Dear brothers and sisters,
I thank you for inviting me to celebrate this Liturgy. It is a great joy for me to be with you in this Lateran Basilica, gathered by our feelings of gratitude for the 46 years of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Different stories brought us here, but our feeling is one: gratitude to God for giving rise, in our city of Rome, to such a living experience of the Gospel, in response to the challenge set by the 2nd Vatican Council: that the Church be poor and for the poor.
Among us here there are those who started this experience of faith and service in the peripheries, where for years the venues of the Community have been a landfall for seekers of God and people in need. In the spirit of Sant’Egidio – as Benedict XVI said – “What happens at home is taking place here today: those who serve and help mingle with those who are helped and served”, until they become one authentic family. Also here, in this moment, one cannot distinguish those who help from those who are helped. We are one people.
Together with many young people, I see a number of elderly people among you, and I know how the Community is a support in their loneliness, a form of poverty that is added on to others. There are disabled people with you, the Movement of the Friends, that bear witness to their joy to live, and many others, in need, who are connected to the network of solidarity and communion of Sant’Egidio. Poor close-by and poor faraway, sometimes entire peoples who suffer that greatest form of poverty, which is the absence of peace. Among you there are also seveal Ambassadors, whom I greet, and who bear witness to the interest Sant’Egidio’s actions of peace and solidarity in the world meet.
I greet you, who come from many countries of Europe, of Africa, from all over the world, where Sant’Egidio lives and is active. Particularly, I wish to mention Prof. Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community, and Marco Impagliazzo, its president, as well as Bishop Matteo Zuppi. I greet also the bishops, friends of the Community, who in these days are in Rome for a congress of reflection. We are many to have joined this celebration because we are friends of a Community that has made friendship and dialogue one of the essentials of its presence in the society.
In looking at your Community, it seems to me that I see a response to the invitation Pope Francis recently addressed to the entire Church with his recent Apostolic Exhortation: “finding and sharing a “mystique” of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage. Greater possibilities for communication thus turn into greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity for everyone. If we were able to take this route, it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled! To go out of ourselves and to join others is healthy for us” (n. 87). Thank you for this great and simple witness of an “outward going Church”, and thank you for the joy that characterises your movement towards the existential peripheries of humanity, and your proclamation of the Gospel.
Which is the heart of this history? Perhaps we can sense it in the Gospel of Mark that we have heard, which reminds us, significantly, of the very heart of being Christians.
Jesus called his disciples to him and sent them out, two by two. It is the fulfilment of what he wished for the day he established the Twelve: he called them to be with him and to send them out together to proclaim the Kingdom. It seems a contradiction. How could they stay with Jesus and at the same time be removed from him in order to proclaim repentance and serve the needy? His call, and their gathering around him, are a clear image of such a profound communion between the Master and his disciples that endures even when they leave. Wherever the Twelve go, they bring the presence and the power of the Lord with them: it is him, among them, who speaks, heals, serves, and loves.
Is this not what occurs among you? The Communities of Sant’Egidio gather every day to pray and listen to the Word of God: in Rome – I think of the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, where I have also come to pray – but also in many other – humbler – places of the world. It is Jesus who summons you, speaks to you, connects you to him, makes you a community.
Then Jesus sends you out, as he sent out his disciples: listening to the Word of God and mission to the world are the cornerstone of the Community, which supports its merciful extroversion in many parts of the world. “The Church’s closeness to Jesus – Pope Francis reminds us again – is part of a common journey” (Evangelii gaudium, n. 22), until we learn to “find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas” (n. 91). Yours is not – and never can be – a self-referential Community, but rather a Community capable of mingling with everyone’s story, especially that of the poor.
Wherever Sant’Egidio is, the fabric of a Community is spread to different extents. Is this, too, not a specific feature of the evangelical mandate? Jesus sent his disciples not alone, but two by two. Gregory the Great says that in this Jesus shows that “whoever does not have love for another person” cannot bear witness to the Gospel. It is your community spirituality, whereby communion among brothers and sisters and solidarity with the needy are joined together.
Finally, Jesus indicates a particular way of going out: taking nothing for the journey, no bag, no bread, no copper, two tunics. We must not be afraid of the future, protecting ourselves with many goods and different means, or with the support of the powerful. The Master asks the disciples to wear sandals and carry a staff, what is needed to walk. Their strength is the word, love, his presence. In looking at the path of the Community over these 46 years, through various situations and countries, we see that you have walked like that, trusting in God and not in great organizations and structures.
Today, after so much road, you could be tempted to slow down. Rather, the faith and enthusiasm of the beginning grow through the years. The Gospel calls us again to the audacity of going further, with trust, the joy of what we are and what we do, feeling identified with the mission Jesus called us to: to discover new poor people, to be rooted in new situations and countries, to communicate the Gospel to different people, to dialogue with distant worlds. A dialogue that does not yield even in front of those who pretend to interfere with the internal life of the Church, demanding that it modify its doctrine or ethical values. Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium: “I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life” (n. 49).
In the path up to now, you have not met only difficulties, people who did not receive you or did not listen to you, as Jesus said, anticipating the Twelve, you discovered something of essence: “So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them”, we have heard in the Gospel. You have discovered a “power” different from the powers of the world. It is the power to comfort, to heal, to cast out the demonic shadows of evil, to give light, to communicate and build peace. God gave this power to his disciples. More than forty years of Christian life have shown it to you with great clarity.
Indeed, Sant’Egidio is not ashamed of the Gospel, it makes it the heart of its witness. It does not stop in front of poverty and sorrow. I think of the work of solidarity done in Rome, but also of what you do in the poorest countries of the world, like the treatment of people with AIDS in Africa. I think of your initiatives to stop wars and start peace processes, to make different religions and cultures meet in a dialogue of friendship and mutual esteem. We must not be hopeless: it is possible to overcome disease, war, social hatred, and to struggle against poverty, for peace, for fraternity. Of course, it is not the effort of a day. Miracles are not the magic of a moment or a few minutes. But miracles are possible. That is why it is necessary to continue and walk in faith and in love.
Pope Francis has opened a new era in the life of the Church. He asks us all to get out and go towards people, so that no one may be abandoned, without the mercy and love of the Lord. I believe the Community of Sant’Egidio, in the furrow marked by Pope Francis, will find the path for the future connaturally: may it grow in love, in mission, in closeness to the poor, in weaving everywhere bonds of friendship and peace. May the Lord bless you and preserve you in his love.