Saturday 28 December 2013

Looking at the photo gallery of Christmas lunches around the world:

Images that speak of a gathering that brings together poor and rich, men and women from different nations and faiths, of a holiday that creates an expanded family, without borders,
capable of welcoming those who do not have a family, of evoking joy and warmth around it.
These are the images of the Christmas lunch gathering.
These are the pictures that the website has begun to publish at a faster rhythm than one would want in order to appreciate them with calm, the pictures of the many Christmases of Sant'Egidio communities around the world, the pictures of that one, great Christmas that takes on the appearance of a modern nativity scene.
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in
a manger” says the angel to the shepherds at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, at the beginning of a story of hope and salvation. We, the modern shepherds, so much more sophisticated and at times distrustful, are invited to step forward, to look at the many mangers that mean friendship, solidarity, sharing.
These mangers are close by or far away, African, American, Asian, European. These are the mangers of children that are orphans or live in institutions, of gypsies, lepers, elderly who live alone or in institutions, inmates, homeless people, people with disabilities, and people who are sick. There are mangers that are built with meager tools and others with a large amount of resources, mangers that are perfect and others that are barely patched together.
In each of these resides that force that is weak and innocent, and that dream of redemption and rebirth, which can remold our old and tired world. 

Tuesday 24 December 2013

From Malawi to Africa: Homes for the elderly, places of hope and intergenerational solidarity

This past December 12th, in the context of the visit to the wonderful and lively initiatives of Malawi by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, the first nursing home for the elderly was inaugurated at Blantyre. Others are expected to be built in Africa in the coming
The home of Blantyre for now will host three single elderly women, offering them not only the certainty of a shelter but also the warmth of a new family, that of the Community of Malawi.
The inauguration of the home was celebrated at the presence of the Minister for Disabilities and the Elderly who emphasized in his speech the importance of the service to the elderly that Sant’Egidio performs in that country. His presence signaled the commitment of the government to support the cultural wager that the Community intends to live in Malawi and in all of Africa.
Sant’Egidio hopes that the entire continent will experience a wave of sympathy for and companionship with the world of the elderly. Not always, not even in Africa, does old age inspire respect. Sometimes a long life is viewed as a theft at the expense of others, in particular of the younger ones, thus the terrible accusations of witchcraft and the risk or occurrence of lynchings. But even in the absence of these excesses, the elderly, and especially those that are alone, have little protection and few prospects as they confront the rapid
evolution of conditions in Africa.
We need to build bridges between generations, we need to look at the future close up. This is the effort that the African communities of Sant’Egidio are living. The awareness is deepening that the elderly are a significant social and human problem that must be addressed. There is a clearer understanding of the need for a larger network of support and sensitization.
That is why the nursing home of Blantyre is only the first, the first of a series of spaces that are open to hope and intergenerational solidarity. Already, other homes are being designed for Malawi, Mozambique, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.         

Sunday 22 December 2013

Conferences all over the world on the death penalty. In Rome, the testimony of Andrej Paluda and Tamara Chikunova

On this past November 30th the world was lit up by a peculiar light. More than 1700 cities, in 23 countries of all continents joined the event “Cities for life 2013” organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio. In each city, flood lights lit up a monument (in the picture the monument in the main square of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo) a symbolic location or a stage
celebrating the event.
In even more cities, in many of the locations in which Sant’Egidio is present, as well as in others in which other organizations joined in giving voice to the dream of a world without death penalty, meetings and conferences were held in which experts, guests, activists spoke out and contributed to sensitize tens of thousands of people on the issue.
The death penalty has increasingly acquired a character of vengeance which does not belong in a world that wants to progress on the path of justice and humanity and is anachronistic at a time in which we celebrate the primacy of human rights. The words spoken by many transmitted to all, and in particular to the younger generations, the awareness of how precious life is, how its value cannot in any case be questioned, and how treating it with contempt could only make the world worst. You cannot resolve problems “eliminating a human life”, said Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, though in reference to a different context.
Among the many conferences that could be mentioned we refer to the one held in Rome on November 28. At the Università Pontificia Lateranense thousands of young people from the high schools of the Eternal City were able to listen to the words of Andrej Paluda and Tamara Chikunova.
Andrej Paluda, from the “Viasna Center for the Defense of Human Rights”, in Bielorussia, the only European country that still relies on the death penalty, gave an account of the brutality of the executions, of the bodies of those executed that are not returned to the families, of the inmates who prefer to commit suicide because only in this way their loved ones will have a tomb to visit. 
Tamara Chikunova on the other hand, presented the testimony of her personal history, the ordeal of a mother that was unable to save her only son from the firing squad, but who was able, in his name, to carry forward a struggle that In the end proved successful. The fact that Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have abolished the death penalty is owed to the efforts of this woman who dedicated all of her energies to this cause.
Tamara told the story of the imprisonment and execution of her son Dimitri who - in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital - was unjustly accused of the murder of two people and sentenced to death. A sentence that was executed without even waiting for the outcome of the appeal. To extort his confession, Dimitri had been forced to listen, on the phone, to the cries and moans of his mother who was being beaten.
Tamara overcame her despair and began to fight to save other convicts from execution. She had in fact received a letter from a convict written by her son: “If mom cannot make it in time and I will be shot, go to her. She will be able to help. She will protect you from death.” 
Tamara’s dream is the abolition of the death penalty in the entire world and in all contexts, “because - she told the young people of Rome - the death penalty has no borders. Death penalty also means old people living in institutions all alone, awaiting the last day of their life; it also means homeless people left to die of cold in the street”.

Thursday 12 December 2013

The DREAM of Sant’Egidio: an Africa AIDS-free

This past December 1st, we celebrated the world day of the fight against AIDS, a fight that is very much alive and must be carried forth with tenacity and vigor. Notwithstanding the progress achieved and the more systematic use of antiretroviral medicines, the pandemic remains one of the most common causes of death in particular in sub-Saharan Africa.
To confront this plight, and to do it there, in Africa, where it is causing the worst damage, the Community of Saint Egidio has designed and put in place a custom-made program called
DREAM - Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition - a model of integrated action according to state of the art medical standards.
Saint Egidio had felt it necessary to accept the silent call from the sick of many African countries, and had decided to intervene in order to ensure one of the human rights that is most neglected in developing countries, the right to therapy.
Thus, in February 2002, a small big seed was planted in Mozambique, at Machava (Maputo), the seed of the cure for AIDS patients in Africa, the seed of the prevention of the vertical transmission of HIV to save the future of the continent.
That seed bore many fruits. DREAM is now in effect in ten African countries, 225,000 patients are cared for in 38 centers, 22,500 children have been born healthy: the virus did not pass from the mother’s milk into their fragile organisms. More than a million and a half people benefit directly or indirectly from the program. This includes not only the patients, but also those that are involved in health education programs, those that benefit from supplementary nutrition programs, from malaria prevention measures, the distribution of water filters, etc.
In a recent, well done reportage published by the Corriere della Sera titled “Pilgrimage in Malawi”, Ettore Mo describes the activities carried out by Saint Egidio in several DREAM centers in that country: “The great ‘safe haven’ of AIDS patients in these years has been the DREAM center […] the health program, but it is not only that, designed by the Community of Saint Egidio is the product of a dream, that of contrasting in a new and more effective way the AIDS epidemic in the African continent, and to reaffirm the universal right to a therapy, independent of one’s birthplace , so that millions of African children too may have before them
a future that now they do not even dare dream of”.
In a little more than ten years of life DREAM has touched the life of tens of thousands of people, made them get up, start living again, and has at the same time transformed many situations, entire regions. These were more than ten years of a dream, more than ten years of an excellent therapy that has been accessible and free for so many Africans, more than ten years to ensure that the right to health is extended also to the most neglected of the continents.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Journey to the end of the world

“As you know the Conclave’s duty was to give Rome a bishop; it would seem that my brother Cardinals went to fetch him at the end of the world”. These were the words of Pope Francis, the day of his election to the throne of Saint Peter. The end of the world is where the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Riccardi, recently journeyed, for a visit which was inspired by both a desire to be close to the far away communities and to reflect upon the spiritual path of pope Bergoglio. Andrea Riccardi visited “Villa Miseria 21”, the neighborhood of the great Buenos Aires, made of hovels and shacks, where Sant’Egidio has been managing a School of Peace for more than twenty years. As a place of care for children, of support for adolescents, the School of Peace is not only or not especially a place of school support but a project for an open and solidary life, a guarantee of freedom from the charm of violence that so often poisons the heart of the young in the suburbs of Latin America.
At Villa Miseria 21 the memory of Mario Bergoglio is alive and well. He used to visit those streets often as bishop of Buenos Aires. “Does the Pope remember the neighborhood? Does he speak about it in Rome?” the mothers of the children of the School of Peace asked Andrea Riccardi. They were happy and proud to hear his positive answers.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis has created a new bridge between Italy and Argentina, between Latin America and Europe. These worlds now have one more reason to seek each other, to enquire of each other, to understand each other.
The following day, speaking to the Universidad Catòlica Argentina, Andrea Riccardi held a
conference on the subject of “Pope Francis in Europe”. Before an attentive and participative audience he analyzed the personality of the Pope faced with the challenges of globalization and the effect of his message within European society.
It was emphasized that “the European crisis and the crisis of the Church have instigated the Conclave to make an intelligent choice, the choice of a Pope that came from a different world where those crises did not exist.” But the value and scope of that choice extend much further: “At a time in which we witness the dissolution of many networks the problem of the globalized man is called individualism. Well, the Church is the answer to all this: it is fabric, community, people, family; this is its deepest essence”. In such connective dimension, concluded Andrea Riccardi, one can see the realization and the actualization of “that burst of sympathy for man that is represented by Vatican II”.  

Saturday 16 November 2013

The Philippines - Prayer and concrete help for the victims of the Haiyan typhoon

The communities of Saint’Egidio in the world, touched by the news coming out of the Philippines regarding the thousands of victims and the devastation caused by the Haiyan typhoon, stand by the people of that country. They want to respond to the appeal launched by Pope Francis in the Angelus on Sunday, November 10th: “Let us pray for our brothers and
sisters in the Philippines and let us try to bring them our concrete help!”
Prayer vigils have been organized among many of Saint’Egidio’s families around the world including in Rome on Tuesday November 12th: “We embrace all of you, dear Filipinos, our solidarity will try to stay close to those who have been hurt” said Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, in the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The purpose of these vigils is to remember those struck by nature’s fury, to invoke consolation and salvation, to testify that faith and the love of God can be greater than the immense suffering caused by the tragedy. A collection has been organized in order to effectively meet the most urgent needs of those who have lost everything. 
A first consignment of aid has left Rome. It includes a container filled with light clothing for men, women and children, as well as canned food (principally legumes) and medical aids for older people. The shipment is addressed to the central region of the archipelago, to the city of Cebu, which had already been hit hard by an earthquake a few days earlier. 

Sunday 10 November 2013

Pakistan - The fruit of the spirit of Assisi and of the testimony of Shahbaz Bhatti

The visit to Pakistan of the president of the Community of Saint’Egidio, was characterized by both fraternity and dialogue. The visit was not only a meeting with the Pakistani families of Saint’Egidio, but also a friendly and deep exchange of views with the religious representatives of a diverse society, with a large majority of Muslims, certainly, but which also comprises substantial minorities, including Christians and others.
Contrary to what might seem to be the case to a superficial observer Pakistan is a complex country, in which the extremist movements that are undeniably present are opposed by an Islam that has been accustomed through the centuries to coexist with the Other. The Indian subcontinent is an immense intersection of cultures and ideas in which tolerance, the positive relationship among different people, the shared yearning for the Absolute, prove often stronger than the temptation to move apart, to become adversaries.
This has become even more true over the last few years. Pakistan is maybe one of the countries in which the spirit of Assisi and the patient work of the Community has produced more fruits. It is also the country in which the testimony of Shahbaz Bhatti, to the point of sacrificing his own life, has created openings that were once unimaginable in the most
conscious and spiritual Islam.
The delegation of the Community was welcome by Imam Abdul Kabir Azad, the leader of the oldest mosque of the Punjab. Azad, who for years has taken part in the Prayer for Peace meetings organized by Saint’Egidio, sponsored an important interreligious initiative that saw the participation, of the Community, the Catholic Bishop, the Anglican one, representatives of various Islamic movements, both Sunni and Shia, as well as Sikhs and Hindus. In Islamabad, near the Faisal Mosque, pursuant to the invitation of the local Islamic community, Marco Impagliazzo held a conference on the topic: “Dialogue among religions and peace”, which was attended by many Islamic scholars.
Not everything is easy of course. Pakistani Christians still experience enormous problems, and violence tempts and poisons the souls. But the testimony of men of peace, engaged in dialogue with their Muslim brothers, really touches peoples’ hearts and opens new horizons.
Indeed, Bhatti’s dream is closer to becoming reality, the dream of a Pakistan without discrimination, where believers from all religions may enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities for the advancement of their own country. Indeed, as his brother Paul stated in Rome at Pentecost, in the presence of Pope Francis, “the life and faith of Shahbaz produced a fruit. His faith has overcome the mountains of division that are so high in my country. He sowed a love that is higher than those mountains.” And slowly, we begin to see the harvest.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

A reflection on the surprise of pope Francis

The beginning of October saw the publication in Italian of the book that Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio dedicated to the “Surprise of pope Francis”. It is a volume that sets off from the shock caused by the resignation of Benedict the XVI and lands in the surprising scenario that opened with the election of Bergoglio as successor of Peter. Here was an older pope capable of expressing an unusual spiritual youthfulness, a pope that had come “almost from the end of the world” and was willing to place at the center of the Church’s considerations issues such as poverty, hope, encounter, dialogue, bearing witness.
In many of the Italian contexts in which Saint’Egidio is present, the book was presented with a good public turnout. This provided an opportunity to further elaborate the reflection that the Community began at the outset of the pontificate and that is reflected under the rubric “Words of pope Francis” on the website.
We need to know pope Francis better, to listen to his words. This is why Andrea Riccardi‘s book is important. It takes stock of the first few months of the pontificate, but it focuses in particular on the roots of a complex and courageous spiritual journey, that progressed in a large South American metropolis like Buenos Aires in contact with many existential peripheries.
The volume introduces us to the surprise of this papacy which appears destined to go much further than the wave of immediate liking that touched so many people, both Christians and non-Christians, a wave we all witnessed.
We may be taking a decisive turn in the millenarian history of the Church. We may be entering a time in which Catholicism will experience a fruitful encounter with the world of today and tomorrow, with its challenges and promises.
Maybe, as Bauman suggested, “Bergoglio [will be] able to speak to the spirituality that is typical of our time, [to those] who want to find a meaning to their fragmented individual existence, who are still waiting for an Evangel, in its original meaning of good news”.            

Sunday 3 November 2013

A bridge built between different generations in Malawi. Teenagers and young people shout: “Long live the elderly!”

The communities of Sant’Egidio in Malawi have been for some time committed to accompanying with participation and confidence the younger generations.
That is what happens weekly in the food distribution centers and the Schools for Peace, environments which provide free support to children from the poor neighborhoods, villages and institutions, help them grow healthy and proceed successfully in their journey through school. That is also what happens with the teenagers that congregate around the “Youth for Peace” movement.
Malawi, this very young country - half its population is less than 18 years old - looks to the future also thanks to Sant’Egidio. It grows by sharing the visions of peace and solidarity that spring
out of Sant’Egidio’s work.
Youth for Peace comes out of this perspective. Young and very young people who want to be part of the fabric of society in their country, and contribute to human and cultural growth and the promotion of solidarity in Malawi. They do so, for example, by linking different generations, building a bridge between the glance and the stride of a minor and the memory and wisdom of an older person. Last September 1500 teenagers from Youth for Peace met in Lilongwe and in Blantyre to shout “Long live the elderly!” 
Senior citizens are often the poorest among the social groups in Malawi. In fact there is no pension scheme that covers those who worked in the fields, do not have children or relatives that can stay with them, are alone, without resources, and sometimes surrounded by suspicion and contempt. That happens, especially in rural contexts, because older people risk being considered witch doctors: their long life is thought to have been stolen from the young ones, from the children who are no longer there.
In Blantyre approximately 1000 young people met in the Limbe cathedral. In Lilongwe 400 students organized a meditation session with speeches, testimony and exchanges of ideas. This is how the “young people for peace” grow up at the school of words that evoke humanity and solidarity, and learn that there are no reasons to despise older people because, hopefully, this is the destiny we all share.

Thursday 24 October 2013

In the periphery of a violent world. The memory of William Quijano

The days of the international meeting “The Courage of Hope” in Rome, the most recent stage of the long journey of peace of the spirit of Assisi, coincided with the fourth anniversary of the sacrifice of William Quijano, a brother of the Community of Saint’Egidio of Apopa (San Salvador), killed on September 28th in mysterious circumstances, probably by one of the maras that wreak havoc on the small central American country. Those same maras from whom he tried to steer away the younger people, through his civil service work - he was a sports promoter (promodor) for the municipality of Apopa - and his involvement in solidarity activity -
through the School of Peace of Saint‘Egidio.
El Salvador “boasts” one of the highest rates of violence in Latin America. Beginning in the 1990s, after the end of the civil war between the government and the guerrillas, maras spread all over the country. These were bands originally established by Salvadoran youth immigrated to Los Angeles who, having returned to their country, started dividing up the territory amongst themselves, especially the urban areas. Today, the maras recruit and initiate to violence tens of thousands of adolescents. This is also the situation in Apopa, the suburb at the outskirts of the capital in which William used to live.
It is in this context that the activity of the Community of Saint’Egidio of El Salvador takes place, bearing fruit in terms of prevention of violence and of transforming the lives of young people. Many volunteers are engaged in the School of Peace. William was among them. Together with the brothers and sisters of the Community he wanted to create a peaceful space, where one could study, play, make friends, learn to respect those who are different.
William loved life, and in a friendly way he attracted many young people and children to the School of Peace, knowing that these were all recruits ripped out of the hands of the maras. His actions broke the chain of violence. And this bothered those who wanted everything to stay the same and wanted the young people to do evil or bow their head. William lived his love for peace until death.
The choice made by this young son of a young continent still speaks to us. His story induces us to believe that it is possible to build a better Latin America.
In many ways, that continent is a peripheral world which lives in a state of fascination with the wealthy world of the United States and which, unable to replicate the life style of the U.S., copies its most extreme and contradictory aspects, violence and individualism. But even more peripheral is the world of Apopa and that of the violent and scared young people that inhabit it.
Thus, in this periphery of history - in this existential periphery, as Pope Francis would like to say - William has truly lived the courage of hope. Hope in a different world, hope in a periphery that would rediscover the centrality of the heart.
It was nice that his life, his testimony, were remembered at the conference in Rome by Jesus Delgado, former personal secretary of Mons. Romero and his first biographer. As he said in one of the round tables of Rome 2013, the example of William is the symbol of “an America of hope”, expression of the faith of the disciples in a God that “lives in the cities” even in the most difficult ones, even in the most violent ones. This example fits well with this time in which Pope Francis calls us to “come out” of ourselves and to move towards the peripheries of the world. 

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Keeping hope alive for peace in the Central African Republic

One month ago, at the beginning of September, an appeal was issued in Rome, at the Community of Sant’Egidio, for peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic.
Signed by representatives of the Bangui government, of the National Transition Council, of civil society and of the different religious organizations, that document represented for the African country the hope of an exit strategy from a very difficult phase of its history, a season marked by instability and widespread violence.
The text of the “Republican Pact” committed the key social forces of the nation to the defense of
human rights and of the democratic framework, even contemplating a series of permanent mechanisms for the prevention and management of disputes. All main participants in the institutional life and the social sphere were asked to “contribute to the promotion of a culture of peace in Central Africa.”
The participants to the negotiations were in Rome in the days in which the prayer vigil for peace in Syria and the rest of the world called by Pope Francis was being held: an additional motive to work on a path to peace and reconciliation.
However, notwithstanding these recently undertakings, the situation in the Center African Republic remains difficult. The general picture is muddled, the clashes continue. The violence primarily involves areas situated far from the capital, near the boundaries with the Democratic Republic of Congo, but there is concern about the future and about the survival of the peace accords. The dispute among the parties are at times exacerbated by the hostility among religious communities that exist in that area.
We need to support the peace effort launched by the Community and by many men and women of goodwill, in particular by the local Catholic and Evangelical churches. A commitment is needed to defeat indifference, as well as a faithful and insisting prayer that may open a breach where a breach may seem impossible. If prayer changed history in Syria, nothing prevents it from doing the same in Central Africa.  

Sunday 6 October 2013

Rome 2013, in the name of a peaceful “revolt” of hope

In the past few days in Rome, in the opening ceremony at the Auditorium of Via della Conciliazione near Saint Peter, as well as in the various and crowded roundtables around the city, and in the closing ceremony in the splendid and evocative setting of Capitol Hill, we have emphasized the value and strength of hope and experienced a peaceful “revolt” of hope.
A revolt against all pessimism and resignation, against all temptations to leave the field to despair and to the contamination of ancient religious traditions. It was a revolt organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio and carried out by a diverse and heterogeneous group of people, of men and women of all faiths, the protagonists of the “The Courage to Hope”, a new stage of the
pilgrimage of the Spirit of Assisi.
On the first day of the meeting Andrea Riccardi reminded us how religions constitute a reserve of hope in a world marked by dramatization that induces to run in circles, that leads to inaction and fear. In front of the tragic and terrible images that come to us from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Kenya, the faithful knows that he must preserve hope, that he must nurture hope, erasing the holy name of God from the lips of those who are violent, rescuing people under the spell of violence, educating them to peace, respect and reciprocal appreciation.
The Roman meeting has therefore presented itself as “a show of hope to contrast the show of terror that we see on television screens and sometimes in our lives”. This means nurturing a vision of the future beyond the pessimism fueled by the ongoing economic crisis. It means to continue to entertain a dream even when people live the nightmares of a difficult story.
Clearly not an easy task, and a big one, in a time that feels like the “winter of hope”, says the founder of Sant’Egidio, “but religions teach us that God is even greater” and that “hope is never lost, you can find it at the bottom of the well of the soul, of a life lived with peace in one’s heart”.
When he welcomed to the Vatican the protagonists of the meeting, on Monday September 30th, Pope Francis echoed such sentiment. He encouraged all to live with confidence and perseverance the mission to bear witness to the hope, to be “artisans of peace”. “Dialogue gives hope. Hope! In the world, in societies, there is little peace because there is a lack of dialogue. Dialogue is the path to peace. This is why it is essential that it grow, that it expand among people of all conditions and beliefs like a web of peace that protects the world and especially the weakest ones”.  

Monday 23 September 2013

Prayer, the Word and loyal friendship as antidotes to diffused violence

Here are two examples among the many that could be mentioned with regards to the work being carried on by the communities of Sant’Egidio in the world to address the increase in violence in the cities and among the youth that are truly becoming  like the peripheries of existence that are the focus of the pastoral preoccupation of Pope Francis. It is a work made of education to peace and non-violence in the Schools for Peace, of dialogue with people and of prayer.
Mozambique, Sub-Saharan Africa.
The country is experiencing severe political and social tensions that sometimes escalate into episodes of
extreme violence. Small-caliber criminality contributes to fueling these tensions which turn into suspicion, night-time vigilantism but also, tragically, the lynching of alleged thieves. In Beira, the local community of Sant’Egidio, who intends to react to this fast-spreading phenomenon, has invited people to join in moments of prayer and meditation aimed at erasing the rancor and the hatred that everyone is feeling inside. This initiative proved fruitful. According to the police’s statistics, no recent case of lynching was reported in those neighborhoods (such as Munhava) in which Sant’Egidio had organized prayers for peace and reconciliation.
El Salvador, Central America.
Since 1992 the Community  has strengthened its presence and its ties of friendship in the neighborhoods of Bambular in San Salvador. El Salvador is submerged by a flood of violence, due to the maras, the youth gangs impregnated by a real blood cult and disrespect for life. This past July 3rd alone, we counted 27 murders. But at Bambular, where Sant’Egidio has been running for years the School for Peace, and where for some time now  people speak out against violence and in favor of peace and of a culture of life, the maras are not taking root.
The Community believes that it can change the world even in the most difficult contexts. It believes in the
weak strength that rises from prayer, a strength of peace and transformation of the hearts which could be felt even recently, in the vigil for Syria of this past September 7th.  Praying for peace, as was done in the Bambular chapel, also means thanking for the gift of a different human atmosphere in the neighborhood due to the long and loyal presence of Sant’Egidio.

Sunday 15 September 2013

The communities of Sant’Egidio all over the world join with the universal Church in the prayer vigil for peace on September 7th

All of the communities of Sant’Egidio everywhere in the world have embraced Pope Francis’ call for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria this past September 7th.
In Rome Sant’Egidio joined the many people (100,000 are estimated to have participated) that
were converging on Saint Peter’s Square to pause, listen and meditate, together with the Pope. It was a moment of togetherness and high spirituality. All feelings of powerlessness and resignation were confronted and defeated. It was the victory of faith and hope in He who is the Lord of history, the Prince of Peace, in He who is capable of destroying any wall of separation.
In many other dioceses, in about seventy countries of all continents, the communities of Sant’Egidio have inspired similar moments of prayer presenting God, together with Christians from different persuasions and women and men of goodwill and from all religions, with a unanimous invocation for Syria and for the various conflicts and tensions that afflict the planet.
This took place, to name but a few countries, in Germany and France, in a Europe that appears less capable than in the past to evoke an anti-war movement, but is still striving to find an exit strategy from the dead end of confrontation, from the risk that is inherent in the policies of ultimata. Prayer moments were also held in Africa which is marked by too many wars and dreams of a return or consolidation of peace; in Malawi and the Ivory Coast (in the city of
Abidjan, the Community showed the live images of the event being held in Rome); in the tormented Democratic Republic of Congo (in Goma, tragically, war is right around the corner); in Rwanda (as shown in the picture, the vigils organized by the principal dioceses of the country and presided over by the local bishops were particularly crowded); in Latin America, plagued by widespread violence; and in Asia, a continent in which the relationship between cultural and religious diversity is crucial in view of a twenty-first century that needs to move towards coexistence and dialogue (the picture shows the vigil in Faisalabad, in Pakistan).
As Pope Bergoglio said in his meditation on September 7th: “Humanity, made in the image
and likeness of God, is one family […]: the other person is a brother or sister to love. […] God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other.” But the world of God can be our world, the world of man, to the extent that, together with the Pope, we choose “not the conflict but the encounter”, to the extent that we will continue to pray and work for peace. 

Monday 9 September 2013

Moving towards the Prayer for Peace

After Munich and Sarajevo, the annual International Meeting “Men and Religions” organized by the Sant’Egidio Community will take place in Rome. The theme will be “The courage of hope: religions and cultures in dialogue”.
From Sunday, September 29th through Tuesday, October 1st, more than 400 representatives of the great world religions as well as leading personalities from the world of culture and politics will take part in public meetings and debates, will live an important moment of sharing and dialogue, will celebrate a commitment to peace before the entire world.
The meeting represents a new, faithful incarnation of the same “spirit of Assisi”, of the first,
historic day of interreligious convergence on the topic of peace willed by John Paul II in the city of Saint Francis (October 1986).
The closing ceremony, after the prayer meetings conducted according to the different religious traditions, will take place the evening of October 1st in Capitol Square. Where once the Roman triumphs were celebrated, an Appeal for Peace will be proclaimed, underwritten by men and women with different histories but united by the same desire for peace.. It will be the triumph of a common wish for peace.
A message, a symbol, that reflects the new ecclesial season inaugurated by the election of Pope Francis, but also the difficult times marked by the dramatic news that come from the Middle East, from Syria. To pursue peace means to tend to the laborious path of dialogue, that is to live the courage of hope.  
It is with this perspective in mind that the Community of Sant’Egidio has accepted “with gratitude and total support”  the invitation by Pope Bergoglio to live a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and in the rest of the world on September the 7th. 
“War begets war, violence begets violence! With all my strength” said the Pope during the Angelus of September 1st, the anniversary of the beginning of the Second World, “I ask the parties in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation”.
The prayer of the faithful in the world wishes to force people to embrace such courage.
In Rome, in Saint Peter’s Square, from 7 pm to 11 pm of Saturday, September 7th, but also in a thousand other locations where the Community is present, Saint’Egidio will come together to pray and “invoke God to grant the great gift of peace for the beloved Syrian nation and for all situations marred by conflict and violence around the world”.  As Pope Francis concluded: “Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace!”
The prayer vigil of the 7th, as well as the meeting at the end of September, are meant to be a gesture of peace that all people may view with hope.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Also in Ngozi, Burundi, the summer of the Sant'Egidio youth with the elderly

The youngest of the Community of Sant'Egidio of Ngozi, a small town in the North of Burundi, few kilometres from the border with Rwanda, began, a few months ago, to be nearer to the poor elderly who live by begging around the school. The other members of the Community, adults and university students, supported them in this friendship. One Saturday after another, with the visits, but also with the parties together, they entered into the world of the elderly, and were able to discover the state of necessity in which many of them live, with their problems and their needs.

The first need is that of the house. Many old people are forced to live on the street without a shelter or guarantees. Then, why not use the summer months, free from school work, to give a house to the homeless elderly?

The whole Community got busy: collections to buy wood and bricks, height design, work shifts: the first two "building sites" were already started and almost concluded, while others are under construction. In the meantime, they make culture: the high school students of the Community are also planning to make a survey on the elderly who live on the two
hills near the school, to make a census of their number and know better their living conditions .

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Arusha (Tanzania) - The communities of Sant’Egidio commemorate the attack of three months ago praying for peace and reconciliation

A meeting of all of the communities of Sant’Egidio in Tanzania opened on the 2nd of August in remembrance of the attack that resulted in three victims and many others wounded at the beginning of May in Arusha, in the parish of Olasiti, dedicated to Saint Joseph the Artisan. That
day those present at the time of the attack included the bishop of Arusha and the Apostolic Nuntius in Tanzania. 
In the square facing the church, in front of the graves of those who died that morning of the month of May - a woman and two children - Sant'Egidio people and others prayed for the victims of evil, for the pacification of the hearts, for the establishment of a culture of coexistence and reconciliation.
Confronting the forces of evil and the clouds that are darkening the future of a society that has been - and still is to a large extent - a model of coexistence among different cultures and faiths, they wanted to reaffirm their confidence in the soft power of prayer. 
Sant'Egidio people and others sang the words of Psalm 85: “Love and truth will meet, justice and peace will kiss”. It has been reminded everyone the need to be instruments of peace in order to not squander the historical legacy of Tanzania but to transmit it to future generations, so that the heart of many may be transfigured, so that dialogue and coexistence sweep away all hatred and violence.  

Sunday 18 August 2013

West Africa - The Communities of Sant’Egidio for a culture of life in defense of children

The African communities of Sant’Egidio, especially those in West Africa, intensify their efforts to defend children’s rights, to promote a culture that respects the life of the youngest members of society.
In too many sub-Saharan contexts there is an extensive misunderstanding of the rights of minors, there is a vast underestimation of the dignity and value of their lives. In this perspective, besides the great effort put forth by Sant’Egidio to guarantee the birth registration of the greatest possible number of minors in Burkina Faso, noticeable are the efforts of the communities of the Ivory Coast and the Republic of Guinea.
In the Ivory Coast - in the context of a situation that is pacified following the recent civil war, but is nonetheless still difficult due to price increases and the growing gap between rich and poor -
Sant’Egidio manages almost 40 Schools of Peace, involving 3300 minors including children, adolescents and street kids. This is a very important effort at educating for peace and human promotion in a country which, sadly, has recently witnessed ritual murders of children. Last February one such murder case regarded a girl who was involved with our activities. What is needed is to provide hope, to build a new culture starting from younger people, involving as many as possible in a movement that aims at finding salvation together from the crisis, in solidarity and humanity, a movement that helps to resist to the temptation to seek refuge in the lure of irrationality and violence. The movement of the Young People for Peace grows in the Ivory Coast and aspires to become a barrier to inhumanity and indifference.
The work the Community is carrying out in the Schools of Peace of Guinea is also important. Here too, unfortunately, we see an increase in violence against minors. Sant’Egidio reacted with force when one of the children of the Yimbaya center was beaten to death by his teacher because he did not have the money he was supposed to give her. This is, sadly, a common practice in Guinea: several teachers pad their salaries by demanding payment from their own students. The prayer organized by Sant’Egidio to raise its voice against this tragedy was broadcast nationally on the radio. Our closeness to the poor and in particular to the most vulnerable children must turn into information and sensitivity. 

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Gulu (Uganda) - The story of Ojey: how the school of Peace heals war wounds

Ojey (let’s call him in this way) grew up in a difficult time for Northern Uganda. Civil war terrorized the population and, especially at night, rural areas were hostage to violence and kidnappings. Children and teenagers were plagued by nightmares every time there was news of another kidnapping. Every night hundreds of them traveled from their Acholi villages, carrying their knapsacks, in search of safer sleeping quarters in the crowded streets of Gulu. 
Ojey was seven years old. He lived on the outskirts of Gulu with his family and did not need to move around at night. Or at least that is what he thought until one night the rebels broke into his house and killed his parents.
Ojey does not talk much about what happened that night; for several years he clammed up.
The fact is that the child finds himself alone. He wanders around the streets of Gulu and does what he can to survive. He joins other children and young people who live in the streets.
One day he stops in front of the School of Peace of the Sant’Egidio community. He does this
out of curiosity. But everyone there is kind to him. He enjoys stopping by, observing what goes on, staying on to read and write.
At the School of Peace he becomes a loyal attendee, always punctual. He even gets to know the Italian friends of Sant’Egidio and writes to them often. His English improves with every letter and his words and thoughts get clearer and clearer, as if they came from an obscure, dark past and looked ahead to a brighter future.
He writes: “we, the Youth For Peace in Gulu, in Uganda, are very happy to communicate with you via this letter. How are you? We are doing well. And with our friendship there is opportunity for growth. We wanted to ask you: how can we grow, us young people all over the world? How can we make the world a better place? We do our part through our gospel meetings, our prayers, visiting the sick in the hospital, the inmates, helping the poor and the elderly. Through all this we can make the world a better place. My dream is to change the world, so men no longer have to suffer because of poverty and violence.”
Thanks to the help he received through Sant’Egidio’s program of long distance adoption Ojey was able to begin his studies He achieved significant progress. He had a lot to catch up on but he was very dedicated.
He dedicates the rest of his free time to his great passion, football; he is a Chelsea fan although during the world Cup Ojey always routes for Italy. But most of all there is the possibility of a different future. Soon Ojey will enroll in a professional school to become a mechanic.

Sunday 21 July 2013

The Community of Sant’Egidio continues its battle for life and for the abolition of the death penalty

The Sant’Egidio Community, all over the world, continues to fight hard in defense of the dignity and value of human life, and to abolish the death penalty. Sant’Egidio has participated in mid-June in the fifth congress of the “World Coalition Against the Death Penalty”, a network that brings together the most prominent and active associations fighting for the abolition of capital punishment, but also representatives  of worldwide public opinion, politicians, judges, and journalists; it has reaffirmed through the words of its president, Marco Impagliazzo, that “putting an end to human life means putting an end to hope”;  and has protested against the end of the moratorium in Pakistan and the executions carried out in Nigeria.
As was written by Henry Ezike, the person in charge of Sant’Egidio’s Nigerian communities, “life is a sacred gift that comes from God, every man is to be loved and protected, under any circumstance […] No life can be paid for by the taking of another. There is no justice without life! […] As a catholic community Sant’Egidio will continue to promote the abolition of the death
penalty until it is banished from the history of mankind”.
It is not an impossible dream. Often giant steps in humanity were accomplished by small men, by forces that seemed  weak and minoritarian, but were able to interpret something deep and prophetic. 
For example, this is what happened with the abolition of slavery during the first half of the 1800s. A small creative minority, essentially made up of religious activists, managed to transform the leading slave trading country, the British empire, into the leading abolitionist nation. All this notwithstanding the fact that the trade and exploitation of slaves was extremely profitable. The movement to abolish slavery triggered a real collective change of conscience. Replicated in thousands of examples, wherever possible, the logo for the anti slavery movement, a slave saying “ Am I not a man and a brother?” -  spoke loudly to society as a whole, touched culture and politics and forced them to take a good look at their custom and positions on the matter.
Isn’t the man on death row a human being as well? This is why Sant’Egidio promotes the world day labeled “City for life-City against the death penalty” the 30th of November every year. The hope is that, more than last year, many other cities will join in a battle of life, progress and humanity. 

Monday 15 July 2013

Italy, Germany, Spain, … - The prayers of the Sant’Egidio Community in memory of those who die seeking a better life

This past July 8th Pope Francis carried out his first pastoral visit outside Rome on the island of Lampedusa, a small rock between Africa and Europe, a safe landing for tens of thousands of men, women and children seeking refuge from wars, persecution, misery, an intermediate stage of a journey that for too many (at least 20,000 over the past 25 years) ended in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Pope “felt that he had to go there, to pray, to give a sign of togetherness, but also to awaken the consciences of many in order to ensure that what has happened does not repeat
With the same perspective, in many communities of Sant’Egidio in Italy - in Rome, but also in Catania, Genoa, Naples, Padua, Palermo, Terni, Turin, Treviso, to name only the most recent
ones - and in Europe - Munich and Madrid to name two examples - we remembered those who lost their lives in the journeys of hope to the North of the world. We commemorated “the many brothers and sisters who - as Pope Bergoglio said - were trying to come out of difficult situations to find a little serenity and peace, were seeking a better place for themselves and their families, but found death”.
As was restated by Cardinal Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council of the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, on June 20th, while presiding over one of the ceremonies organized by Sant’Egidio in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome, “welcoming the stranger is a divine commandment”.
Faced with the globalization of indifference denounced by the Pope, each believer is bound by a commandment of participation, an attitude inspired at what Marco Impagliazzo, President of the Community, has called “the globalization of solidarity”.
A solidarity that becomes emotional commemoration but also concrete assistance to support integration, as witnessed by the service for aliens and refugees organized by many communities of Sant’Egidio. Not only in Europe but also in other continents and in Africa itself, with support for the migrants who travel from Ethiopia and Somalia to South Africa.
Faced with the large scale and sometimes tragic migrant phenomena of our time every Sant’Egidio community around the world wants to reject the “anesthesia of the heart” mentioned by Pope Francis and affirm with him : “It concerns us, it interests us, it is our business”.

Monday 8 July 2013

Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo): The memory of Floribert Bwana Chui

Floribert at the School of Peace
These days the communities of Sant'Egidio all over the world remember the sixth anniversary of the death of Floribert Bwana Chui, brother of the Community of Goma, in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was killed for saying "No" to a corruption attempt in the night between 8 and 9 July 2007.

For a few months, Floribert had worked as a Commissioner for Failures at the OCC, the “Office Congolais de Contrôle”, the state agency that deals with compliance and quality assessments of all goods transiting the Congo. The young man (26 years old) was in charge of destroying the consignments of spoiled food that they had tried to take across the border. A delicate work, subject to pressure.

When, at the end of June and beginning of July 2007, his office intercepted spoiled food and arranged for its destruction, the Commissioner began to receive bribery offers and then threats to pass through those goods, which were harmful to the population’s health. But Floribert, who grew up with the Church of Goma and the Community of Sant'Egidio at  the school of the Gospel, convinced that the law of God was to be respected at the cost of his own existence, did not bend, but resisted and carried out his task.

Just six years ago, on July 2, there was important evidence. The call made by Floribert to sr. Jeanne-Cécile, his longtime friend and doctor at the Goma hospital, "Floribert called me on the mobile phone. It was urgent, he said, he absolutely had to speak, had just been threatened. He asked me, 'Is it dangerous to allow the marketing of food already expired?’ I said to him yes, deterioration sets in motion chemical processes that may harm the human body. At that point I asked him to explain himself better. But what was he talking about? Then he told me that they had tried to bribe him so that he didn’t  destroy the rotten food, that they offered him 1,000 dollars first, then more, up to 3,000. But that he had refused: as a Christian, he could not accept to endanger the lives of so many people. He added: 'The money will soon disappear. Instead, those people who were to consume those products, what would become of them?'. He continued: 'I live in Christ or not? I live for Christ or not? That's why I can not accept. It is better to die rather than accept that money'. So he concluded."

The grave of Floribert
Floribert was killed because he said "No" to a practice probably consolidated, because he may have blown up the well-oiled mechanism that ensures quick and easy gains to a plurality of subjects, both commercial as well as non-commercial ones. Having endured so much the proposed corruption, in terms of threats, and having thus become a real challenge to the power of money and violence, they will think of removing him, in order to return to manage the lucrative trafficking of before.

The young man was able to preserve its freedom in an extremely difficult situation. His was a strong way of living the Christian life. Faith, listening to the Gospel, love for justice, have translated into force in his life experience. A force that is communicated, encourages to resist, opens to confidence in a better world, less slave of money, more free, more just, more humane.

In this perspective, the Community of Sant'Egidio has chosen to dedicate to Floribert both the school open in Mugunga, just near Goma, for the children of that refugee camp, as well as the DREAM center inaugurated in Kinshasa, in the district of Bibwa. Places of attention and care for the weakest and the neediest ones, free spaces in a context characterized by rare payment educational and health services, both the Mugunga school and the Bibwa health center represent well Floribert’s commitment and sacrifice, and stand out like images of a different and better Congo, the Congo that the Commissioner for Failures had dreamed of.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Rome (Italy) - A book covering the forty years of Sant'Egidio service to the elderly

The Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome celebrates this year the beginning of its service to the elderly.
In 1973, in a city that was very different from the current one, in which demographic dynamics surely did not predict a gradual aging of the population, Sant’Egidio had an intuition about what the future would hold. Most of all, it understood the harmful aspects of the world of the elderly, isolation, solitude, the risk of becoming those “wasted lives” Bauman speaks of and which Pope Francis alludes to.
Service has thus become friendship, company, sharing, familiarity. The shelter homes managed by the Community in various Roman neighborhoods as well as in an increasing
 number of cities around the world are a  happy synthesis of Sant’Egidio’s approach to the fragility of old age.
40 years after its inception, the service to the elderly is one of the most widely diffused among communities around the world, not only in the Old Continent but also in the “younger” ones , Africa, Latin America, Asia. Everywhere SantEgidio is present it is close to the elderly, defends their life, accompanies and sustains it.
The 40-year experience of fellowship with the elderly has flowed into a beautiful book by several authors: “La forza degli anni. Lezioni di vecchiaia per giovani e famiglie” (The Strength in the Years: Lessons in old age for the young and the family). An ensemble of essays that reflect upon the condition of the elderly, suggest concrete courses of action, and ask questions about a particular age, its strength and its perspectives.
Yes, age is a strength. Old age, as do all of life’s seasons, has its beauty. As Andrea Riccardi writes in the Introduction to the volume, to be old is not necessarily a shipwreck, it may be a docking in a safe place. The book helps us understand how to live such experience.
This goes beyond the world of Sant’Egidio. Thus far, the book has been presented in various Italian cities, and in dozens of Roman neighborhoods. In municipal offices, parishes, centers for the elderly, rest homes and libraries people of all ages were able to appreciate a wisdom that, though unfashionable, is needed by all because all, we hope, will live to be old. It is a liberation for all of us to learn that “life is not only production”, but “is something richer and more complex”. It is made of affections, hope, exchange. Everyone is needed, no one is wasted. We all need each other’s strength.  

Saturday 22 June 2013

Nacopa (Mozambique) - Overcoming leprosy

The lepers of Nacopa finally have a new home. With a year and a half of labor the twenty houses in which they live, once in ruin, have been rebuilt by the friends of the Sant'Egidio
A house before
association of Namitoria. 
Today leprosy is completely curable, no longer a medical emergency in Mozambique and many people that were previously sick have managed to reintegrate into society. This does not mean that some of them don’t still suffer many limitations and continue to need assistance and companionship. 
In fact, companionship is what is being experienced for the past ten years by the Namitoria community, a small village in the Angoche district, in northern Mozambique. The community’s members visit the leper colony of Nacopa, which is located nearby, and the forty five guests distribute goods such as food and clothing and organize the annual Christmas lunch.
The friends of Sant'Egidio in the leper colony are mostly senior citizens. They came as children, bringing their sick parents, and once they grew up, since they had nowhere to go, they never left the compound.
However, as the number of sick guests declined, that place was gradually allowed to fall into disrepair. The houses were in terrible conditions, falling apart, and unsafe and without doors or windows. 
One of the new houses
The community understood that the situation needed taking care of, to bring some normality and dignity to the small group of recovering sick guests.
Because the house represents the possibility of a different life, it is the sign that that things are beginning to show a change for the better. The brothers and sisters of the community of Namitoria, helped by the efforts of other people from Sant'Egidio, began renovating the houses and then they handed them over to the elderly with an official declaration a "termo de entrega". 
It was the end of an emergency, the beginning of a possible future, a normal one. An elderly leper, walking into his new home, said" now I can sleep peacefully. Even if it rains, I will not get wet".

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Summer with Children of School of Peace in the Philippines

Summer is Fun at School of Peace – EAT.PLAY.LOVE.PRAY.

Like every year when a summer vacation comes  (April-May) after school year, children in School of Peace together with young people and friends of the community enjoy the days of summer activities. These days marked by friendship and cheerfulness to share and strengthen the company alongside the children and the community. Together in an environment of blissful days every weekend, we spent doing art workshop sessions, play time with children, organizing party, formation and sharing the gospel with the children. 
The joy of summer is something children will truly benefit from making their vacations worth while learning and having fun at School of Peace.
Summer ends in a whole day vacation with children, their parents and young people of the community in a swimming pool on a fun-filled Saturday of June 1st , a friendship that goes beyond our service.

Free Trainings with Youth for Peace

June 9, 2013 l Manila, Philippines

Young people of Sant’Egidio  receives free training of swimming lesson from the Civil Defense Action Group of the Office of the Civil Defense of the Republic of the Philippines. 
This is a good opportunity for young people to be trained not just on swimming but an opening for them to learn new skills and to increase their knowledge on civil defense. Trained by E.L.I.T.E Forces (Expert Leaders of Integrity Task of Elite Fierce Organization of Rescue Command in Emergency and Security , this is just one of the skills that young people of the community may become skilled at which they can use in their future profession or  basically in times of emergency and security needs.   
Added to something that can be very useful for them to increase their morale in the service for other is to learn valuable things at a very young age. Succeeding free trainings on the coming months includes Martial Arts and Military exercises for future rescue operations that can be very useful in times of disasters and natural calamities like typhoons which we used to experienced in the country yearly.