The Vatican has responded to the national conservatism conference held last week in Rome, saying through its top diplomat that “nationalisms are childish reactions to the great global world”.

Driving the news

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, made the biting remark at a thanksgiving service February 8 to celebrate 52 years of existence of the Sant’Egidio Community.

Though Parolin made no explicit mention of the Rome national conservatism conference, which brought together leading populist politicians and ultraconservative Catholics, he insisted that “Rome, in fact, means universality, fraternity, openness to the other, in short, peace. In Rome nobody is a foreigner”.

The cardinal also expressed, just days after the national conservatism conference, his appreciation for the mission of Sant’Egidio: “that the world must be a common home: a ‘universal homeland’ for all peoples”.

That mission of the community, Parolin continued, can be seen “in the reception and integration of refugees, emigrants, those who reach Italy through humanitarian corridors”.

“In many parts of the world, we see selfishness growing, nationalisms rising, divisions and walls multiplying, violence spreading, while too many hatreds flow in the veins of society”, Parolin deplored, denouncing the very things the Rome national conservatism conference promoted.

“It seems that sometimes peaceful and democratic coexistence is at risk.

“We cannot look resigned. Our answer is not the opposition. Our answer is to make the light of “good works” shine even more, which change, transform solitude into communion, conflict in peace, resignation in hope of a new future.

“Multiply your generous creativity of good, because good is needed, much needed, here and in the whole world”, the cardinal implored the members of Sant’Egidio, in the wake of the national conservatism conference.

Go deeper

The thanksgiving service for the 52 years of Sant’Egidio brought together the “people” of the Community – Italians and migrants, different generations, many friends – gathered in the Cathedral of Rome, Saint John Lateran.

Inspired by the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Parolin told the Community in his homily: “These words of Jesus also seem suitable for the Community of Sant’Egidio: Jesus wanted it to be salt and light from the beginning and from Rome.

“Since its first steps, the Community of Sant’Egidio has chosen evangelically to bring the Gospel into people’s lives, so as to be salt and light of the earth.

“Very young, you went to the outskirts of the city and lived in them with love”.

And the cardinal added: “You have looked towards new horizons and traced new roads on the outskirts of many cities in the world, all in need of salt and light”.

At the end of the Liturgy, the President of the Community, Marco Impagliazzo, addressed a greeting to the assembly:

“With the Pope, our Bishop, we dream of a Church, a people of all, no one excluded, so that the Lord’s mercy will touch everyone’s heart, without exclusions”.

Impagliazzo went on to say: “Life in the suburbs of Rome and in the human and existential suburbs of the world has given us many lessons. It taught us a lot.

“First of all, to grow in humanity. The meetings with people of all conditions and backgrounds, year after year, have been our school: the road as a story. Those of us who met a poor man, stopped to listen to him, became friends with him, received what he would not have imagined”.

The celebration continued with a reception in the courtyard of the Lateran Palace, gathering elderly and young people, new Europeans and friends arrived thanks to the humanitarian corridors: a family celebration for a fraternal city.

Why it matters

It’s not just for migrants and refugees newly arrived in Europe, though, that Sant’Egidio works in Italy: it’s also particularly active for the homeless and the vulnerable.

That’s why the Community held a memorial service in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere last Sunday February 2 in honour of those who have died on Rome’s streets.

During the annual memorial, the names of the departed homeless are mentioned one by one, with a candle being lit as each name is read aloud.

“It’s a very touching moment: everybody knows that their names, kept in God’s heart, will never be forgotten by the Community that cherishes every story and every face just like a treasure”, Sant’Egidio explained.

Sant’Egidio’s concern for the homeless has also been on display in its involvement in the renovation of a 19th-century Vatican-owned palace, the Palazzo Migliori, into a shelter and dormitory for the poor.

The new refuge for the destitute – with its 16 bedrooms for up to 50 men and women, bathrooms and hot meals and psychological counselling for its guests – is a “real paradox”, the Sant’Egidio member in charge of the running of the renovated Palazzo Migliori, Carlo Santoro, told NBC.

“It is a beautiful palace next to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, and yet it’s home to those who until recently did not have a house to go to”.

“Every person, every human being has the right to be respected”, Santoro added to NPR, recalling the dignity of the men and women he calls “nobles of the streets”, whom “Francis says society treats as rejects, victims of today’s throwaway culture”.

Everyone has “the right to have a good life, good health, and the house, too, and the family around”, the Sant’Egidio member explained.

“So in many cases, we feel like the family they have, [that] they’ve been missing for a long time”.

(With information from Sant’Egidio)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.