Sant'Egidio Comes to America
The most important Catholic group that you may never have heard of is the Sant’Egidio community. Their anonymity may lessen with an upcoming convention, Religion and Cultures, to be held at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., on April 26-27. It will be the latest in a series of encounters among religious leaders that began with the historic interfaith meeting attended by Pope John Paul II in Assisi in 1986.
Founded in 1968 by an Italian secondary-school student named Andrea Riccardi, the loosely structured organization consists of 50,000 lay people devoted to prayer, dialogue and activism on behalf of global peace. Sant’Egidio’s evening prayer meetings in Rome, at Santa Maria in Trastevere, attract hundreds of young students. Sant’Egidio members, both young and old, are typically involved in service to the poorin soup kitchens, prisons and senior citizen centers.
Mario Marazziti, Sant’Egidio’s spokesperson, told America that the group began in the wake of the Second Vatican Council as a way for lay people to live all the Gospel, not just part of it. Like all members, Signor Marazziti works full time in another profession (in his case, television) and volunteers his time. When asked why Sant’Egidio, strong in Western Europe and Africa, has relatively few members in the United States, he smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said that he hoped the Georgetown meeting might change that. So do we.
The influx of Hispanic people from Mexico and Central America is part of a far broader, global phenomenon. In December 2003, with the encouragement of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Global Commission on International Migration was established in an effort to respond to this rapidly increasing and ever more complex phenomenon.
According to the United Nations’ population division, almost 200 million people are international migrants. Some move within their own regions; others travel from one part of the world to another. While some represent success storiesincluding asylum seekers who have found safety from persecutiona major concern in Europe has been the arrival of asylum seekers who do not qualify for refugee status. Others who migrate from poor parts of the world to wealthy countries, whether legally or illegally, have faced exploitation, discrimination and abuse. While globalization has lifted some out of poverty, the commission also notes that it has not narrowed the gap between rich and poor, which in some areas of the world is widening.
The commission lays out six principles for action. The first is that women, men and children should be able to realize their potential in their own country of origin, and hence migrate out of choice rather than necessity. But the fifth may be the most importantnamely, that the protection of human rights and labor standards should be ensured for all migrant men and women.
Since assuming office in January 2001, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines has faced a series of challenges: protests by the supporters of her disgraced predecessor, Joseph Estrada; an abortive military coup in 2003; and calls for her resignation after the release of a taped telephone conversation that suggested she had meddled with the election commission in the contentious 2004 elections. Last February, after reports of another military coup in the making, President Arroyo declared a state of emergency. The lifting of the state of emergency raised concerns among those who remembered the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos, who was deposed in the first display of Philippine people power, in 1986. Administration warnings about abuses in the notoriously free Philippine press only increased worry for the future of democracy in the country.
In response to criticism, President Arroyo proposed changes in the Philippine constitution, moving the country toward a parliamentary system of government. The Philippine Bishops’ Conference, along with many other critics, showed little enthusiasm for such fundamental change. The failure of the Arroyo administration to address the challenge of widespread poverty in the country is not due to any flaws in the Philippine constitution, but to a political culture that for too long has fostered favoritism to family and friends and exploited governmental power for private gain instead of employing it for the public good.
Continuity in political institutions will be necessary, however, if the danger of a restless military establishment is to be controlled. Calls for resignation only add to the political volatility and so create stronger demands for the military to impose order. Successful democracy demands restraint as well as participation on the part of citizens.