Europe's most influential Catholic lay association coming to Melbourne

Europe's most influential Catholic lay association coming to Melbourne

Anthony Cappello

For this year's Summer School, the Thomas More Centre has invited the Vice-President of one of Europe's most influential Catholic movements, the Sant' Egidio, to Australia. Claudio Betti, a fluent English speaker and one of the movement's founders, will be in Melbourne from 7-19 February 2003.

The Community of Sant'Egidio began in Rome in 1968, in the period following the Second Vatican Council. Today it is a movement of lay people with more than 40,000 members, dedicated to evangelisation and charity, in Rome, the rest of Italy, and in more than 60 countries throughout the world.

The Community of Sant'Egidio is a "Church public lay association" with the different communities, spread throughout the world, sharing the same spirituality and principles which characterise the way of Sant'Egidio:

* Prayer, an essential part of the life of the community in Rome and communities throughout the world, and central to the overall direction of community life.

* Communicating the Gospel which is at the heart of the life of the Community, extending to all those who seek and ask for a meaning for their life.

* Solidarity with the poor, lived as a voluntary and free service, in the evangelical spirit of a Church that is the "Church for all and particularly the poor" (Pope John XXIII).

* Ecumenism, lived as a friendship, prayer and search for unity among Christians of the whole world, and dialogue, recommended by Vatican II as a way of peace and co-operation among religions, and seen as a way of life and as a means of resolving conflicts.

The Community has as its centre the Roman Church of Sant'Egidio, from which the Community takes its name. From the very beginning, it has maintained, in the area of Trastevere and in Rome, a continuous presence of prayer and welcome for the poor and for pilgrims.

While in Australia, Claudio Betti will speak at the Thomas More Centre Summer School on the Beatitudes, particularly, the beatitude "blessed are the peacemakers". Practising this principle, the Sant'Egidio Community helped bring peace to Mozambique in 1990 by uniting the warring parties at the negotiation table.

Claudio Betti will also speak at the Cardinal Knox Centre, in various parishes across Melbourne and even at a secular university. In May 2002, Pope John Paul II addressed the Sant'Egidio Community asking its members to "revive in each of you the commitment for the promotion of justice and peace in every environment."

Cardinal Ruini, in February 2001, referred to the Community as "fishers of men" arguing that "to choose the poor is to choose God." The community, which began by organising after-school activities in the shantytowns on the outskirts of Rome, today cares for the poor through its cafeterias and boarding houses in Rome. In 2000 it received the UNESCO peace prize.

Claudio Betti's visit to Melbourne will certainly inspire not only participants at the Thomas More Centre's Summer School, but all Catholics and people of good will.

Community of Sant'Egidio: built on Scripture and prayer

Prayer is the heart of the life of the Community of Sant'Egidio and its absolute priority. At the end of the day, every Community of Sant'Egidio, large or small, gathers around the Lord to listen to his Word. The Word of God and the prayer are, in fact, the very basis of the whole life of the Community.

The disciples cannot do other than remain at the feet of Jesus, as did Mary of Bethany, to receive his love and learn his ways (Phil 2:5). So, every evening, when the Community returns to the feet of the Lord, it repeats the words of the anonymous disciple: "Lord, teach us how to pray". Jesus, Master of prayer, continues to answer: "When you pray, say: 'Abba, Father'."

It is not a simple exhortation, it is much more. With these words Jesus lets the disciples participate in his own relationship with the Father. Therefore, in prayer, the fact of being children of the Father who is in heaven comes before the words we may say. Praying is above all a way of being. That is to say, we are children who turn with faith to the Father, certain that we will be heard. Jesus teaches us to call God "Our Father". And not simply "Father" or "My Father".

Disciples, even when they pray on their own, are never isolated nor they are orphans; they are always members of the Lord's family. In praying together, besides the mystery of being children of God, there is also the mystery of brotherhood, as the Father of the Church said: "You cannot have God as father without having the Church as mother".

When praying together, the Holy Spirit assembles the disciples in the upper room together with Mary, the Lord's mother, so that they may direct their gaze towards the Lord's face and learn from him the secret of his heart. The Communities of Sant'Egidio all over the world gather in the various places of prayer and lay before the Lord the hopes and the sufferings of the tired, exhausted crowds of which the Gospel speaks.

In these ancient crowds we can see the huge masses of the modern cities, the millions of refugees who continue to flee their countries, the poor, relegated to the very fringe of life, and all those who are waiting for someone to take care of them.

Praying together includes the cry, the invocation, the aspiration, the desire for peace, the healing and salvation of the men and women of this world. Prayer is never in vain; it rises ceaselessly to the Lord so that anguish is turned into hope, tears into joy, despair into happiness, and solitude into communion. May the Kingdom of God come soon among people.

From the Sant'Egidio website.

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