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Posted June 14, 2007

Bush Hears of Sant'Egidio's Philosophy

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We Give Without Counting the Cost, Says Head of Group

ROME, JUNE 10, 2007 - In their meeting Saturday with U.S. President George Bush, leaders of the Community of Sant'Egidio told him the key to their success is giving to the poor without counting the cost.

The president met for over an hour the with eight leaders of the Sant'Egidio Community, including the organization's founder, Andrea Riccardi, and president, Marco Impagliazzo.

The meeting was held at the U.S. Embassy after security concerns canceled efforts to meet at the Sant'Egidio headquarters in Trastevere, an ancient area of Rome made up of many small streets and alleys.

Bush, seated next to U.S. Ambassador Francis Rooney, spoke of the reason for meeting with Sant'Egidio.

He said: "Sant'Egidio is one of the great faith-based organizations in the world. And we are here to talk about our common commitment to help the poor, feed the hungry, to help eradicate disease.

"The United States is firmly committed to helping people on the continent of Africa. We are working with our Congress to spend $30 billion to deal with HIV/AIDS, over $1 billion to deal with malaria, billions to deal with hunger, money to deal with education, but these programs cannot be effective without loving people on the ground, helping a neighbor in need.

"I want to thank you for being a part of the international army of compassion. I thank you for hearing the call to love your neighbor like you would like to be loved yourself. I am looking forward to hearing your strategies in dealing with some of the most difficult problems of the world."

The mission

Impagliazzo then told Bush a bit about the group: "The Community of Sant'Egidio was born in Rome, in this city, in 1968. At the time the West was wondering about its future and the young people were looking for something.

"Andrea Riccardi, who is the founder of our community, was a student at the time in a high school of Rome. He called some fellow students to listen and to live according to the Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus.

"In those years people believed that the revolution would change the world. Andrea understood that there would have been no lasting change unless people's hearts were touched by the words of Jesus. This work, put into practice, meant, first of all, to be friends with the poor."

Outlining the three pillar's of the group's work, Impagliazzo said: "First [is] prayer; which takes place every day in our all our communities; personal prayer reading the Scripture every day.

"But also common prayer, it means every day 60,000 people open the Scriptures. They read it and pray to the Lord from the beautiful churches of Rome, such as St. Maria in Trastevere, that you would have visited, to the hearts of Africa, or so many places in the immense slums of Latin America."

"Mr. President, prayer is our strength," Impagliazzo emphasized.

"The second pillar is mission," Impagliazzo continued. "Reaching out to all those seek in us for a sense for their lives."

"Finally, the third pillar is solidarity with the poor," he said. "It is a voluntary service, carried out for free because no one is paid for his service to the poor in our community. No one.

"Gratuitousness, Mr. President, is what our society is missing today. Everything is there to buy or to sell, but Jesus said you received without payment, give without payment. This word of Jesus is the source of our member's work."

Impagliazzo continued: "In our story, one thing has always proved true; there is no love for the poor without faith. Christians must live the primacy of the heart. One does not have the solution to everything but we must not close our hearts when we do not have a solution.

"We are all at the window of the world, that is why we cannot forget the immense salt, the poor peoples of the world. So, what is striking in our story is that these signs, signs of resurrection, took place in those very places where it seems there is no hope left, like Africa."

Practical steps

The spokesman for Sant'Egidio, Mario Marazziti, spoke with ZENIT about the meeting: "We were open to the invitation to meet with President Bush because it is a great honor and because we love America and American people. Also, it is an opportunity for us to share with him how to fight poverty and to give a voice to the voiceless, especially AIDS patients."

Discussing the group's DREAM program, the Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition, the spokesman said: "Our DREAM program has shown the most effective results in the fight of malaria and AIDS in Africa. It is a step forward in the struggle against AIDS.

"Also, we would like to address the issue of the youth in the south of the world who are not registered when they are born. They are the well from which any kind of abuse starts, including organ trafficking, human trafficking, and child-soldiers. There are 1 million of them without a future."

Marazziti concluded: "It also provides a special occasion to discuss with him some concrete ways to improve internal efforts to fight poverty, promote human freedom, and the right to life."

There are some 60,000 Sant'Egidio members spread throughout 70 countries.