Homily for the 41st Anniversary of the Foundation of the Community of Sant’Egidio
Homily by Cardinal Agostino Vallini
Brothers and Sisters!
1. The Word of God that was now proclaimed presents to us in the first reading the story of creation. After that God had placed man in the garden of Eden, to work it and keep it, he ordered him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad for in the day he would have eaten from it he would surely have died. (Gen 2:17)
In the context of the of the divine prohibition there is the loving care of God for man. “ "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." (18) God saw that man was alone and that loneliness was not good for him for man is made to be together with others. But even before he had said while he created Adam: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. (Gen 1:26) While he created man God wanted a “you” that may have a direct relation with him. The fathers of the Church often interpreted the plural form of the text (Let us) as the sign of the Trinitarian presence in the creation and of his destiny: living in communion with God.
2. In the providential plan of the Lord we are created to be people of relationship. This project is inscribed in our nature, and in the fullness of times - as we know - was brought to completion by God becoming he himself man in Jesus Christ to share with us our human experience and to free it, by the means of the Paschal mystery, from every sadness.
In the Bible the image of meeting, of the feast, of the wedding is recurrent. It indicates that the destiny of man is not in loneliness but in communion. The New Testament reminds us that Jesus himself becomes close to those who suffer and heals the sick. He is the good Samaritan who cares for those who are struck by evil and he identifies himself with all those who live any form of suffering, marginalisation. He forgives the sinful woman, giving back to her the dignity she had lost. In the parable of the merciful father he welcomes again in love the prodigal son. Before his passion he prays the Father that his disciples may be gathered together according to the model of unity that is proper to the divine persons. On the cross he destroys the wall of separation between God and Man. After his resurrection he sends his disciples in the world that they may preach the good news of the Gospel: recreate in the unity of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the unity of the whole world.
3. The Gospel of Mark (7,24-30) reminded us of the mission of Jesus in the pagan territories where he meets a pagan woman. The dialogue portrays at the start a harsh answer of Jesus to the woman: the bread that is for the Jewish people cannot be given to the pagans. But the continuation of the story gives the correct interpretation of that apparently harsh pronouncement. In fact the answer of the woman: “"Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs." (it is the only time that Mark reports the term kyrios addressed to Jesus in a narrative context) makes us understand that she is not anymore a pagan mother who is asking for a miracle to someone who has power even if he is a Jew, but that she represents the community of the pagans who have come to faith. In fact the healing of the child is the sign of the gift of salvation offered to the faith of the mother. The apparent harshness of Jesus, in the context of the Messianic secret (he did not want anyone to know) generates faith and opens to the gift of love. Also the pagans are admitted to the saving banquet because the love of God is for everyone.
4. Dear brothers and sisters, this tract of Christian life: to live and to witness the love of God towards every human person, becoming close to them so that he/she may overcome loneliness and discover the face of the Lord who want salvation for all, has generated in the history of the Church numerous saints and forms of following and generous apostolic service.
Tonight we are here to thank the Lord for the 41 years of life of the Community of Sant’Egidio. In the years of the student revolt of the ’68, a group of young student – with the desire of discovering the Gospel - have lived the push to change. A change that had to take place not in the narrow perspective of a life reduced to an exasperated ideology void of the fundamental dimension of the need to change oneself, but in the trust in the Word of God and in the certainty that the renewal of their personal life would have also changed society.
The encounter with the Word of God, has progressively led you to listen and pray, has widened the horizons and focused your attention on the immense solitudes of the metropolitan poverty. Jesus’ word : “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”(Mt. 25:40) warmed those young hearts shaping them on Christ’s heart. You discovered Christ on the face of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the prisoner, the foreign man. In this way Community members were led, I would say spontaneously, to be interested to the poor of the slums made of migrants from Southern Italy and belting Rome periphery, and afterwards to the historical “borgate”, as to Christ himself. In these worlds of sorrow, and in need of friendship, of solidarity, but also of the Gospel, the Lord began operating two miracles: He made the youth of the Community discover Christ’s face on the poor’s face, and the poor could see Christ and Church’s closeness through those young people’s presence.
Those years were characterised by the post-council fervour and the discovery of laity vocation. Feeling fully Church encouraged to bear not a pure young impulse of solidarity with social sorrows, rather to show on their own faces the face of the Church, for the Church has the human face of her members. And the laity are fully members of her. In this way the Church, even by the action of the Community youth, got closer to the people, making Christian and church life closer to them. The Gospel, lived listening to the Word of God, in liturgy and prayer, and in the service to the poor was the proposal of the Community of Sant’Egidio to come close to many young and adult people who had left their faith profession at the margin of their own lives.
5. Dear friends of Sant’Egidio this seems to me your charisma, this is your lifestyle, and today once again we thank the Lord for it.
The small seed of many years ago became a big tree, it stretches its strong branches to many churches in Italy and in several countries of the world. The plurality of initiatives in favour of people living the hard solitude of life, and I think about children and troublesome teen-agers helped by means of the “Schools of Peace”, the elderly, the homeless, the Gypsy promoting their social integration, prisoners and the mentally disabled with the experimental workshops, the mentally sick , migrants and all other expressions of poverty, have enabled and still enable you to build the “tissue of charitable humanity” the world urgently needs in many environments and anonimous city areas where you work – of course I am particularly aware about it in Rome -. Making friendship with men, the least and the poor ones, getting close to them, realising their solitudes filling them with presence is indeed the way of good samaritans, on the Gospel style.
Your “Cultural commitment” (as you call it) is not less significant and appreciated. That means care and dialogue in the environments where you have a presence, animating neighbourhoods’ life in collaboration with parish churches, and your apostolic action is aimed at penetrating the social tissue with a mentality of solidarity inspired by the Gospel. In this view also your engagement in promoting peace is to be praised.
6. Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends of Sant’Egidio, your presence in the Diocesis of Rome with thousands of members is a richness of faith, of witness and of working charity. I thank you on behalf of the Pope dioceses and I encourage you to keep on with your joyful perseverance. This big metropolis of Rome has deeply transformed in recent times, and life is becoming harder and harder, for so many reasons, including the economic crisis which affects many families. Here, the testimony of each one of you bears, offering your time, your generosity, with a clear style of friendship and gratuitousness, becoming neighbours of whoever is in sorrow, is a great message of love that invites to overcome narrowed and exclusively self-interested life. In this world confused by thousands of messages, you show the beauty of human and Christian life.
I therefore encourage you first of all to honour much with generosity your first and fundamental call, that is the call to holiness, that means to the perfection of charity. The beloved John Paul II, in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifidelis laici, wrote : “It is possible to say that this call to holiness is precisely the basic charge entrusted to all the sons and daughters of the Church by a Council which intended to bring a renewal of Christian life based on the gospel”. And added: “This charge is not a simple moral exhortation, but an undeniable requirement arising from the mystery of the Church […]It is ever more urgent that today all Christians take up again the way of gospel renewal, welcoming in a spirit of generosity the invitation expressed by the apostle Peter "to be holy in all conduct" (1 Pt 1:15).(N.16)
Therefore grow in an intense inner life: nourish yourselves daily with the Word of God, praise the Lord and receive the gift of salvation in the celebration of the Eucharist. In this way you will intesify that style of charity which distinguishes you.
Do not forget also that the Lord speaks to you through the poor you serve. The poor are our masters and benefactors. Their prayer for you, the silent, but eloquent teaching on the value of unpretentious life lived with simplicity, essentiality and adaptability to all troubles their are called to face, the feeling of gratitude they show to you, are big lights. Human and Christian values are to be sensitive to them, denying the false assumption that we only are able to do the good.
Eventually be in the city of Rome and in the world that stream of peace, of heartily friendship and relationships among peoples, through which the culture of respect spreads and affirms itself by listening and getting the good from anybody. In this way you will contribute to make the world less suspicious, less conflictive, less violent.
On the example of the martyrs of the 20th century, whose memorial place is kept by you in the ancient Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Isola Tiberina, demand yourselves to imitate the courage of these heroes of faith and persevere in serving the Gospel, sure that – as the Holy Father Benedict XVI told you last year - “Authentic friendship with Christ will be the source of your mutual love. Supported by his Spirit, you will contribute to building a more brotherly world.”
Agostino Card. Vallini