Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me
–it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks—
to break unjust fetters
and undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and break every yoke,
to share your bread with the hungry
and shelter the homeless poor,
to clothe the one you see to be naked
and not turn from your own kin?
Then will your light shine like dawn
and your wound be quickly healed over.
Isaiah 58: 6-8
In 1968 in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, a Roman high school student Andrea Riccardi gathered some of his fellow students to listen together to the gospel and to put those words into practice. Today there are over 60,000 members of the Sant’ Egidio Community in 73 countries and on four continents around the world. The core elements of the life of this community are prayer, communicating the gospel, and solidarity with the poor. The relatively brief history of this community reflects the impulse to prayer and service and the immense creativity of that impulse that comes from deeply listening and sharing the life-giving Word of the gospel. The outreach of this community is constantly expanding, as its members recognize the many and differing manifestations of poverty in the societies and cultures in which they live. For example, in some wealthy European countries, they have recognized the poverty of the loneliness in many well-off older people who are living out their later lives in isolation.
The Sant’Egidio Community, as many others like it, reflects the truth of today’s reading from Isaiah. A true fast from the extraneous and superfluous in life frees us for prayer and a deeper common life , through which we recognize that our communion is boundless. Their history also reminds us that the “unjust fetters” and the “thongs of the yoke” are present all around us and so summoning us to recognition and response in always new ways. A Gospel community, of its very nature, is one which recognizes its identity as a gathering of “the poor and marginalized” who must, in turn, “help other poor people.” Whatever our age, or state of health, or resources, and whatever the struggling and broken state of our shared life, we can always rediscover our communion as God’s poor and little ones through our relationships with those who share our poor and humble lot.
We fast during Lent, in part, to experience the lack and poverty that truly is ours but from which we so often dissociate through the excesses of our lives. If we truly enter that fast and experience that poverty, we also discover that it is the place where we live as one – with all others who are “considered the least” by the rich and powerful of the world.
Sant’Egidio identifies with those who are considered the least, considering them as brothers, with no exclusions. They are fully part of the family of the community. Wherever there is a community of Sant’Egidio, from Rome to San Salvador, from Cameroon to Belgium, from Ukraine to Indonesia, friendship and familiarity with poor people are always at the centre. There is no community, not even the youngest one, which is so small or weak that cannot help other poor people. It is the “widow’s mite” which has great value for the Lord (Mk. 12: 41).
“Follow this path: prayer, the poor and peace. Walking this path you will increase compassion in the heart of society — that is the real revolution, the revolution of compassion and tenderness — to make friendship grow in the place of the phantoms of enmity and indifference.”
Pope Francis to Sant’Egidio Community in Rome, June 16, 2014