Sant'Egidio Gathers Worldwide Family for Holidays

Community Remembers Beginnings of Christmas Feast for Poor

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ROME, DEC. 24, 2010 ( When the Catholic lay Community of Sant’Egidio gathered some 20 poor people for Christmas dinner in 1982 in the Roman Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, perhaps few imagined that this initiative would spread throughout the world.

That year, elderly people of the neighborhood were brought together, people who had been friends of the community for some time, and who on that day would have been alone. Homeless people found by community members on the streets of Rome also joined in.

Since that first dinner, the community recalls, «the table has been enlarged every year and from Trastevere it has spread to many parts of the world where the community is present.»

Last year more than 100,000 people worldwide took part in the initiative.

«The celebration takes place in churches, homes, but also in centers for the elderly, for children, for the handicapped, and in prisons, hospitals and even on the streets,» explained a Sant’Egidio statement.

The intention is to «take the celebration also to the darkest, coldest, most remote and forgotten corners, with the conviction that Christmas is the loveliest day of the year, but it can also become a sad day for those who are in difficulties.»

The celebration begins on Christmas Eve with many dinners on the streets for the homeless.

«The dinner, a simple gift, a small crib, a Christmas tree, music but above all friendship, joy and care for each one are the ‘ingredients’ of a lovely celebration because it is full of love,» the community statement noted.

There are «lovely celebrations, in many cases organized with meager means and with great commitment by young people who in the main live in situations of poverty, if not conflict.»

The world

The Sant’Egidio Community recalled that last year in the Americas «thousands of persons celebrated the feast in El Salvador, Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile and also Cuba, where the adolescents who grow up in the community organized and animated a dinner for the elderly.»

In many cities of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, «the community’s invitation represents a moment of celebration and friendship between the various religious communities,» as also happens in Pakistan.

Moreover, the communiqué continued, «the joy of the feast will reach many places in Africa: in Mozambique alone, Christmas will be celebrated in many cities, involving street children, beggars, lepers, the blind, poor families and many prisoners.»

In Africa, «poverty emerges with particular harshness in prisons,» most of which have no beds or bathrooms and cells have reached the point of saturation.

«Hygienic conditions are very bad: Inmates get sick easily and sometimes die,» the statement noted. «The food provided by the prison is insufficient. Those who don’t have relatives to take food to them suffer hunger.»

This is why, «many African communities in Mozambique, Guinea Conakry, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde and Chad not only visit prisoners regularly but on Christmas day prepare a dinner which for many is the only real food of the whole year.»

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