Monday, 28 December 2009

Pope Benedict: A Father and Friend in the Soup Kitchen or unwittingly in the 'Ant Heap'?

Last Sunday the Holy Father lunched with the poor at the soup kitchen run by the Community of St. Egidio in the Trastavere neighbourhood of Rome. This morning I decided to check Vatican Radio in search of more details of his visit. Sure enough, I found two charming and informative audio interviews here and here I also found a report at although this speaks of the Pope's experience on Christmas Eve as well as the soup-kitchen visit. It confirms that the woman who attacked him was indeed the same one as last year and that Cardinal Etchegeray's operation of Sunday morning has gone well and he is in a good condition. (More about this on the next Oasis post later today.)
(Link trouble again: Title of first VatRad interview is"Pope Benedict XVI has lunch with Poor
of Rome" and the report is entitled "Pope presses the flesh, visits Rome soup kitchen".

Having been impressed by the VatRad interviews, I decided to find out more about the St. Egidio Community. Google produced quite a lot, but much of it was related to the activities of St. Egedio in other countries. That said, an article by Sandro Magister caught my eye. (L'espresso April 9, 1998) Magister has become respected as one of the most trustworthy, accurate and unsensational commenters currently writing from Rome. However, this article is over ten years old and he may have gained in maturity since he wrote it. Nevertheless, it is rather disturbing. It may already be known to many of you, but it represented a learning curve to me and I feel I should draw your attention to it. I am publishing this post and its links here, rather than on the Oasis because according to Magister the history and growth of the Egidio community involves not only Pope John Paul II but also several Cardinals, bishops and priests. Read the whole article here

Useless to speculate whether or not Pope Benedict knows of this history. Perhaps the community has changed its 'complexion' since it was described by Magister, although I somehow doubt it, since the founder, Riccardi, was at the Pope's table at the recent lunch. However, as Magister points out there have been several phases in the development of the Community. Riccardi and the other co-founders were very young when they started it. Perhaps these phases merely trace the process of their 'growing up'. And now perhaps they are merely an example of: "Do good by stealth and blush to call it fame."

However, and thank God, our Holy Father, as usual, did more listening than talking, this time to the poor, who it seems were in the majority at his table. He would probably have said that it was their table, not his. He has visited St. Egidio's, three times during his pontificate but this is the first time he has eaten with the poor there. I found it interesting that he chose to eat with them in their own milieu, rather than to invite a couple of hundred of them to the daunting ambience of the Vatican, as did his Venerable predecessor.

If anyone has more detail about the present St. Egidio community, I should be most grateful to receive it in the com box here or by email at

The "ant heap" reference in this post's title is explained at the last paragraph of the Magister article.

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