The 24th October 2019, the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) awarded Prof. Andrea Riccardi with the Moshe Rosen price – for those who, like the Romanian rabbi to whom the award is entitled, stood out in the protection of Jewish communities, in the commitment against anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination. At the ceremony, Rabbi David Rosen gave the LAUDATIO we are pleased publish in full.
RABBI DAVID ROSEN LAUDATIO
Your eminence, your excellencies, distinguished leaders, above all Professor Andrea Riccardi, dear Hilde Kieboom, and all leaders and friends of the Community of Sant’Egidio, distinguished ladies and gentlemen all. I am extremely honoured to be able to provide and offer this Laudatio to professor Andrea Riccardi, grateful to the Conference of European Rabbis also for creating and renewing a link because 35 years ago, when I was a young Rabbi I was on the Standing Executive Committee of the Conference of European Rabbis together with rabbi Moses Rosen. So, it is a great opportunity for me also to pay tribute to a former colleague. But it is above the joy to be able to express my profound admiration for the Community of Sant’Egidio and above all for its visionary founder and leader professor Andrea Riccardi.
His personal distinctions are well known, but it is my honour to be able to provide this Laudatio and let me mention of course the fact that he is one of the leading catholic intellectuals of our time: professor of contemporary church history and of religion at La Terza University in Rome and formally of vary University, and La Sapienza. Recipient of many honorary PhD and awards, including the internationally Balkan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood, the Charles The Great Price which is normally given to European politicians, but that statement-ship was recognised in him transcending politically boundaries and even though of course he was appointed as political, as the Minister of International Co-operation and Integration in Mario Monti’s government in 2011, it is precisely as he transcends political partnership that he was invited to assume that political position. And of course he is the acclaimed publisher and writer of many books, not least of all “The Longest Winter” – The History of Pope Pio XXII Jews and Nazi in Rome in that particular terrible period. So he is a man his on research has developed already strong connection to the jews history and to the contemporary Jews community in Rome and internationally.But beyond this personal achievements and his academic distinctions is of course his monumental creation, together with other colleagues, his personality that has fashion something of unique significance, and that is the Community of Sant’Egidio.
In Psalm 90 you’ll be familiar with the words “Show your servants the deeds you do, let their children enjoy your splendour! May the sweetness of the Lord be upon us, to confirm the work we have done!” In other words, what really demonstrates God presence in our lives and in our world are those initiatives hat are sustained, not some moments depending on individual personality, but that what really contributes to wellbeing of society. And has we have already heard by Rabbi Goldschmidt, Sant’Egidio really serves as a remarkable of light in our world. As an example of a kind sustain society that is committed to the wellbeing of all.
I must confess when I first met with the Community of Sant’Egidio Through don Ambrogio Spreafico, and others involved specifically in contact with the Jews Community, I did not have a full understanding of the actual charism, origins and vision of the Community of Sant’Egidio.
But then I learned of how a young community of students started out caring for the poor, for the needy, for the aged, for the homeless, then developing further to care to the handicapped, to be able to deal as we have heard today with those afflicted by terrible disease, HIV, AIDS.
I mentioned before Psalm 90, but Psalm 89 just before has a beautiful phrase “The world is constructed to love and kindness, trough act of charity and of love”. And that is the embodiment of this wonderful Community of Sant’Egidio that reflects the establishment of the work of the hands of Andrea Riccardi and his colleagues. And that is a testimony to God’s presence in their lives in our world. It is a testimony for all of us of the divine, regardless of our particular differences. And of course this work brought them in contact with different communities, different immigrants, migrants communities, working to combat prejudices, providing education to overcome that. Brought them into contact with other religious communities. And this all led them to two main directions: one to international peace work, and of course arguably the most significant work of that was the signing of the peace treaty between the government and the rebels in Mozambique 1992. Many other initiatives throughout the world to promote peace and reconciliation. And it is lovely to hear that Rabbi Kosher is recommending Sant’Egidio for the Nobel Price, they have been proposed for Nobel price time and again year after year. And the fact that the Nobel Price Committee has not recognised its value is only to their lack of appreciation and in no way takes away from the fact that the Community of Sant’Egidio is truly deserving of such international recognition.
The other avenue however, is the avenue of it’s own spirituality. And this two things combined both the questions of peace work, but with of it’s own spirituality.
Sant’Egidio is not just a charitable organisation, it is a Community, it is the Community of bounds between people, and it is a Community of spirituality, it is a Community of Prayer. It is the Community that appreciate and emphasises in our world that is saturated with over intense materialisation the transcend power of spirit in the life of the human society of the divine spirit. Andrea Riccardi as coined this phrase of “the weak power of prayer”. It is evocative of the beautiful vision in the 1° Book of Kings, Chapter 17, where the prophet Elijah has the vision, where after his bombastic work challenging the false prophet of Baal, he is in the crest of a rock and he is overcome by the power of the focus of nature, of fire, of wind, of enormous noise, but says the text God is not there: it is in the small silent voice that God is to be found. This is the insight that there are enormous and bombastic thing we have to do in life, but what is sustained is that it is perseverance of true dedication and devotion, above all the perseverance of the spirit. And that is manifested in the world of prayer. This two things came together very naturally so that the Community of Sant’Egidio became the logical vehicle to continue the Spirit of Assisi of the historic gathering convened by St. John Paul II in the year ’86 in Assisi. For the first time bringing the central establishment representatives of religious tradition together. But the Community of Sant’Egidio took this initiative one stage further and actually refined it.
Allow me to recall that, even tough people know about the Day of Prayer for Peace in 1986 and in 2000, there was a Day of Prayer for Peace for the Balkans in 1993 where I had the honour to represent the Jews world at that event and the all event was organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio. It was a testimony and recognition of the work of the later Cardinal Etchegaray and of John Paul II and of the appreciation of the Community of Sant’Egidio really reflected that authentic spirit that was the continuation of the II Vatican Council.
I remember in fact in the meeting in year 2000 an encounter with Card. Ratzinger who has reputed to have certain reservations about the 1986 initiative, and he was weaving with joy, and he said to me: yes, we have refined that spirit.
The reining of that spirit was a process that was taken trough by the Community of Sant’Egidio and it needs to be recognised has the agent of that refining. What was refining? What was refining was the recognition and it is part of the carisma of the Community of Sant’Egidio that true universalism is not reducing us to the lowest common denominator. True universalism is when we can nurture our particularities in mutual respect and celebration. Of where our different religious traditions are respected for what they are. That there is no attempt to proselytes or undermine the integrity of the other. But with that we can become truly universal when we respect the particularities of the other. And this was the method the Community of Sant’Egidio initiated with separate prayer each according to their own tradition, taken place in cities throughout the world and then coming together with this different rivulets into this mighty river of unity in diversity. This is the great vision that Andrea Riccardi has nurtured in his community and that in fact has had it’s impact throughout the Catholic Church and indeed beyond and it is a testimony for all of us.
We may indeed say that the Community of Sant’Egidio has carried on not only the Spirit of Assisi, but the true Spirit of the Nostra aetate, the true Spirit of the II Vatican Ecumenical Council. Above all the amazing process of reconciliation between Christians and Jews. And this was evident already from 1982 with the terrible terrorist attack on the Great Synagogue in Rome, where the Community already showed solidarity and where members of the Community joined the Jews at that prayer time simply to show solidarity. There have been marches and vigils, and every year the Community recalls the deportation of the Jews, and recalls the tragedy of the Shoah, and has sought to educate younger generations of the universal import of that message. And to take young people to Auschwitz to learn those lessons because it recognises that just as it is important to preserve the particular heritage of each community, there is something universal in the particular suffering of the Jews people.
Antisemitism is in fact a problem for all of humanity. And that is recognised, and Andrea has spoken about it time and again. Ultimately the Jews, as Tolstoi says, since the Exodus freedom has spoken with the Hebrew accent. And that means that when the jews denied it’s liberty, ultimately society is rotten. And therefore the needs to remember the lesson of the Shoah, and always warn against the challenge and the danger of Ant-semitism is a human obligation and above all an historic Christian obligation, especially a Catholic obligation, and this the Community teaches.
In this respect it is the continuity of the message of the Spirit of Assisi, the Spirit of Nostra aetate, the Spirit of the II Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Spirit of the Popes that have cherished the Community of Sant’Egidio, especially John Paul II and now Pope Francis.
Let me conclude recalling those words of St. John Paul II who said: “Jews and Christians are called together as the children of Abraham to be a blessing to humanity, as it is written in Scriptures. In order to be a true blessing to humanity we must first of all be a blessing to one another.”
Andrea Riccardi as indeed being and continues to be a blessing to the Jews community. May he and his Community of Sant’Egidio, a testimony to the remarkable divine presence within they mids, continue to flourish and go from strength to strength for many years to come.