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.