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.