the ability of civil society to affect the international situation and influence peace and reconciliation processes. Sant'Egidio is studied, listened to and respected in various chanceries of the world, in many forums and by international organizations. Many people from some of the most different parts of the world turn to the community in search of help or of a solution for their countries in crisis (those in risk of civil conflict or already experiencing war).
From the beginning of the eighties Sant'Egidio has become engaged in various scenes of the international arena and in a special way for the preservation of peace and in favor of dialogue. Due to its growing presence in many regions of the world through the different Communities, Sant'Egidio feels very close to many difficult situations. Through time such interests have gone beyond the level of humanitarian action and development cooperation and have been transformed into a commitment in favor of dialogue in order to prevent tension and at times even into direct interventions of mediation.
Refugee Camp in Kukes (Albania)
Nonetheless a "Diplomatic Sant'Egidio", beside the humanitarian one, does not exist. The commitment of the Community to peace is born as an extension of its commitment to the poor and to fraternity. Sant'Egidio's concern about conflicts begins from its reality as a living and welcoming community, a community that prays. It is the same culture of reconciliation and solidarity that opens to a wider horizon. According to the preaching of the apostle Paul, it is a question of breaking down "the barrier which used to keep them apart, that is, the hostility between us." (Ep 2,14).
Hostility creates war and war is "the mother of all poverty". The Community is convinced that, besides appeals and a continual education in peace, it is possible to concretely work for peace, without fear of the weakness of one's means. This weakness, that is the lack of political, economic, or military power, can be transformed into a strength: moral strength, which attempts to transform a person from within, and make them more just, more merciful. It is a "weak strength" which can help peace. If it is true that after the end of the cold war there are now many who can provoke wars, it is also true that today everyone can work for peace: this has been our experience.
War has been perceived as the extreme evil, as mother of every poverty from the very beginning. This awareness has grown increasingly profound over the years, since the community's presence has reached many countries, in particular in Africa.
On the other hand the Church and its popes have cultivated, throughout the 20th century, a profound consciousness of war as "useless slaughter" (Benedict XV) or as "adventure without return" (John Paul II), with well known teaching about peace and the responsibility of believers and people of good will.
Pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau
The reflection on the word of God and daily prayer guide the community in questioning itself about the many "massacres of the innocent" of history and the present and to develop a vibrant awareness of the value of peace. The painful occurrence of past wars and contemporary conflicts become part of the daily concerns of the community, in the form of invocation in prayer, active solidarity but also concretely searching for solutions which keep in mind the political conditions of the country in crisis
Particularly alive in the heart of the community is the memory of the tragic experience of the
Shoah, the absolute evil born out of the heart of the second World War. It is the commitment to remember in order to prevent the victory of violence and so that no one will ever again find himself or herself alone against evil, as Andrea Riccardi said on a recent occasion in memory of the deportation of October 16, 1943 in Rome:
"As Sant'Egidio, we feel deeply this pact not to forget, which means not to tolerate that any community - above all the Jewish community - be set apart in civil life. A pact not to forget (…) Never, for any reason, we, Christians and Romans, should we be separated from our Jewish community. The more someone tries to isolate them, as it happened then speciously, the more we will be united. Anti-Semitism represents an offense to democracy, but -for believers- also a serious and culpable matter in front of God (…) Understand well that when one burns the synagogue, they also burn the church, the mosque, democratic politics, culture and much more… Thus, dear friends, today we are again together and tomorrow we will be always together to be silent and listen to the voices of those drowned in the Shoah."
Sant'Egidio is concretely close to the wars of our time, in particular those in Africa and in the Southern hemisphere. The misery of so many poor is made even more tragic by wars between states or civil wars. The same community was personally struck by the violence, with the loss of two of its members, Madora and Laurindo, during the long war in Mozambique.