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  • Promoting Democracy, Peace, and Solidarity
  • Andrea Riccardi (bio)

On 4 October 1992, the government of Mozambique signed a peace agreement with leaders of the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) insurgency, ending the terrible civil war that had torn the country apart for well over a decade. This agreement was possible in part because of the mediation provided by the Community of Saint Egidio, a Rome-based lay Catholic nongovernmental organization. This happy episode raised the Community’s profile and occasioned numerous questions about it. Was it, for instance, an emanation of the Vatican? Was it somehow an agency of the Italian government? How could it be that a Community so committed to the poor and their needs had played such an active part in a diplomatic process? The answer to each of the first two questions is no. As for the third, I can best suggest its answer by offering my reflections and my witness regarding the 30-year journey of a group of people who have struggled to make democracy, peace, and solidarity realities in their own lives and in that of the world.

The experience of the Community of Saint Egidio has been centered on this effort. We are not an emanation of anything but a group of [End Page 157] men and women, Christians, free, lay people, who try to live out the true meaning of democracy, peace, and solidarity in Rome and the larger world. We were born in 1968, a time of crisis in Western democracy, as the young revolted against political, religious, and educational institutions, questioning their profound contradictions and demanding authenticity. As one of the students of ‘68, the Italian Jewish novelist Miro Silvera, has written in his novel Il Prigioniero di Aleppo (The Prisoner of Aleppo):

In 1968, everything was up for discussion: bourgeois love, family, work, political commitment. One could have said almost anything about us, but surely not that we were arrivistes. We did not even know where we wanted to arrive; we wanted to change everything, while those who want to arrive do not want to change anything. Our generation was a laboratory generation that tested on its own skin the discomfort and the purity of change, losing every time. 1

I agree with these words, except perhaps for the last part about “losing every time.” It is not our history always to lose. In 1968, one had the feeling that everything could be changed, especially in the world of young people. This feeling expressed itself more in conflict than in construction—conflict in political life, in the Church, in the education system, in Western culture, and so on. This conflict contained a strong demand for authenticity.

In Europe and in the Americas, the well-to-do sons and daughters of the West, university students, felt an urge to be at the center of things. Many undertook a search for authenticity that took very different paths, some of them terrible. As for myself and some of my high-school classmates in Rome, all of us the children of rather affluent families, the thrust of 1968 met with another important force: the discovery of the Gospel of Christ. This “good news” saved us from the most tragic or ideological currents of ‘68. I remember the first meetings, the first steps, the first experiences; I remember the strong sense of encountering the Gospel as a word of truth, a word that would never mislead. If I had to identify the two major thrusts that moved the Community of Saint Egidio at its inception, I would have to add to the crisis of democracy in 1968 some mention of the Second Vatican Council. The Council, a three-year series of meetings of the world’s Catholic bishops convened in 1962 by Pope John XXIII (1958–63), outlined a new path for the Church in the contemporary world. This path is one of faithfulness to the Gospel and, at the same time, of empathy for contemporary men and women. The Council’s premier document, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (known as Gaudium et spes, from the first words of its Latin text), begins by speaking of this empathy: “The...

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pp. 157-167
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