Homily of His eminence Cardinal Paul Poupard
President Pontifical Council for Culture and of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue
on the occasion of the 39th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Community of Sant’Egidio
Rome, San Giovanni in Laterano February 8th 2007
1. I would like to express my personal joy for being able to preside this celebration of the 39th Anniversary of the Community of Sant’Egidio. First of all I need to express the regret of His Eminence, the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, for not being able to participate to this celebration as he would have likes. Unfortunately institutional commitments make it for him impossible to be here tonight. He asked me to address to you all his greetings and wishes. I also would like to add my wishes to his while I greet all of you and especially professor Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community, to professor Marco Impagliazzo, the President and monsignor Matteo Zuppi the Assistant. I greet all of you whom I have known for many years, also for the life in the district of Trastevere and for the participation in the celebrations at Santa Maria. I must also remember, among those who are present here, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, Bishop of Terni Narni and Amelia,. I also would like to extend a warm greeting to all the other Bishop and the Representatives of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities.
2. The Community of Sant’Egidio is standing at the threshold of its 40 years of life. We offer our best wishes. We look at the future. What better lamp to our steps than the Word of God? Jesus call his disciples around him, as we read in the Gospel. The Community of Sant’Egidio, and it is one of its founding characters, allows itself to be called by the Lord in prayer. It is the prayer of the evening that is held in Rome, in many places, and all over the world there where the Community is present. I too, when I come to your evening prayer in Santa Maria in Trastevere, from the back, I see many people that have been gathered. They are members of the Community, but they are also people who are searching for words on their life, who are searching for silence inside a confused city. Sweetly, through your prayer, you let the attraction for the Lord grow in the hearts of many. Prayer has been the great resource for Sant’Egidio throughout these years. Prayer that is listening to the Word of God but also a space that is offered to everyone. Even today, to thank the Lord foe the gift of your life to you and to us all, we are gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist. And it is right that we are man, coming from all over the city, around this altar: friends, supporters people who share your path, people who want to thank you, because you are a sign of hope in this world. We feel that you, in Rome, you are a resource of the Spirit. You are a resource of the Spirit in many parts of the world. You are a resource of the Spirit in many African Countries. I say this thinking about DREAM, the program of treatment of AIDS that is taking care of many sick people in the Sub-Saharan Africa. You have been a resource of the Spirit in countries at war, as Mozambique, where Sant’Egidio has been a force of peace and reconciliation. But today we say it in Rome and for Rome, in this Cathedral of Rome, because Sant’Egidio is a Roman fruit that has become universal. You made the small and large threads of your friendships and meetings grow, living the Rome as a commmunis patri. It is an expression that was dear to Paul VI. John Paul II often repeated to you: “wherever there are Communities of Sant’Egidio in the world, they are always of Rome”. Today we enter this Roman Cathedral, we enter this temple with joy. The joy with which the lame was walking and jumping, praising God, entering the temple (cf Acts 3,8). It was the joy of a man that had been saved. Peter had looked at him, he did not give him gold or silver, but the power of the name of the Lord. Today we enter the temple praising the Lord. We enter together with the people you have looked at, who praise the Lord as well, those you have taken by the hand, the poor, those who are not abandoned any more.
3. This is the great family of Sant’Egidio, a family where those who help is mixed with those who are helped. The Spirit of Sant’Egidio is that of being one family with the poor. Today we see the festive face of this family. But day after day, even with sacrifice, with the clothes of faithfulness, you have built links of solidarity with many who are in need. The poor, those of the shanty towns first and then the old people, those who are ill, the lonely, the disabled, the homeless, they have all been companions and friends of yours. You gave them much; and they gave you much. You understood that any one has much to give, even whoever seems with nothing. A lot were begging for help, for a word, but they are standing with us today. Therefore as it was for people in the Temple of Jerusalem we are “filled with amazement and astonishment” (see Acts 3:10). Your reply was not gold nor silver, but –as you sing in a song that the Servant of God, John Paul II, liked very much- only the Word of God. Jesus calls us disciples in this liturgy and says : “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” (Mk.10:42-44). Then, do not give up to be as great as Jesus calls us to be !And indeed you did not give up to be great! Nowadays facing the challenges of a global world deeply stirred apart, people can easily feel little, hiding in modesty and littleness. I often hear people saying: what can be done ? There is a spirit of mediocrity, that changes into selfishness , fear, giving up dreams. It is the temptation of Europe: thinking not in a “big way”. But this grandeur –if you allow me this word in my mother tongue- is not control, dominion or arrogance. It is the greatness of whoever becomes servant, servant of all. It is the greatness of dreaming for all. Patriarch Athenagoras, whom I had the privilege of meeting many years ago while working in the Secretary of State, used to say :” if we are able to be great then unity will be done”. Great that means servants of all. If we keep great, a lot will be possible. When I am among you, dear friends, - let me say it confidentially- I feel the dreams of the Vatican Council time come true. I lived that time as a “Church spring”, as the blessed John XXIII said. I was then a young collaborator of his. A church friend of all and above all of the poor. A Church longing to Christian unity; dialogue with believers of all religions; a testimony of peace.
4. Dreams, no utopias…A man of my generation has seen sorrowful as well as exalting times of history. – World War II, Jew persecution, the absurd and tragic utopia of Soviet communism in Europe, the utopian expectations of May ’68 in Paris, but even the French-German reconciliation, Europe construction, the birth of new countries in the South of the world. We should never give up dreaming and hoping, as the Gospel teaches us, even if the path is long and requires patience. A new world cannot be imposed by means of dominion, as rulers of nations, rather opening up hearts to hope. A long job, never concluded, but this is the way of the Gospel. You have devoted yourselves to these evangelical dreams like craftsmen of human things, day after day, with a faithful work, devoting your time, energies, sacrifice. It is possible. We should not resign to poverty, abandonment, war. We can accept not walls to grow among religions up to clash. We can renounce not to Christian to be united. I myself, as President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-faith dialogue, I realised as you did not let extinguish the dream of Assisi – an “event intended to mark our time history” , Benedict XVI wrote to you too for the commemorative meeting organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio. I had the joy of chairing that meeting in Assisi for 20th anniversary of that historical day. The spirit of Assisi blew in many places, it brought closer men and women who were far from one another, revealing that our destiny is not clash, rather encounter. Be great in love ! Jesus’ model orientates us: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk.10:45). Following him, everyone may better him/herself in faith and love, never be content of how we are. Be great in love ! It is the only superiority of a Christian – love. We are reminded of it by the Holy Father Benedict XVI in his Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est . Fr. Andrea Santoro said it. He was a Roman priest killed in Turkey: “ The highest way of superiority is the one of love and justice, that bends on other’s right and need, that is not defeated by evil, rather defeats evil with good…”. Be great in love and the Lord will bless you forever ! We all pray for you and with you.