Tag Archives: ecumenical

Day One – One Place to Another

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From one airport in darkness to another in darkness – at 6.30am the Luton skyline was barely visible and yet hundreds of people were making their way into the departure lounge eager to set off on their journeys around the world.

Flying to Israel on El Al involves quite a rigorous security procedure and we were told in advance that there would be searching questions and that we were to answer them as honestly as possible… “How long have you known the people you are travelling with?” “Well actually I’ve only just met some of them about half an hour ago”. “Have you been given anything as a gift?” “No, but I do have a gift for someone I haven’t yet met”. Still I seem to have answered to their satisfaction and they stamped my card and let me through (although I later found out they had opened my suitcase as certain items were rearranged!)

The baggage check-in clerk seemed particular interested in why I wasn’t wearing my collar as I was a Reverend. I told her I didn’t have to wear it 24/7 but I did have a nice pair of pyjamas with a collar insert… I think she got the humour.

When we got to the boarding gate however, I was reminded of a joke… you’ve heard the one of the Jewish homeopathic doctor, the Methodist minister and the Anglican priest no doubt? Not really a joke but three woman chatting together about world attitudes, children’s education and the effect of social media on family life – interfaith and ecumenical discussions all at once!

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Cloud islands in the Mediterranean

The rain was beginning to smirr on the outside of the aircraft window as we took off, but a few hours later we were flying across fluffy cloud islands at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

I also got the chance to taste a truly kosher airline inflight meal with its own certification – which included an unusual Swiss dough and cheese pancake, on which I wasn’t sure if I should use the proffered salt and pepper condiments

It’s always exciting to glimpse the first view of land as you get to end of your flight and as we approached the coastline of Israel the city of Tel Aviv lay below us… but let’s be honest one city from the air so often looks like every other one and it wasn’t until we could see the uninhabited land that lies in between that the landscape revealed we were not over the relatively lush green of southern England.

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Approaching Tel Aviv

Another lengthy one and half hours to get through passport control before we emerged out into the darkness and then a forty minute minibus ride to our hotel outside of the old city of Jerusalem.

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Jerusalem Gardens Hotel, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Gardens hotel at first glance seemed a little tired, and we are room sharing, so the quirks of there being only one large towel in the bathroom and six hangers between us might be a challenge, but the evening meal was excellent and a glass of wine in the bar meant that we were ready for bed sooner than we thought.

Who knows what the view from our balcony will reveal in the morning, but to know that we are sleeping under the same moon and stars as our brothers and sisters around the world gave us pause to thank God for safe arrivals and new opportunities

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The view from the 4th floor

Please note that the internet connection in the hotel, whilst free, is intermittent and not very broad, so my hope of publishing each post in the evenings may not be possible. However, I am sure there are ways to overcome this small blogging problem.

 

 

 

 

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/