The Christmas Lunch with the poor is a tradition of the Community of Sant'Egidio since when, in 1982, a small group of poor people was welcomed at the banquet table in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. There were about 20 people invited: some elderly of the neighbourhood friends of ours, who would have staid at home alone on that day, and some homeless people we had got to know in the streets of Rome.
20 yearshave passed since that first Christmas lunch: from that moment on, the banquet table has widened year after year, and from Trastevere it has reached many parts of the world, wherever the Community is present.
An extraordinary Christmas, which in the year 2000 has involved dozens of thousands of people in 52 different countries; homeless, people who live in institutions or in prison: all those poor helped by the Community during the year and many others who have joined for the feast.
Why, right at Christmas, does the Community gather with the poor at the banquet table?
The Community is a family gathered by the Gospel. Therefore at Christmas, when all over the world families gather around the table, the Community celebrates with the poor, who are our friends and our relatives.
San Francesco used to say that Christmas is "the feast of the feasts", which means that it should embrace everybody, none excepted. Tommaso da Celano writes that "Francesco in this day wanted the rich to satiate all the beggars, and wanted the oxes and the donkeys to receive a more plantiful ration of food and hay…"
In Greccio, the village of central Italy where he had prepared the crib for the first time, San Francesco went to the friars' banquet dressed like a poor, to remember them that everyone should take part in the feast, and particularly the poor.
At Christmas, all over the world, the families gather, buy presents to exchange with each other under the tree, prepare the table for the feast: but for those who don't have anybody this feast, more than all others, turns into a very sad day.
This is the reason why the Community wishes, on the very day Jesus was born, poor for the world's salvation, to gather as a big family where everybody can feel at home. It is the most beautiful image, which explains to the world eloquently the Community way of staying among the people and particularly with the poor.