By Mercedes de la Torre

ROME, MARCH 6, 2009 ( Andrea Riccardi is being awarded the International Charlemagne Prize, recognizing him as a "great European" whose life has been at the service of his neighbor.

The founder of the Catholic lay Sant'Egidio Community was informed of the prize Thursday. He will receive it on May 21.

Riccardi told ZENIT that this award for the founder of the Sant'Egidio Community is a call to Europe to rediscover its vocation to solidarity and openness.

"Europe cannot live for itself, this is what the Charlemagne Prize acknowledges," the founder explained, noting that the Sant'Egidio Community is especially committed in Africa and Latin America.

"Sant'Egidio's Europe is pointed to solidarity; it is a Europe pointed to the outside, in an endeavor for peace and for the poor," he continued. "I believe this is the Europe that will have a future, that will have a mission, and this is what Sant'Egidio lives; it lives this mission and becomes a universal network."

Extraordinary sign

According to a statement from the community, Riccardi was chosen for the prize "to honor an extraordinary example of civil commitment for a more human and united Europe both within and outside its borders, for the understanding between peoples, cultures, faiths and for a more peaceful and just world."

The judges also chose the founder "to hail him as a great European who has put his life at the service of neighbor, in the best sense of the term, for his passionate commitment to supporting understanding and dialogue between peoples of every religion and nationality and for the Sant'Egidio Community in giving an outstanding contribution to a more peaceful and fair world."

They said his life has given "an extraordinary sign and example of the European values of peace, of solidarity and human dignity and of civil commitment for a better world."

A founder

Born in Rome in 1950, Andrea Riccardi is a professor of contemporary history in Rome. He is an expert in modern and contemporary Church history.

Before entering college himself, he brought together a group of pre-university students in Rome, and the Sant'Egidio Community was thus born.

His work of mediation has been decisive in overcoming conflicts in Mozambique, Guatemala and other countries.

The Charlemagne Prize is a citizens' prize for distinguished service on behalf of European unification. The contribution can be made in the literary, scientific-scholarly, economic, and political sector.