Religious life: the ‘United Nations of Trastevere’

September 21 2018

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In the third part of our series on the religious life, Pat Ashworth traces the history of the Sant’Egidio Community, from squatting in a convent to opening corridors to Europe

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The office of vespers is observed every evening at 8.30 p.m. in the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria, in Trastevere. Alongside visitors from around the world are volunteers who serve with the Sant’Egidio Community. The ancient service has all the passion of youth. It is a joyful and uplifting experience.

The Trastevere district of Rome has a special significance for this international lay movement, a Roman Catholic community with 60,000 members worldwide. It originated in 1968, when political unrest was sparking protests all over Europe. Students demanding the power to build a better world were gravitating towards political activity as the way to bring it about.

Andrea Riccardi and a group of college friends thought differently: more than politics was needed if humanity was to have a fresh start. In Professor Riccardi’s view, “It was useless to change social structures without changing people, and dangerous to do so using violence.”

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[ Pat Ashworth ]