A visit to Rome and a chance encounter at a caffè on the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere gave my friend Tessa and myself a longed for opportunity to get a glimpse of the lived experience of belonging to the Community of Sant’Egidio. The young African priest who had presided at the morning Eucharist at Santa Maria in Trastevere came walking across the square, then recognised and greeted us. He was having a capuccino too, he said, and eagerly joined us at our table.
Moïse Moriba Beavogui told us he was studying for a PhD in Scripture and was a member of Sant’Egidio. Sant’Egidio??!! His eyes lit up when we signalled our interest in the Sant’Egidio community. And so we got talking.
Moïse explained that he had first got to know Sant’Egidio in his home country of Guinea (West Africa). Members of the Community there run a care home for lepers, they work with street children and try to alleviate the suffering of inmates of a hugely overcrowded prison in Conakry, the capital. And some years ago they also mediated a peace accord between rival political parties in the country – peace building being one of the charisms of Sant’Egidio – paving the way for a peaceful political transition.
So he joined and eventually came to Rome to start his studies for the priesthood – somewhat surprisingly, since the Community of Sant’Egidio is essentially a lay movement.
Moïse: “Yes, there are only between 50 and 60 priest members of the movement. Sant’Egidio is a lay movement born out of the Second Vatican Council. At present there are some 60.000 members spread over 73 countries”.
“During my first two years of formation I stayed with a Sant’Egidio family here in Rome. It was for me a lived experience of the charism and spirituality of Sant’Egidio. I saw at close quarters what it means to live the gospel in daily life going about your business of work, family life, every day concerns! That experience really taught grabbed me a lot!”
And he went on to give his own brief summary of the charism of the Community of Sant’Egidio: the three P’s.
Prayer: here in Trastevere (Rome) the daily evening prayer at Santa Maria in Trastevere is open to all and sundry. Beautifully sung in a manner reminiscent of Anglican and Orthodox liturgical chant it is truly enchanting and deeply prayerful – as I can witness from having gone there.
Poverty: a preferential option for people on the margins in society. To give but one example: members of Sant’Egidio run a ‘mensa’ – ‘table’ providing food for the needy in a large hall not far from Santa Maria.
Peace: The daily prayer for peace is complemented by active involvement in bringing about peace in conflict areas. Thus Sant’Egidio is currently working behind the scenes to bring about peace in the Central African Republic.
When, at the end of our conversation, we ask Moïse about his controversial countryman Cardinal Sarah, he rolls his eyes. There clearly is little common ground. With a wry smile he concedes: “The Spirit works in often surprising ways”.
A visit, that same evening, to the evening prayer at Santa Maria in Trastevere leaves me truly inspired and grateful for having encountered this lay community that radiates life.
Fons Eppink mhm
Sant’Egidio. Who are they?
The Community of Sant’Egidio began in Rome in 1968, in the period following the Second Vatican Council. Today it is a movement of lay people and has more than 60,000 members, dedicated to evangelisation and charity, in Rome, Italy and in more than 73 countries throughout the world.
The Community of Sant’Egidio is a “Church Public Lay Association”. The different communities, spread throughout the world, share the same spirituality and principles which characterise the way of Sant’Egidio:
Prayer, is an essential part of the life of the community in Rome and communities throughout the world. Prayer is central to the overall direction of community life.
Communicating the Gospel, is the heart of the life of the Community. It is offered to all those who seek and ask for a meaning for their life.
Solidarity with the poor, is lived as a voluntary and gratuitous service, in the evangelical spirit of a Church that is the “Church for all and particularly the poor” (Pope John XXIII)
Ecumenism, is lived as friendship, prayer and search for unity among Christians of the whole world.
Dialogue, was recommended by Vatican II as a way of peace and co-operation among religions, and also a way of life and as a means of resolving conflicts.
The Community has as its centre the Roman Church of Sant’Egidio, from which the Community takes its name. From its very beginnings, the Community has maintained, in the area of Trastevere and in Rome, a continuous presence of prayer and welcome for the poor and for pilgrims.
The Community of Sant’Egidio began in Rome in 1968, at the initiative of a young man, who was then less than twenty, Andrea Riccardi. He gathered a group of high-school students, like himself, to listen to and to put the Gospel into practice. The first Christian communities of the Acts of the Apostles and Francis of Assisi were the first reference points.