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29 June 2018 | by Gregorio Sorgi

'The UN of Trastevere':how the Community of Sant’Egidio became a diplomatic actor

The Community of Sant’Egidio is an influential diplomatic actor, which has solved numerous conflicts in third world countries

French President Emmanuel Macron met with a delegation from the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic NGO which caters for refugees, before meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Macron and representatives from Sant’Egidio agreed on the need to open new humanitarian corridors, to allow Syrian refugees to reach Europe without facing the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. Speaking about the long-term strategy for the growth of Africa, the founder of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Riccardi, said: “Education is vital to bring peace and stability in Africa. EU countries have reduced their presence in Africa. The challenge for Europe is to increase its support for this continent”.

The Community of Sant’Egidio is an influential diplomatic actor, which has solved numerous conflicts in third world countries. In fact, the NGO is nicknamed the “UN of Trastevere”, after the Rome borough in which it is found.

Sant’Egidio was founded in 1968 by Andrea Riccardi, a high school student at the time, and a group of friends. The work of the community was initially focused on spreading the Gospel and alleviating poverty in the suburban areas of Rome. Its first significant achievement was to build a school for poor children in a deprived area of South Rome. Sant’Egidio gradually broadened its sphere of influence: in the 1970s, it diffused its message in other Italian cities, and by the 1980s it provided support to local communities in Africa. In 1986, Sant’Egidio was officially recognised by the Vatican and in 1993 it was publicly thanked by Pope John Paul II for its charity work.

The NGOs efforts to relieve poverty are related to its struggle to promote peace in the world. Sant’Egidio’s diplomatic action is motivated by the belief that only a lasting and stable peace will eradicate poverty. Its first diplomatic success was in 1992, when it promoted the peace process in Mozambique, which eventually led to the Rome Peace Agreements. Over the years, Sant’Egidio registered numerous other diplomatic successes, including the Peace Agreement in Guatemala (1996) and the end of the Albanian anarchy (1997).

Every year since 1986 it has organised an international meeting between leaders of different religions, to promote inter-religious dialogue.

Sant’Egidio currently counts on an extensive network of small communities which are present in 73 countries, including 29 in Africa, 23 in Europe, 8 in North America, 7 in Asia and 5 in South America. It has a total of 60,000 members across the world.

Despite its global successes, Sant’Egidio has not weakened its bond with the local community. Every day it organises a soup kitchen in its headquarters in the borough of Trastevere, Rome, to assist the needs of the poor and homeless. More than 30 volunteers, young and old, prepare and serve the food each day. The Community also packages and distributes many basic products - such as soap, clothes, biscuits and pasta - to homeless people around the city. Volunteers come from a range of social backgrounds - including students, pensioners, scouts and Catholic nuns. They are not only Italian. As a volunteer, I could hear people speaking in different languages. Also the homeless people who visited the soup kitchen came from a diverse background: some were impoverished Italians, while others were migrants who had either just moved to Italy, or who had been there since a long time.

Each volunteer is introduced to Sant’ Egidio in a different way: either through its school, its parish or its family. There are groups of high school friends who volunteer together, and there are nuns and friars who come from their convents. They all take part in a highly humane and rewarding experience, providing help and hope to those who are forgotten by everyone else.

Gregorio Sorgi is a student in London, currently working at The Tablet. He was raised in Rome, and has worked for several Italian newspapers.





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