SANT’EGIDIO, BIRTHDAY: A YEAR OF CLOSENESS TO THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T COUNT, A YEAR OF DIALOGUE FOR BUILDING PREVENTATIVE PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP
Forty three years ago, in Rome, in the very places where St. Philip Neri’s imagination and intelligence flourished, the Community of Sant’Egidio was founded. A small start. A few high school students, one of whom was Andrea Riccardi, discovered the Gospel and dreamed of changing the world and their own lives, together, not alone. An unconventional family that grew out of a sense of community and friendship with children and women in the Roman shanty towns. Friendship with the poor and outcasts of society, that would soon “de-provincialize” the first generation of the middle class, creating an alliance, with no predetermined limits, between the poor and the as yet unnamed Community of Sant’Egidio. Dealing with social hardship not with an idea transformation or ideology, but of dreams made real in personal lives.
A very modest beginning: friendship, Gospel, the poor. There was no name, which came five years later: Sant’Egidio, a cloistered monastery in Trastevere which was re-opened and remodelled from an abandoned building into the first church in Rome open at night to everyone. Today it is too small. Evening prayers are now held at the end of the day in many Roman neighbourhoods and several cities in the world, showing that the evening prayer and the word of the Gospel are at the center of Sant’Egidio, open to everyone, with no exclusion. And the center of this center is the evening prayer at Santa Maria in Trastevere, a church visited by 250,000 people a year, which represents a concrete example of the connection between prayer, the Gospel and friendship with the poor, as demonstrated at the Christmas lunch in the Basilica. This year 10,000 people in Rome and 130,000 in world took part in this Christmas tradition in a very special family, the family of the family-less.
RECAPITULATION OF A YEAR, 2010
The Community of Sant’Egidio’s birthday is an occasion for a reflection about what happened in the world and about how the Community sought to be, in different countries, the “Church of everyone, especially the poor”. Contemplation not only about its successes, but also of the difficulty of working in countries at times hostile towards the weak and where the number of worshippers killed while going to church rose, and of choosing to be a bridge of humanity in zones of conflict. A reflection about the past year is also characterized by the difficulty of giving help in war zones and areas of endemic violence, the pain of seeing how slowly the world manages to react to situations of extreme suffering and poverty, like in Haiti, even when it exerts extraordinary energy.
Sant’Egidio devoted much of its activity in 2010 to Africa, with the aim of building concrete alternatives to the desire to flee, epidemics, lawlessness and abuses intensified by the absence of a structure for recording the birth of millions of children and adults every year; the Communities of Sant’Egidio exerted more time and energy to creating opportunities and hope in order to resist the temptation of “Afro-pessimism” in Africa itself and among the world’s wealthy countries in Europe; European weariness appeared as another human, spiritual and cultural challenge to meet together. The growth of interest in China seemed to make Africa less interesting. The salvation of Africa was in the air breathed in all of the Sant’Egidio Communities: a need for a less defeatist Europe, a Europe less paralyzed by its own internal problems. As Europeans, the search for a heart, a soul and a passion as globalization became a cultural and personal challenge has produced a growing sense of responsibility and initiative on the part of the Communities in Asia and in the Americas: young and growing Communities have assumed the responsibility of dialogue and reconciliation, of actions to bring aid in cases of emergencies caused by hurricanes and earthquakes and to obtain the liberation of prisoners, the registration of invisible children, to support of the elderly and to defend rights and dignity of immigrants, the handicapped, gypsies and unemployed youths. This was also a constant commitment for the Communities in Italy and Europe. This rapid summary of a year’s activities, which places the stress on a few emblematic Italian and European episodes, is guilty of omission with respect to hundreds of other initiatives in the world, sometimes smaller in scope and dimension, but nonetheless of greater meaning and innovation; an extraordinary effort that creates and supports segments of civil society and strengthens public opinion in countries that are often undemocratic, have weak governments and scarce educational resources. In this regard, every initiative cited in these brief notes, should always be pictured in different places, with different methods, in a local and global style, always on a planetary level.
In many of the 73 countries where it is present, more than 60,000 members of the Community of Sant’Egidio and several others who cooperate with the Community are involved on a daily basis in running Schools for Peace, supporting the elderly in need of help, promoting a culture of hospitality for immigrants, gypsies, social minorities and ethnic groups, praying and opposing the planetary problem of growing and spreading violence, in some cases risking their own lives. In the past three years two young adults in the Community of Sant’Egidio were killed for their commitment to justice, for being Christian and for not having accepted corruption or conformity in areas with a high rate of lawlessness and zones controlled by drug trafficking gangs and young criminals.
A recap of activities in 2010 shows the growth not only of the Community of Sant’Egidio in many countries in the world’s South, but also of Gospel Schools, a broad movement of groups of adults: Christians and non Christians who want to familiarize themselves with the Gospel, people who are in search of something new, attracted to Christ and a life style less focused on themselves and open to others, to the poor, with a personal commitment. A significant growth was registered in Rome, in Italy and in many European countries: an element of humanization and reconciliation in daily life of big European cities sometimes permeated by intolerance and social fragmentation. It was also a year of growth for a generation of secular African, Latin American, Indonesian, Asian Christians willing to take part in a dialogue with everyone and of creating hope for other youths and adults; this also applies to countries where Christians are a minority and at times targeted by extremists.
A WEEK, THE LAST ONE OF JANUARY 2011
It’s hard to tell about a whole year: only in the last week there were initiatives at the grass-roots level to unravel the conflict in the Ivory Coast and reduce the chances of clashes in the streets and victims, even in remote regions of the country, in anticipation of resolving, without a civil war, the battle between the “two presidents”, the one recognized by the international community and the outgoing president: “Living together”, in Ouellé, is an example of how the Communities of Sant’Egidio work in places unknown to the West, but where millions of men and women live. The meetings of the permanent contact group, made up of the leaders of several religious communities, were held in Abidjan in order to help achieve national reconciliation. In the same week there was a speech in the Italian parliament on the European Year of Volunteerism; a new Guide for the poor (“Where to Eat, Sleep and Wash Up) was published in Madrid; an event was held at the Milan train station in memory of the deportation of the Jews; the project Viva gli Anziani! (Long live the elderly!) was proposed to local authorities in Novara; an event on the last Sunday of January in Rome in memory of all the homeless people who died on the street: an event and a symbol in cities distracted and used to everything aimed at giving dignity, friendship and a name to every homeless person. And more: the first shipment of aid was delivered to the Fatima Hospital of Sagordh, in the Pakistani state of Punjab. The Community’s web site is another way of exhibiting the large number of activities that took place last year: a crossroads of news and languages. There are sites in seven major languages and another 15 with a lower number of news stories and pages, but still give an idea of what the Community of Sant’Egidio is today and how it expresses itself on the outside and inside. It is possible to view the Community’s prayer meetings on line, as it is broadcast in collaboration with the In Blu circuit for Italy and is accessible, via internet, at 20:30, Italian time, all over the world. The website www.santegidio.org is updated on a daily basis: by following the website it becomes clear how the problems of the world are, for Sant’Egidio, “internal” problems. It could not be otherwise, given the fact that Communities, made up of local residents, are spread around the world in 73 countries, not only in major world capitals but also in places where there is no public transportation, in rural zones far away from the cities in Africa, in the highlands of Latin America. The challenge of treating, free of charge, the victims of Aids in ten sub-Saharan African countries is one of the Community’s most important programs in scope and size. It represents a required and natural reaction, showing that we do not accept as normal the distance between the availability of treatment in the world and the absence of basic needs, the denial of the right to treatment as a human right in sub-Saharan Africa. The program DREAM has affected 100,000 people who received treatment in 2010, with a million people and families involved in prevention, education, antiretroviral therapy, the fight against malaria and tuberculosis, nutritional therapy, counseling, support for teen-agers who were infected at birth, the treatment of children (in numbers amongst the highest in the world). 3,500 professional health givers and other professionals have been trained, becoming a patrimony of knowledge and technical know-how that stays in Africa, without any “brain drain”.
Local, global. This makes it possible to be ready, to be among the first to arrive because we’re already there and to provide aid, which not coming from the outside does complicate the situation in the major international emergencies. Like in Haiti, where in the midst of the chaos of aid, a family guest house was set up for orphaned children; in Pakistan, where aid was provided to the Muslim population badly hit by the floods; in Iraq and Nigeria, where vulnerable Christian communities were supported while aid was distributed in one of the most complex regions of the world. But everyday, even in this past week, is a day in which tens of thousands of street urchins, children from the expansive outer city suburbs grow in the Schools for Peace. Here in Rome – in contrast to two decades of the partial failure of all of the policies on the integration of the gypsies, which have given rise to growing sentiments of intolerance - 21 percent more gypsy children go to school thanks to the experimental programs launched by the Community. Specifically the program “Right to School, Right to a Future”, denominated a best practice approved by the European Union.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS NOT A NEWS STORY IN A DAILY PAPER
Only the most important events get included in an annual summary although there is no doubt that the experiences of the Community of Sant’Egidio all over the world is a “counter-story” a “non news story”: attempting to become men and women who do not think only of themselves, people who do not put the gratuitousness of the world, the Western world, at the center of their lives, considered attractive for the South of the planet, where everything can be bought and everything can be sold. A world in which a sense of a common good risks becoming clouded, often at the level of the ruling class. Gratuitousness, the poor as friends of the Community. The “Church’s treasure”, as the martyr Saint Lawrence taught and how Pope Benedict XVI told the Community a little more than a year ago during his visit to the Rome soup kitchen on Via Dandolo, where he ate with the poor. The relationship with Pope Benedict has been enriched by meetings in several parts of the world, where the Community has tried, in simple ways, to support the him in a tough year for the Catholic Church and the Roman bishopric.
At the end of a decade characterized by violence and war and by a radical crisis of market credibility, after a difficult decade which leaves with fewer resources to the next decade, the Community of Sant’Egidio, wherever it is, has tried to create conditions for living together, reducing intolerance and the demonization of others, which leads to civil wars, religious persecution, social violence, the segregation of immigrants and the poor in all forms.
A decade that symbolically started on September 11, 2001, comes to an end marked by the disastrous practice of “preventative war”. In time this theory appears to have become a widespread behavior and ideology, on a personal and social level: we have witnessed the growth of “social aversion”, not only in Italy. Along with a financial crisis that quickly became an economic and social crisis of considerable proportions and numbers, a climate of accentuated inhospitality slowly replaced well-established traditions of inclusion. Not only in Italy, but in East Europe and elsewhere as well. The Communities of Sant’Egidio increased public meetings, dialogue with local authorities and public opinion, demonstrations, cultural events and concrete actions in defense of minorities, who were becoming the target of growing distrust and aggressiveness. There was a social fragility that in many cases turned into fear, demands for exemplary measures, simplification and criminalization of people who came from other places and were different. The Communities of Sant’Egidio in Italy and the rest of the world worked to discover the the paths to living together, culturally and concretely rebuilding a sentiment of unified destiny between generations, between older and newer citizens and between different ethnic groups. It was a deed of “preventative peace” ranging from a personal level – behavior and a personal and spiritual commitment to active pacification – to the forging of paths to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue between the sides in conflict. Micro and macro.
Youths for peace, the movements of the Rainbow Country, oriented mostly to children and adolescents, and that of Friends, which deals with the disabled in Italy and the world, represented venues of non violent training and initiatives in favor of the weakest minorities: a school for learning the art of living together and the ability to resist the temptation of identifying other groups as competitors and enemies. There is also the Atelier d’Arte, which organized traveling exhibits in Italy and Europe.
An anthropology of civil co-existence and friendship inspired the education of children and youths, many of whom were drawn to the Gospel and the exemplary nature of Christ’s passion and emotion for every man and woman, starting with the poorest. From the struggle to attain citizenship for children born to foreign parents in Italy (with a national campaign for the reform of citizenship laws launched by the Community of Sant’Egidio in Genoa) to children rescued from the streets and institutions in the midst of civil strife in the Ivory Coast, to the program Rigiocattolo (Re-Toys) in many Italian and European cities, aimed at creating a more aware and environment-friendly relationship with consumerism by re-utilizing slightly used toys: all this while at the same time promoting friendship and solidarity between children of the world’s North and the South.
An education for peace and friendship with the “other”, which has translated into hundreds of initiatives, some bigger than others, some local. The pilgrimage “for a world without violence” of East European youths to Auschwitz-Birkenau is an example. So was the conference “Living together in multi-cultural cities” at the Expo in Shanghai, in the presence of President Napolitano. The movement of “Friends” produced innovative proposals on broad issues of urban co-existence and national identity in Italy. Against the mainstream came the museum of artworks produced by the handicapped in Tor Bella Monaca, thanks to the efforts of the Atelier d’Arte, the movement of Friends and exhibits on this theme organized through the years. The artworks produced are extremely good, sometimes of extraordinary and moving quality: “Noi, Italia (We, Italy)”, an artistic reflection on the Unity of Italy and on common values in a phase in which the drive for national unity appears weakened on the part of segments of the government and leadership of the country. An anthropology in several circumstances made up of exemplary initiatives, concrete examples aimed at everyone, in alternative to schematizations and confrontation, which has become a habit in the public debate, like a pensée unique, a one-track interpretation of politics in economic terms.
In a tough situation in the Ivory Coast, meetings with imams, Christian leaders and the population helped limit the number of victims of violence in a convulsive period for the country, a period of latent civil war, while steps were taken with the leadership in an attempt to break the stalemate created by the presidential elections and the two elected presidents.
A complex and successful diplomatic action has become a daily practice, crowned by “preventative peace” agreements, which involved all sides in the Niger (October 15, 2010) and Guinea Conakry. The Niger is emblematic of the threats to stability in Africa as a transit point for traffic and international terrorism, widespread lawlessness and chronic political instability. The agreement between all political forces signed Rome, which outlined a united approach and a calendar for establishing democracy, a government and institutions in the coming months, was good news on the international front. Similarly, efforts in Guinea Conakry and Rome in May led to the signing of a protocol agreement between all forces present in the National Assembly and the transitory government for the holding of the very first free presidential and parliamentary elections in the history of the country, after 40 years of dictatorship and the achievement of independence.
These accomplishments earned recognition from the African Union on July 16 with the signing of a “protocol agreement for cooperation between the Community of Sant’Egidio and the African Union’s Commission”, which recognized the “super partes” role of Sant’Egidio in international mediation and cooperation. The Chirac Foundation Award given to Mario Giro for “Preventative Peace” in Paris in 2010, like the Karl Preiz Prize awarded to Andrea Riccardi the year before in Aachen, marks the continuation of peace efforts enriched today by a capillary action reaching to children, teen-agers, families, local communities and the establishment for achieving peaceful co-existence, particularly in regions marked by war or widespread violence.
This is one of the identifying roles of the Community of Sant’Egidio, particularly in the course of the past two decades. For the first time, the major achievements of mediation and efforts to achieve national reconciliation and end civil wars and ethnic conflicts were published in a book, replete with first hand documents and never before told episodes: “Fare Pace (Making Peace)”, published by Leonardo International, in the series “Sant’Egidio Books”. In many Italian cities, the presentation of the book became an occasion for a public reflection on alternatives to war in resolving conflicts and the necessity to reduce the atmosphere of social confrontation in Italy.
The opening of a dining hall for the poor and a school in Goma (Democratic Republic of the Congo); the “peace caravan” in El Salvador aimed at engaging youths in discussions about peace and offering an alternative to gangs, which in 2009 killed William Quijano, head of the Community’s School for Peace in the neighborhood of Apopa; the initiatives in memory of the Shoah, from Bratislava to Milan (Binario 21”), from Wurzburg to the big march in Rome on October 16: all of these fall into the same context of the need to build a culture of the “Other” as an alternative to a culture of “contempt”.
Echoes of these accomplishments and this awareness can be found in documentaries which, in a rather casual manner, were produced this year: L’audacia dell’amore (the audacity of love), which for the first time deals with the history of the Community of Sant’Egidio; Contagio Positivo (positive contamination), which deals with the program DREAM in Malawi; Dominique’s Story, which tells the story of the life and last days of Dominque Green, sentenced to death in Texas, and the beginning of the Community’s international campaign against the death penalty; Segni di Pace ad Auschwitz (signs of peace at Auschwitz) which through scenes from the past and present shows the horror of the Shoah as well as the pilgrimage, in many ways unique, of the world’s major religions to Auschwitz-Birkenau in September 2009.
A LITTLE-KNOWN ASPECT: ACTIONS FOR INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCIES – AND IN DAILY LIFE – IN THE WORLD’S SOUTH
Sant’Egidio has a Roman heart but its body is all over the world: it spontaneously and promptly shows up in disaster zones where millions of victims have been claimed and millions of families involved, not only in Haiti and Pakistan but also in other places not highlighted by the Western or Italian media. There is also a daily range of activities not linked to emergencies, with initiatives to reduce suffering in so many places in the world. By way of example: a container from Rome filled with goods from the Città Eco-solidale (eco-solidarity market) was shipped to El Salavador to aid the victims of hurricane Ida. Among the first achievements and signs of hope in Haiti after last year’s hurricane was the re-opening of the School of Peace of Canapé-Vert and the opening of a family guest house in full operation in Port au Prince. It’s hard to list all the achievements.
A voyage in geography and solidarity, with no predictable or obvious limits: the long-distance adoption of children and families in Tamil Nadu, which has continued since the tsunami of 2004 following the reconstruction of homes and schools and the resumption of fishing activities; the Schools of Peace in Berat and two new family guest houses for former patients of the psychiatric hospital in Tirana, Albania; relief sent on September 3, right after the floods that affected twenty million inhabitants to the Pakistani region of Charsadda, and distributed by local Communities of Sant’Egidio; the dental and ophthalmological treatments offered free of charge in Guayaquil, Ecuador, together with the Schools of Peace. The Community sent aid and was on the scene in the zones hit by the hurricane in Central America, from El Salvador to Nicaragua and Cali in Colombia, working with victims of an attempted mass poisoning, homeless men and women: standing alongside the victims of the earthquake in Karonga and the immigrants in Rosarno, Italy, battered by the violent attacks of the local population. We were there in the Roman quarters where anti-immigrant raids were launched as well as in the Mentanawi Islands in Indonesia, where the Indonesian Communities came with aid and support. The list is much longer. But it is possible to get an idea of how the Communities of Sant’Egidio live and operate in Italy, collecting aid in the central and southern regions of the country to bring aid to flood victims Veneto: a natural show of solidarity, counter to the trend of the cultural atmosphere in the country. What made the difference in every part of the world was once again the ability to be “local” and to offer a know how of international solidarity and material means that, once collected, go straight to the population, as well as the characteristic of total volunteerism and professionalism of those who chose to devote weeks of their lives in the emergency areas. It happened for the earthquake in Haiti, where in the days immediately following the quake with arrival of volunteers and experts from the Communities of the United States, El Salvador and Central America.
Meanwhile, the number of long-distance adoptions grew to over 9,000, making it possible for that many kids and families go to school and obtain an upper school education. In some cases it has made it possible to set up family guest houses and shelters for street children, who grow and study thanks to long-distance adoption and undertakings of support for entire villages and groups of families. A daily action, which creates more humane conditions in a quiet and stable manner.
MEMORY OF THOSE FORGOTTEN, TO GIVE DIGNITY TO EVERY HUMAN LIFE
There is one aspect that is perhaps the most telling of last year’s activities. The so-called “Mass for Modesta”, a celebration in memory of all of the homeless people who died on the street held in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere on January 30, 2011, the last Sunday of the month: an event repeated every year. It is a remembrance started in 1983, the year that a homeless woman, Modesta Valenta, died of an ailment after not being rescued, like she should have been. She died without receiving treatment because she was dirty. A mass in memory of all those who died on the street, name by name, during the last few years, gathers together a crowd of friends of the poor and poor people rarely seen in church. The certainty of not being forgotten, their dignity remembered with affection, even several years after their passing, is a sharp contrast to the anonymity of big cities, with the degradation of human relationships, the hurried pace and the concentration only on the present. The remembrance regards people considered invisible, meaningless and sometimes not even included in the census.
The memory of the weak, who don’t count, and the victims of big and small acts of urban violence has been a constant factor in Rome neighborhoods and the world. Identification of those who froze to death, a dignified funeral, offering company and friendship to many dependent elderly people. The public remembrance of the Rumanian nurse Maricica Hahainu, killed in the Anagnina subway station for sheer intolerance and no other reason, little Marius, burned to death in a shanty in Rome; the memory of all children and young gypsies, immigrants who died violent deaths; the visits and concrete aid given to the survivors of the tragedy of Sangem, in South Kivu, on the part of the Community of Bukavu and Uvira; closeness to the lepers in Mozambique led to the creation of Communities with a majority of leper members. All these accomplishments are a key to understanding the past year in the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Community’s priorities.
The commemoration, with an ecumenical liturgy, “To die of hope”, to recall the refugees who died in the Mediterranean while seeking asylum, victims of traffickers and journeys made tougher and tougher. A thousand more than the previous year: a disturbing question about the security policies put into effect and the international agreements which have made the journeys of hope even more dangerous.
Every human life has dignity: prisoners in Italy and the rest of the world, death row inmates, the powerless outcasts who stir thoughts among some people about eugenics and social euthanasia. Every human being has a name and a history and is worthy of being loved and remembered, particularly the poorest people of society. The pain and violence of sudden death in some cases can lead only to prayer. But prayer is also a call to entire cities and entire communities to make daily life as humane as possible, even where living conditions are the worst.
The Community of Sant’Egidio attends to 80 prisons around the world on a regular basis: in Africa, Latin America and Europe. The campaign for the liberation of prisoners has been joined by over a thousand inmates in Italian jails, who provide aid, at their own personal expense, to prisoners in Africa with no soap, food or a mat to sleep on. Mattresses have been donated to the central jail of Garoua (Cameroun), visits have been made and aid given to the jail in Grand Bassam, the Ivory Coast, and rehabilitation programs have been organized in the juvenile jail of Mbeya (Tanzania). Freedom has been obtained for prisoners in Mozambique (25 in just three months), where the Community is active in the Angoche and Pemba jails in the capital and in Nampula. Street children have been freed and brought back to their families with the support of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Maroua, Cameroun. The campaign for humane treatment becomes an occasion for redemption, even for prisoners.
Through innovative agreements with customs authorities, thousands of confiscated clothing items, from shoes to pajamas, have been distributed in Italian jails. The drive for a more civilized society is also carried out, in a country to country basis, at the level of institutions and legislative proposals aimed at overcoming contradictions, the failure of a prison system becoming less and less “rehabilitative” and more and more a convergence of social contradictions, and a judicial system limited solely to the moment of sentencing. The most telling event in this drive are the Christmas meals organized in jails around the world and in 24 Italian prisons, with meals provided to one out of every twenty prisoners in Italy. On December 26, the meal was held for the second time in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison, with national penitentiary authorities attending and participating in an open debate.
A correspondence has been established with over 1,500 death row inmates, who also receive aid, while the campaign to put an end to the death penalty intensified. The Community of Sant’Egidio, together with FIDH, recapitulated the latest efforts on behalf of World Coalition Against the Death Penalty at the fourth World Congress. The Congress and the international Conference of Justice Ministers, held in May 2010, was attended by more than twenty countries and the drafting of a plan for furnishing technical assistance for achieving a moratorium of executions and abolition to countries that still apply the death penalty The process of repudiating the death penalty in Central Asia has been strengthened through visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, direct actions in Mongolia and a dialogue with the president of the Maldives, which contributed considerably to a greater number of votes in favor of the third resolution for a universal moratorium approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations. A country by country effort in Africa contributed to lowering the number of votes against the resolution and the number of abstentions.
A campaign to stop the exportation from Italy of sodium thiopental, an anaesthesia used in the mortal cocktail of chemical substances administered to prisoners put to death by lethal injection, was launched on the occasion of the International Day of Cities Against the Death Penalty, November 29-30 (this year more than 1,300 cities in the world became Cities for Life and took part in 250 international events held simultaneously). By mid-January the goal was achieved.
The American company Hospira, headquarters of the Italian subsidiary based in Liscate, which was the only plant still authorized to produce the substance, announced that it was suspending production altogether because of the Community campaign, which along with other Ngo’s involved parliamentary and governmental initiatives: one more element to make it harder to carry out executions in the United States. The Community worked tirelessly for some time, together with institutions, public groups and the abolitionist movements in the U.S. and Illinois, to get Governor Quinn sign the law abolishing the death penalty, expected to come in February 2011.
A DIFFICULT YEAR FOR CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD
The year that just ended, which opened and closed with attacks on churches and conflicts from Iraq to Nigeria and Egypt, saw the Community of Sant’Egidio standing by Christians threatened in different parts of the world. In Latin America, from Buenos Aires to San Salvador, the memory of Msgr. Romero inspired conferences and reflections as the 31st anniversary of the Salvadorian bishop’s martyrdom approaches. Gestures of solidarity towards Iraqi Christians, Othodox Coptics and Pope Shenouda following the suicide attack at the beginning of 2011 were a necessary albeit painfully insufficient tribute. Prayers for the victims of the terrorist attacks were held on several occasions. The Community tried to respond to what Pope Benedict XVI called “Christianphobia”, creating situations of dialogue in order to dissolve fear and distrust, without forgetting to spread the word of the Gospel: the international conference in Rome on February 10, 2010 entitled “A Dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East”, the public debate in Jakarta on “Spreading the Gospel” (July 5) and the prayers for Christians in Iraq held at St. Bartholomew’s church on the Tiberina Island in Rome. The prayers with the synod fathers from the Middle East meeting in Rome provided another occasion to reflect on the need for co-existence in a land still afflicted by conflict and tough living conditions, which prompt many Christians to emigrate because of growing instability: a terrible collateral effect of wars started for the purpose of spreading democracy in the area. The attacks on religious sites did not spare mosques in Iraq and Pakistan. Last year was marked in a horrible manner by the instrumental use of religious identity for creating terror and striking against social and political adversaries. Still, even in the context of conflict and daily problems, the Communities of Sant’Egidio, from Indonesia to Pakistan, continued to provide service alongside the poor of every religious persuasion. They also offered hospitality to Muslim immigrants and refugees for prayers on important Islamic holidays in several cities.
The international prayer meeting for peace in Barcelona at the beginning of September (“Family of Peoples, Family of God”) along with simultaneous regional encounters between worshippers of major world religions on different continents, came a short time prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Barcelona for the inauguration of the Sagrada Familia. It helped to underscore the universal significance of the visit and contributed to the development of a favorable atmosphere in a city where the population is not particularly religiously observant but was nonetheless affected by the contribution of dialogue, understanding and cultural content offered to the participants of the international meeting. The possibility of peaceful co-existence and need for a dialogue as a response to the crisis and the pathology of fear and conflict in the Mediterranean and the Middle East was forcefully reasserted. It was an important moment of dialogue, characterized by the presence of, among others, the chief rabbi of Israel, the rector of Al-Azhar University, the presidents of Cyprus and Montenegro, secular intellectuals and the largest Islamic participation (12 countries) ever at the International Prayer fore Peace conference. The frank and heated debate between Israeli government minister Youli Yoel Edelstein and Palestinian minister Mahmoud Al Habas was a highlight in the search for an alternative to violence on the day the truce on new Israeli settlements was due to expire, in a moment of high tension in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The event in Catalonia was also highlighted by the participation of Russian metropolitans Filaret and Hilarion and the historic celebration presided over by the Archbishop of Barcelona, with sermons by the Metropolitan of Minsk and the archbishop. It was the result of a long history of friendship with the Patriarchy of Moscow, which the Community built and experienced, a friendship crowned by the bestowal of the Order of Saint Serius award upon Andrea Riccardi by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Cyril, on January 29, 2010. The international conference in Rome on the theme “The poor are a precious treasure of the Church: Orthodox and Catholics on the path of charity” (May 5) fell into the context of the visits and cooperation developed with the Patriarchy of Moscow. Charity intended as a privileged terrain of meetings and common efforts between Catholics and Orthodox in the service of the poor.
It was announced in Barcelona that next year’s Inter-religious Meeting for Peace will be held in Munich on the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2011. It will be a new start, under the sign of dialogue, in the heart of Europe, from a city that saw the rise of Nazism and the horror of persecution and war in full force.
On January 1, the first day of the year, more than 10,000 people took part in a Prayer and March for Peace in Rome, an event cited by Pope Benedict XVI in his Angelus prayer, who recalled that tens of thousands of people were staging similar events in other parts of the world organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.
MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE
Children and adults who took part in the Bravo! Project for registering adults and new births with records authorities were among the “invisible” people made visible in 2010. First launched through an agreement with the Burkina Faso government, the Year of free and universal population registration , Bravo!, went into full force during the year that just ended. Three and half million children were registered, reducing in a sizeable manner program a field for abuse, human trafficking, lawlessness, the impossibility to study or work on a regular basis and a potential source of ethnic conflict and civil war. A model was created, involving judicial and administrative authorities, the media, the Catholic church and village chiefs, involved in the training of professional skills for creating a permanent records service.
The Burkina Faso model was discussed with administrative and political authorities from several African countries at two international conferences “Ghost Children Never Again: Africa and the challenge of keeping records of the population” and “Help me exist”, held in Ouagadougou, laying the groundwork for a much broader program.
“Bravo!” has been launched on a more limited basis in other African countries, from Madagascar to Tanzania, Uganda and all regions where the Community’s Schools of Peace and Nutritional Centers are active.
It is a huge challenge – there are more than 50 million unrecorded births every year around the world – still at its beginnings: a program that, like the anti-Aids program, of gigantic proportions that require enormous resources. Only 5 percent of the funds collected by the Community are used for general expenses and all the rest, 95 percent, are totally poured into program in favor of the recipients: a statistic that has always made Sant’Egidio a special case in the realm of international organizations. In 2010, the Agenda Association of Sant’Egidio was created and took its first steps to help find resources to fund the far-reaching programs. The Association promoted a charity event at the preview of the Rossini opera Moise et Pharaon, directed by Riccardo Muti at the Rome Opera House.
In 2010, the almost forty year long history of Sant’Egidio’s service to the elderly was faced with new international developments. In Italy and Europe proposals increased for a reform of official assistance policies still based mostly on hospitalization and transfer to large residential structures. The volume “Long Live the Elderly” proposes an innovative program of welfare and protection for people over 65, giving priority to assistance at home in place of institutionalization, an important step towards a more mature system. A program at the disposal of local governments , which can improve the quality of life while at the same time reducing the dangers of dependency and social isolation: all at an affordable price.
The expansion of the program in Rome to include the Esquilino neighborhood and other sections of the country makes it possible to give effective examples of protecting all senior citizens over 65. The Community has proposed expanding the Viva gli Anziani! experience to the five provinces of the Lazio region. The proposal represents an outlook for improving the quality of life of the elderly, including those who are not self-sufficient, and the possibility of lowering the number of hospitalizations and emergency room treatments. On June 21 the effectiveness of the program was awarded the August and Marie Krogh Medal, the Denmark Academy’s award for excellence in improving the quality of life.
There were major changes in relations with the elderly last year. The Community of Sant’Egiodio in the world, in the Southern hemisphere, witnessed an increase in episodes of violence and discrimination against the elderly: a contrast to the widespread desire to see the elderly honored in traditional society. In a rapid and confusing transformation from traditional cultures to globalization the elderly risk becoming the weak link in the chain and the least protected, along with children, in the South of the world. In Mozambique, Guinea Conakry, Santa Maria di Cahabon, in Alta vera Paz (Guatemala), Managua in Nicaragua and other countries associations of “Friends of the elderly” were created. The major event was the international conference in Malawi, which placed on the agenda the danger of a new invisible emergency in several African countries, where only 22 percent of the elderly population is covered by health insurance or pensions, as opposed to 75 percent in Europe. A new frontier for the world’s South.