So yes, the Vatican was an important stop on the way. But the community that has seized my imagination since I heard of it is Sant'Egidio, and it was there that Michele and I traveled yesterday, walking all the way from Santa Quattro Coronati to Trastevere in the blazing (95°) heat of a Roman summer day.
First, about the neighborhood: Trastevere is a little bit like the Latin Quarter in Paris – quirky, hip, jumping with action at night, musical, filled with joyful restaurants, safe (unless you're gullible enough to get a lift in an unmarked cab).
Now, take this neighborhood back about forty years. At that time, a small band of teenagers, led by an idealistic young man by the name of Andrea Riccardi, had the audacity to ask for squatters' rights at a Carmelite convent that was about to close. What he was proposing was an unheard-of thing in the heart of Rome and its Catholic bureaucracy: an intentional lay foundation, devoted to peace and prayer.
Now, move ahead two generations, to where we are today. Sant'Egidio has become a worldwide organization. They meet daily for prayer, sung simply in beautiful harmony. (Their liturgies now take place in the glorious Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere).
Their music is a marvelous amalgamation of three- and four-part harmony, sung in Italian, and done in a choral plainchant style. The liturgy which welcomed us yesterday evening was a meditation on the Holy Cross, for which they provided beautiful bound prayer books, complete with all the texts which were to be sung.
One of the many causes they have championed: starting a community restaurant (where we ate late last night, and the meal was among the best we've had in Rome). The restaurant serves as a place of employment for special needs members of the community, as well as a showcase for artwork from the area.
They have an outreach program to Africa and support for AIDS victims. They've worked out a deal with Italian vineyard owners to sell their labels and contribute profits to those who struggle with this disease.
Last night, Michele and I had one of the most engaging conversations of our pilgrimage thus far, with community member Paolo Mancinelli. We spoke long into the night, of ecclesial trends and politics (on both sides of the Atlantic). We shared stories of the liturgical traditions of Notre Dame and Sant'Egidio. Looking ahead to our itinerary, we anticipated the visits to come, to Taizé and Tamié and Solesmes, and the musical treasures yet to discover. We spoke of the unique gift of Notre Dame students and what they bring to the world. Paolo told us, with much joy, of the workings of his community, what they have witnessed thus far, what they still hope to achieve.
All the while, an incredible meal was set before us, served with blessed hospitality by the staff of their restaurant.
So often in this spiritual world within which I work, I continue to see evidence of what Don Cozzens, S.J., calls the "great divorce": the schism between those who work in the liturgical world and those who strive for social justice. But here, in this little neighborhood on the west side of the Tiber River, there is a community of lay people who have unlocked the secret of healthy spirituality. They have woven together, with great care, a profound love of the liturgy with a rooted initiative of community service.
And if abundance is the mark of the Holy Spirit, then a resounding "yes" has been given this vision. Sant'Egidio has grown such that they now have associations all over the world. We would do well to pay attention to the workings of the Spirit, and what it means for the future of the Church.
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Location:Trastevere, Rome, Italy