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Archbishop marks Sant’Egidio anniversary during Boston visit

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CHESTNUT HILL -- The Community of Sant’Egidio’s greatest contributions to the peace process in Mozambique were prayer and friendship, said Archbishop Jamie Gonçalves during his presentation,” Peace from Africa: The Mozambique Story” at Boston College Feb. 7.

Archbishop Goncalves’s address to 150 local members of Sant’Egidio and students at BC’s Higgins Hall was part of a larger trip to Washington, D.C., New York and Boston. The visit commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Community of Sant’Egidio and 15 years of peace in Mozambique.

The Community of Sant’Egidio, a public lay association dedicated to evangelization and charity which began in Rome in 1968. There are currently more than 50,000 members in more than 70 countries. Their mission is prayer, communicating the Gospel, solidarity with the poor, ecumenism and dialogue to resolve conflicts.

“The peace process began in 1977 when I met the Community of Sant’Egidio and opened my sorrowful soul to them in friendship,” said the archbishop.

During his country’s civil war, the archbishop traveled to Rome where the Sant’Egidio community offered him assistance in establishing peace talks in Mozambique, he said.

The path to peace was long and dangerous, the archbishop told the BC gathering. For 10 years the country fought a war of independence from Portugal. The war ended in 1975 and two years later the Mozambique Liberation Front, known by the acronym FRELIMO, took control of the country. The archbishop described FRELIMO as a “Marxist-Leninist” organization.

Civil war broke out soon after. The organization was violently opposed by the Mozambique Resistance Movement (RENAMO). During the war, 1 million people died in fighting and from starvation, and 5 million more were displaced, many living in refugee camps, the archbishop noted.

Under FRELIMO rule, all religious buildings were seized or destroyed, including all the Catholic churches, schools and missions.

“I was put in jail twice and could not celebrate Mass freely,” the archbishop said.

Peace talks between the two groups began in 1990, 13 years after the war began. The meeting was held in Rome with the cooperation of the Vatican and the Community of Sant’Egidio. Two Sant’Egidio members along with Archbishop Gonçalves served as mediators during the 27 months of deliberation.

Recalling the negotiations, the archbishop said the first problem the mediators encountered was getting the two sides to simply speak directly to each other. Even though they had agreed to meet, both sides would only speak to the mediators.

According to the archbishop, government representatives claimed the representatives of the insurgents were not persons but animals. Meanwhile, he said, the insurgents denounced the government representatives as communists.

Archbishop Gonçalves stated that in order to work for peace, a mediator must listen, resist what is wrong, speak the truth and continue to build unity without fear. After much difficulty, the mediators were able to help the representatives see that they were citizens of the same country, he said.

Finally, after many long months, the representatives from both sides were able to agree on peace in 1992, he added.

Following the archbishop’s remarks, Andrea Bartoli, a member of Sant’Egidio who helped to establish the community in the United States, said that in order to live fully and joyfully a Christian must serve the poor and be open to the needs of others. People are often lost in their own “thinking and doing,” he said.

“Too often we are closed to the needs of others, and our comfort becomes a prison,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the need is as glamorous as the need for peace in Mozambique or as practical as the need of an old person, homebound and unable to move from their room.”

Bartoli said freedom and rest are found in following the Gospel and in that rest the needs of others are welcomed.

“The world is not good enough,” he said. “The world is not what it’s supposed to be, especially for the poor, the prisoners, the sick, the brothers and sisters in need.”

Prior to Archbishop Gonçalves’ talk, local members of the Community of Sant’Egidio gathered at BC’s St. Mary Chapel for an hour-long prayer service, during which Bartoli passed around a candle that was a gift to the community from Pope John Paul II at the second International Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy.

“I would like each of us to take a moment of silence and let this light go around in this church,” Bartoli said, adding that light symbolizes each of us spreading peace in the world.

Leah Tangney, a senior studying theology at BC, said she found the story of Mozambique’s peace a sign of hope for future peace talks.

“It’s important to know that through dialogue, you can bring forth peace,” she said. “The call of the Gospel is really to reach out and to build friendships with people.”

The Community of Sant’Egidio began a presence in Boston at BC in 1998. The local community has since expanded to 60 members and now serves the elderly in three locations and helps inner-city children through an after-school program in Jamaica Plain. Members gather for prayer three times a week, reflections once a month and annual nationwide retreats.

The president of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Marco Impagliazzo, spoke at Boston College last October.

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