February 28 and March 13: the two dates that made 2013 a truly extraordinary year for the Church and for the world. Dates that also had a strong impact on the hearts of the women and men of the Community of Sant’Egidio, who are committed to peace and service to the poor and people on the margins of society and to inter-religious dialogue, in deep communion with the Pope. The abdication of Benedict XVI, which paved the way for the sensational “surprise” of Pope Francis, the pastor from the edge of the earth who immediately became familiar to the Catholic faithful and the wider world: two exceptional events in the life of the Church and also for the Community in Trastevere which is celebrating the 46th anniversary since its founding.
The “Spirit of Assisi”
The audience granted by Pope Francis to the representatives of churches, ecclesial communities and other religious groups participating in the International Meeting for Peace promoted by the Community along the theme “The Courage of Hope” was one of the most significant moments of the past year for the Community of Sant’Egidio. The meeting was back in Rome after 17 years, and during the audience on September 30, the Pope recalled the intuition of Pope John Paul II in Assisi in 1986 when he asked “to keep the light of hope burning by praying and working for peace”. Francis acknowledged Sant’Egidio for “having continued along that path” and for increasing the momentum.
The pope’s words help to qualify Sant’Egidio’s commitment to peace and dialogue, which is embodied in the “Spirit of Assisi”. The President of the Community Marco Impagliazzo commented at the end of the Rome meeting: “Nowadays we see inter-religious dialogue as a key aspect in the resolution of conflicts. Before, the problem was seen as purely political, but with the “Spirit of Assisi” religions became part of the solution to the problem, not of its complication”. In many cases, Sant’Egidio has played the role of pioneer.
Commitment to peace
In Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the “diplomacy of faith, charity and friendship” took steps forward in 2013, intervening in several crisis situations in which conflict resolution risked failure: from the Great Lakes region in Africa, scene of civil wars that have impoverished many people, to the Central African Republic, where, through the mediation of Sant’Egidio, the parties signed a “Republican Pact” which was recognized in a U.N. Security Council resolution. Not to mention South Sudan, the region of Casamance in Senegal, Mindanao in the Philippines, and assistance for Syrian refugees. In Africa, the activities of the BRAVO! Program continued with intensity for the registration of births, aimed at protecting newborns from the risks of remaining anonymous, including exploitation in all its forms, and of DREAM, the program to cure AIDS sufferers. In 2013, DREAM reached 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, helping 225,000 sick people of whom 38,000 are minors under 15 years of age, with 22,500 babies born healthy thanks to the program of prevention. In June 2013 Pacem Kawonga was a guest of the Community and participated in several public meetings with her daughter Melinda who, at 8-years-old, is a witness to the new generation in Malawi which is growing up thanks to DREAM.
Friendship with the poor
Striving for peace, praying, friendship with the poor and care for the elderly are just some aspects of life for the more than 60,000 people working in 74 countries around the world communicating the Gospel, encouraging ecumenical dialogue and staying close to the most disadvantaged people, including outcasts, prisoners, and refugees.
In 2013 these activities developed locally with an eye to the global situation, paying particularly close attention to the social changes underway and the evolution of poverty and types of poverty due to the economic crisis. In December, the 24th edition of “WHERE to eat, sleep and wash” was presented, the Guide for homeless people developed with the contribution of many who live on the street and the network of various associations offering assistance. This was an occasion to reflect on how poverty in Rome and Italy is changing, but also to note the positive 20 percent increase in Romans who are offering voluntary services, either alone or in groups, parishes and associations. Aside from Rome the “WHERE to” books are also published in Genoa, Naples, Milan and Spain (Barcelona and Madrid) and Argentina (Buenos Aires).
On Christmas Day, the lunch with the poor, a tradition that dates back to 1982, gathered 165,000 people for 1,100 lunches in 74 countries around the world, among them about 22,000 prisoners. In Italy there were 229 Christmas lunches (111 in Rome alone). Also in this case there was a significant increase in the number of volunteers offering their support.
The elderly: a resource
Regarding friendship with the elderly, the wealth of experience built up over the years led to the 2013 publication of the book “The Strength of Years: Lessons of Old Age for Youth and Families”, presented with success in Rome and other cities. For 40 years the Community has promoted initiatives of service, support and ways to combat loneliness, valuing the elderly as a precious resource for the community, spreading a positive idea of old age and encouraging the elderly to put their own energies into promoting solidarity and peace. The program “Long Live the Elderly” is constantly active in monitoring people over 75-years-old in areas of Rome and other cities in Italy.
Witnesses of peace and cohabitation
Memorial marches and gestures across Europe helped continue efforts to bear witness to peace and World War Two. At the same time several initiatives have been developed to welcome and assist immigrants and the new poor who reach Italy after escaping situations of conflict and natural disasters in their countries of origin. It’s important to highlight the proposal to establish a European-level reception centre and network of first response at the main points where immigrants arrive. cohabitation of different people and to denounce the risks of anti-Semitism, which is rearing its head 70 years after