Monthly Archives: September 2014

Sant’Egidio – An Example of Cheerful Giving

Comunità di Sant'Egidio

Comunità di Sant’Egidio

The second in a series of reflections following a visit to Rome to discover its links with the early Christian church and the church as it is today

Up until a month ago I had never heard of a saint called Egidio, and even when I found out that it was the Italian translation of St Giles I had to look up who he was. Having done so I discovered that Giles was a hermit monk who lived deep in a forest with only a hind [female deer] for company. One day when the king and his retinue came a-hunting, an arrow, intended for the deer, struck and wounded Giles and thereafter he became the patron saint of those who were physically and mentally challenged and as a consequence were often those cast out from society.

It was therefore entirely appropriate when a community of lay Christians chose the church of Sant’Egidio in the Trastevere area of Rome to become a centre for continuous prayer and welcome for the poor and pilgrims. This was back in 1968 and since then the work that the community has done since and is still doing amongst the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed and quite frankly the unloved has been amazing.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly
or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

 When one thinks of giving it is often in the sense of a monetary capacity – donations to various charities, towards the upkeep of our churches, payrolling the official ministry team – but at Sant’Egidio’s the giving is from the heart, entirely voluntary and selfless. All of the volunteers are lay members of the church, often with full-time paid employment or family commitments who agree to be part of the community as regularly and as often as they can; not simply as an occasional act of philanthropy but as an inclusive life-choice.

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant'Egidio

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant’Egidio

Their main work is in solidarity with the poor and homeless who end up for a multitude of reasons on the streets of Rome,  and who each day are welcomed into the Centre for a meal, use of the washing facilities (both bodies and clothes) and healthcare through the medical centre. The meals themselves are not simply doled out – care and attention is paid to offer a proper substantial meal, with fruits and drinks, presented on cloth-covered tables, proper cutlery and served by the helpers with smiles and respect. At Christmas time this meal turns into a huge banquet served in the church itself with personalised… yes personalised  presents for each and every person there.

‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you’ Luke 14:12-14

Prayers are offered each day

Prayers are offered each day

The Community also provides spiritual support to those in need because the heart and the life of the community is in communicating the Gospel both in word and action. Each day prayers are offered at both morning and evening worship. However, it is often spiritual matters of a more practical nature that are of concern. Many of the street people have been abandoned by or lost touch with their families and they are worried about what will happen to them when they die. Here the community steps in to reassure them that even at this moment they can rest assured that as part of the community family they will receive a proper funeral and their memories will be treasured through continuing prayer.

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant'Egidio sponsored restaurant

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant’Egidio sponsored restaurant

The work of the community doesn’t stop at acting responsively, it is also proactive and its project in setting up and running a restaurant staffed by a unique mix of ‘amico and amica’ – some of whom have learning disabilities – is a great success which is drawing comments from neighbouring establishments who are now beginning to be more inclusive in their own choice of staffing – and the food is delicious too!

Other projects that the community is involved in are working with immigrants, refugees and the Roma people to overcome language barriers where bureaucracy is involved and running ‘Schools of Peace’ for families and children. They are also active in ecumenical dialogue, which is just one of the reasons we were welcomed so warmly during our visit.

All in all I came away from the experience feeling incredibly uplifted by the sheer demonstration of what can be achieved when we choose to live our lives wholly sacrificially –  because joy certainly abounds when Christ is placed at the centre of everything.

The interior of the church of Sant'Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

The interior of the church of Sant’Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

More information about the work of the community can be found here: http://www.santegidio.org/

Roman Reflections – Supersize Faith

The Altar Canopy or Baldacchino, St Peter's Basilica, Rome

The Altar Canopy or Baldacchino, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

The first of a series of reflections following a visit to Rome to discover its links with the early Christian church and the church as it is today

As an ecumenical advocate it would be hypocritical of me to censure the joy and devotion inspired in fellow Christians and others when visiting holy landmarks. A visit to the Vatican and in particular St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, however, has led me to reflect on how I would wish to express my own idea of reverence and faith.

As humans we are drawn to those places where the people who are part of our history actually walked and talked and left their mark on the landscape. As part of our veneration of their lives we erect memorials so that future generations will know the exact spot where they too might draw closer to these colossi of faith

Yet the hustle and bustle of thousands of pilgrims rushing from one grandiose monument to another without pause to look at what they are actually snapping through their camera lenses; the papal catacombs in which the human remains of the former bishops of Rome repose amidst the splendour of carved marble reliquaries; and being continuously funneled around those holy objects that offer the best ‘selfie’ opportunities, somehow left me cold and wanting to shout ‘Let’s clear the temple!’

From sky to grave - St Peter's Basilca, Rome

From sky to grave – St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavensPsalm 113:4

Yet, the visit hadn’t started like that. It had actually begun deep underground in the Roman Necropolis directly under the Basilica. Here in the ancient cemetery, originally without the city walls, the brick-built mausoleums, designed to hold the remains of Roman households spoke of reverence. Places where families might occasionally climb up onto the rooves to have a picnic whilst they remembered their departed relatives and loved ones.

Even so, we were still among the glory of the Roman empire, whose prosperity could afford to erect these monuments, whilst the poor and persecuted were buried in pauper’s graves.

Simon Peter was one such as these. After he had met his gruesome death in the Circus of Nero c64AD, his body was laid in the ground and discretely memorialised by the early Christians, many of whom chose to be buried close by. A small ‘trophy’ or physical shrine was erected to mark the grave by the theologian Gaius around the end of the 2nd century and at the beginning of the 4th century the newly converted Emperor Constantine marked the spot with a white marble sarcophagus over which the altar of the basilica was to be built. Now, as then, the open dome of the basilica provides a direct connection from the skies or heavens above, through the baroque grandeur to the simple grave of Christ’s rock and foundation of his church

The dead do not praise the Lord, nor those gone down into silence
Psalm 115:17

I have to admit, that without Pope Pius XI’s desire to be buried as close as was possible to the tomb of St Peter, then these things may have remained undiscovered and maybe they should have. For Simon Peter, the simple fisherman, would surely be turning in his grave, that is if he wasn’t already in heaven, at the way that people have put all their energies into immortalising the saints in stone and precious materials whilst failing to grasp the irony of their riches.

A papal audience with Pope Francis

A papal audience with Pope Francis

Perhaps the latest Bishop of Rome, will continue to lead by example as he sets aside some of this pomp and ceremony and tries to live out his life and ministry close to the people he serves. I do hope and pray so, for all our sakes.

 

A Life In Books

A life in books

A life in books

I was recently asked to list ten book that had had an influence on my life. It’s not as easy as you might think, in fact rather than simply being able to dash off a list each one I chose needed to be balanced against another book, another memory, another situation or point in my life. For each one you discard another three or four could easily take its place.

The final ten are therefore not finite and may not necessarily signify every stage of my life in which a book has featured or even the most important; but they are a representation and compiling the list itself was an exercise in discovering how important literature and reading is in my life and no doubt in many other lives as well.

So here is my list, in no particular order, with a brief explanation as to why it made the final ten.

The Classics

The Classics

Here are the classics, the books I studied at school for my English A Level, but also the ones that I continue to read today

1. Aeneid – Virgil
The legendary epic poem telling the story of Aeneas as he travels from Troy to Rome. It appealed to my sense of adventure and love of history, myths and legends.

2. Selected Poetry of William Blake (and John Keats)
Blake’s poetry and artwork really entered my soul and spoke volumes to me, in particular his Songs of Innocence and Experience, but I had to cheat with the addition of John Keats as his was the first poetry that I wanted to memorise.

3. Anthony and Cleopatra/Macbeth – William Shakespeare
These two Shakespeare plays have become for me just two examples of how words, when beautifully written and composed can be understood by any age. A project to study, create and produce a filmed version of Macbeth using the original language with a bunch of 9 year olds proved that.

Reading as children

Reading as children

First reading books certainly can claim an influence on your life. I could so easily have include the Janet and John books which were my first readers; and the memorable time of being on holiday as a five-year old, sharing the same story with a young fellow vacationer – ‘Look, John, look. See tha’ boats’.

Still it is children’s books that appeal to adults as well that remain timeless.

4. Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
The world of Mole, Ratty, Badger and the irascible Toad spoke of an idyllic vision of the countryside, punctuated by ill-tempered weasels and the disastrous adventures of an annoying amphibian. This descriptive way of writing was only equalled later by Laurie Lee’s ‘Cider with Rosie’,

5. The Blue Balloon – Mick Inkpen
The well-worn copy of this book is testament to just how loved it was by my children. At two and half, my daughter Lizzie could ‘read’ it from cover to cover; every word perfect, every nuance expressed. It was a sharing book and just one of the reasons that I ordered a new copy so that it may be shared with future generations as well

Love of knowledge

Love of knowledge

6. Encyclopaedias
My thirst for knowledge was slaked by the two sets of encyclopedias we owned. One was a series of volumes printed sometime in the early part of the 20th century – the other set from the 50’s. However, both were put to full use, prior to the invention of Encarta and the internet.

Their use nowadays is somewhat limited, but where else could you find Jade, Jam and Jaguars all on the same page!

Strengthening faith

Strengthening faith

My studies have provided me with enough reading material to keep me busy for many a year to come. Whole new bookshelves have had to be created to hold it all, but the basis for it all is found in just one book – The Bible and in particular my 7th choice

7. The Four Gospels
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have become essential authors as I follow my vocation, but many years ago they also inspired me to help form my character and outlook on life.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105

8. Making God Possible – Alan Billings
Theology books don’t often make me excited, but it was whilst I was exploring what my vocation might be that I read this book. I suspect is it a bit of specialist, niche book, but it made me want to say – ‘Yes, that’s it, that’s what it’s all about.’

9. The Strength to Love – Martin Luther King Jr
Combine the history and struggle of black, African slaves and 20th century segregation with the teachings of a non-violent pastor and you get insights into a world which I can only imagine and yet have a huge amount of empathy with. These were the subjects of my thoughts about justice and equality as I grew up. MLK’s writings are world-famous, and yet they still speak into so many situations that we still face today

Bero Cookbook blog10. The Be-Ro Cookbook
My final book is actually the 3rd edition of the book I have owned. Despite its dubious sexist cover photos; its dog-eared and bespattered pages tell the story of several decades of cooking favourite recipes. It is also a fact that in spite of those decades, I still need to refer to it each time when making scones for the exact quantities. Why is that I wonder?

So that is the ten that made the list – no mention of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Hardy, Harper Lee, Homer…..

Just outside the list

Or the many others that fill my bookcase…

Bookcase blog

Why not have a go yourself and see what your list might contain?