A Peacemaker Nears Its 35th Anniversary

Sant’Egidio Community Has Helped in Africa and Latin America

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ROME, JAN. 10, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Community of Sant’Egidio, known variously as God’s «blue helmets,» the left hand of Vatican diplomacy and the United Nations of Trastevere, turns 35 next month.

The Catholic group founded by Andrea Riccardi was nominated last year by Italian parliamentarians for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Riccardi, now a professor of contemporary history, was not yet 20 years old when he founded Sant’Egidio in 1968. Since then, the group has had a key role in resolving conflicts in Africa and Latin America.

Its greatest achievement is with Mozambique. Since 1992, when Sant’Egidio succeeded in having the warring sides sign a peace agreement, it has helped that African country avoid new outbreaks of violence. The peace agreements between the government and armed opposition were signed in Rome, thanks to Sant’Egidio’s mediation.

Last March, Riccardi addressed the Mozambican Assembly, to urge respect for those agreements at a time when the two major parties were confronting one another with accusations of electoral corruption, which resulted in 22 deaths and threatened to degenerate in further violence.

In Mozambique, members of Sant’Egidio are involved, among other things, in a program of assistance to AIDS orphans. Last year the community offered anti-retrovirus treatments available in the First World, which made possible the birth of a healthy baby from a mother infected with AIDS.

In 1999, the community mediated between the government and the Burundi opposition, organizing a meeting in Tanzania to continue talks toward a peace agreement.

After eight years of civil war, in May 2001 God’s «blue helmets» succeeded once again in having the parties in confrontation (with the exception of a Hutu group) sign an agreement to implement the Arusha agreements of autumn 2000.

Most of the community’s negotiations are carried out in Africa, though its «parallel diplomacy» has also yielded results in Latin America. Sant’Egidio’s mediation helped end the civil war in Guatemala.

Last April, the community also mediated with Colombian guerrillas and succeeded in obtaining the release of two kidnapped Italian technicians who had been in captivity for 19 months.

When celebrating its 34th anniversary last Feb. 8, John Paul II summarized Sant’Egidio Community’s charism thus: «Friendship lived with evangelical sensibility makes possible the crossing of borders and shortening of distances even when they seem insurmountable. It is about an authentic art of meeting, of careful attention to dialogue, of a loving passion for communication of the Gospel. This friendship becomes a force of reconciliation; a really necessary force at this time, characterized tragically by conflicts and violent confrontations.»

This lay movement embraces over 40,000 people in 60 countries. Prayer, proclamation of the Gospel, solidarity with the poor, ecumenism and dialogue are the five pillars of this «public association of faithful,» which took its name from the church of the Trastevere neighborhood where they began to meet for prayer and service to the neediest.

«We are a small great reality, made up of men and women who believe and work for the poor in the most varied areas of the world,» founder Riccardi said. «We feel that our role within the Church is to live the Gospel and appeal constantly for friendship with the least and […] for dialogue.»

Ever since John Paul II called the Interreligious Meeting of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986, Sant’Egidio has organized an international meeting every year as a reminder of religions’ commitment to peace.

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