Citation of the Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen
in honour of the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio,
Prof. Dr. Andrea Riccardi.
The original Community of Six has grown in the recent past with breathtaking speed into a Union of 27 – a Union today comprising nearly the entire continent. But the broader the EU’s reach and extent, the more sceptical seems to be the citizens’ attitude towards it. And amidst integration in economic and monetary and social policy, amidst current enlargement strategies and other topics of day-to-day policy, the far more important questions facing United Europe – questions about its intellectual/spiritual and cultural roots, its fundamental values and its inner cohesion – have sometimes been eclipsed.
If however we want to gain the citizens’ support for more integration of our continent, if we want them to join us on this journey, our pre-eminent aim must be for the people to see a Europe that in intellectual/spiritual, moral and political terms is worth building. In the EU we have at our disposal the material prerequisites needed to solve our economic and social problems. But the question whether we will win the future is most essentially a question about Europe’s intellectual/spiritual state and its inner cohesion. This has to do primarily with non-material values – our understanding of human dignity and democracy, freedom and responsibility – and therefore also and always with the role of the civil society.
For Europe’s life is not sustained by states or governments or institutions alone, but primarily by the willingness of its citizens to become involved in the community, to stand up and be counted, and to assume responsibility. Europe lives by people who stand, by precept and concrete living example, for European values in the EU and on the international level.
In tribute to his outstanding example of civic involvement for a humane Europe exemplifying solidarity inside and outside its borders, for understanding among peoples, cultures and religions, and for a more peaceful and just world, the Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen honours in the year 2009 the Italian historian and founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Prof. Dr. Andrea Riccardi.
“We possess precious values with a wealth of freedom, faith, solidarity, culture and humaneness, which are important for the future of the world. We must not go astray, for then an important part of humaneness in today’s world would be lost. Divided, however, we would be scattered and go astray and lose that which we stand for….United, as Europeans united in diversity, we will be a friendly and staunch force in today’s world: a source of humaneness. We must cause the passion for Europe and the unifying power existing among our European fellow-citizens to grow. This is not a vague passion. Being Europeans in the world is becoming a calling, a vocation. In this our world even a few – and we are not so few – can have an impact on the future. Just as a few brought confusion and death to the whole world on 11 September 2001 by terrorism, a few or many with the dream of United Europe can offer many Europeans peace and ideals. That is the European humaneness that is able to build peace.”
Whenever Andrea Riccardi describes his and his co-workers’ guiding ideas, his words are also and always meant to encourage and urge the Europeans to act, calling on the strength of their cultural and intellectual/spiritual traditions to help shape a more peaceful and just world.
Andrea Riccardi was born on 16 January 1950 in Rome and spent some of his early years in Rimini. After studying law he specialized in contemporary and church history; since 1981 he has been active as a university teacher. After initially working at the University of Bari and at the Sapienza in Rome, today he holds a chair in contemporary history at the Università degli Studi Roma Tre. Besides several hundred articles, numerous monographs on major topics covering the history of the church and Christianity in modern times attest to his multifaceted scholarly interest and profound knowledge of varying religious, cultural and political currents in the past and present. He is especially interested in the relations between the different religious spheres and in the question of the possibility of peaceful religious coexistence embracing diverse religious traditions, with particular regard to the Mediterranean region in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Riccardi has attracted great international attention chiefly as “spiritus rector” of the Community of Sant’Egidio, which he started while in high school in 1968 together with a few friends in Rome. In the last four decades this lay Catholic movement has grown into a worldwide network numbering (according to its own figures – there are no formal membership lists or identity documents) over 50,000 members actively involved in more than 70 countries on four continents; a not insignificant number of these are young recruits.
In addition to common prayer and the spread of the Gospel, the Community’s volunteer workers have committed themselves to friendship with the poor, ecumenism, and service in the cause of peace. “In Rome alone, the volunteers care for 10,000 people – immigrants, homeless, drug addicts and the growing number of elderly persons and families whose income in high-priced Rome does not last until the end of the month. Sant’Egidio’s centres provide them with a warm supper five times a week. They receive language instruction, professional legal advice [and] medical aid.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 21 December 2007)
Internationally, the Community is especially active in caring for Aids victims in Africa. Tens of thousands of people in Africa receive care under the DREAM programme (Drug Resource Enhancement against Aids and Malnutrition) initiated by Sant’Egidio. Numerous other humanitarian projects providing emergency and disaster relief are illustrative of the lay Catholics’ active involvement – primarily in Africa but also in South America and Southeast Asia.
By the beginning of the 90s at the latest, the world began to notice Riccardi and his co-workers. Thrust by aid transports and work on simple development projects into the turmoil of the Mozambique war, they became mediators in the negotiations that resulted in a peace agreement ending a civil war that had lasted over one and a half decades. After more than two years of talks – conducted mainly at the seat of the Community, the old Sant’Egidio monastery in Rome’s Trastevere district – the signing of the peace treaty on 4 October 1992 between the government in Maputo and the Renamo guerrillas became possible after Riccardi and other lay Catholic members were able to establish a basis of mutual trust between the belligerents. In recognition of this achievement the then UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali coined a phrase – the “Italian Formula” – in its way a unique mix of government and non-government activities in a mission to foster peace.
Their active involvement being thus reinforced, Riccardi and the Community of Sant’Egidio have since endeavoured to mediate “off the main diplomatic highways” in a number of the world’s trouble spots – in Algeria and Burundi, in Guatemala and the Congo, in Uganda and Kosovo and numerous other crisis regions. “That Israeli government officials and Palestinian representatives meet under Sant’Egidio’s roof has almost become routine, likewise the candid dialogue between representatives of the factions attacking each other in Lebanon. But at least as detailed as the panel discussions are the many behind-the-scenes talks, whose fruits may not be visible for some years.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20 November 2008)
The activities of the “United Nations in Trastevere” (as the Community is sometimes called) on behalf of a worldwide abolition of the death penalty are also internationally recognized, as are the yearly “Meetings of Prayer for Peace” organized by Sant’Egidio. Inspired by the interreligious prayer gathering at Assisi initiated in 1986 by Pope John Paul II, the lay Catholics annually invite senior representatives of the world’s religions, numerous political leaders as well as the general public to join together in peace days and prayer days in order, as Riccardi puts it, to “say in various languages and cultures that only through dialogue and open discussion with others is it possible to build up an authentic culture of life together, which is so vital for every society of today”.
For their active commitment to peace and their enduring contribution to the interreligious and intercultural dialogue, Sant’Egidio and Andrea Riccardi have received many honours, including the World Methodist Peace Prize (1997) and UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi silver medallion (1999). Four years later the renowned newsmagazine “Time” called the Italian a “European hero”.
The Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen honours in the person of Prof. Dr. Andrea Riccardi a great European who in the best sense of loving and helping one’s neighbour places himself in the service of his fellow human beings, who with passionate dedication acts in the cause of understanding beyond all boundaries of creeds and nations, and who with the Community of Sant’Egidio renders a significant contribution to a more peaceful and just world. In his work of some 40 years, Andrea Riccardi has thus set an outstanding example of the European values of peace, solidarity and human dignity and, based thereon, active civic involvement for a better world.
“Aachen in the heart of Europe, rich in history and always a hub of encounter, will be the capital of peace and the symbol of the old and new European reality: dialogue, not confrontation.” This guiding thought, formulated by Andrea Riccardi for the International Meeting of Prayer and Peace held in Aachen in 2003, is also to be the theme of the awarding of the Charlemagne Prize in 2009.