Poor Infant Inspires Aid for the Poor

Organizer Speaks of Sant’Egidio Family’s Traditional Christmas Meal

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, DEC. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- «For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me.» Christ himself, born into the utmost of poverty, challenges all Christians who seek him to first go to the poor.

Today and Saturday, the Community of Sant’Egidio welcomed 10,000 poor and homeless people throughout the city of Rome (2,000 within the Trastevere quarter). The lay group has carried out this tradition with hundred of volunteers since 1982.

This year, among those present were Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum; and Cardinal Moussa Daoud, retired prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

During the event, ZENIT spoke with Elisa Gaddi, one of the organizers of the luncheon. 

ZENIT: Could you speak about the work of Sant’Egidio, in particular as we have seen today?

Gaddi: For us, this time of Christmas is an important time of the year. There is the lunch that we do with the poor, for them. These poor persons are among those who we know, people who live on the street, [also] for those who have their own house, but do not have money to take care of themselves. 

The first lunch of the Sant’Egidio community was done in 1982, therefore many years ago. In Santa Maria in Trastevere, there were about 50 people, less than 50 invited. To understand the proportions now, in 2011, 120,000 have arrived. We don’t know exactly how many have come this year, but we think the [numbers will have] increased. This Christmas luncheon, it is done in Rome, it is done in other cities of Italy, in Europe, and throughout the world. 

ZENIT: What is the importance of doing this luncheon, in particular during this time of Christmas?

Gaddi: Because Christmas is a day in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and it is a feast that we want to share with our friends. Therefore, our luncheon for Christmas is a luncheon for a family, but a family that has been extended. It is a family that includes the persons of the community, the poor friends, the elderly, the children, the gypsies — this is the spirit of [what we do]: a large family meal, to celebrate together the birth of Jesus Christ. 

ZENIT: The luncheons are served in churches. Why is this?

Gaddi: In our luncheons for Christmas, they are done in the church. There are exceptions to this … but the kind of place preferred by us, by the community, is the church. It could seem to be a little sacrilegious. But [in fact] for us, after the liturgy, after the Mass, we have a luncheon. Why? It is the house of this Jesus that we are celebrating together. Therefore, it is such a beautiful place; a place, therefore, that is perfect to have a celebration with a family for Jesus. This is to help one understood why we choose the church, as a place to have our Christmas luncheon.

[Translation by Ann Schneible]
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