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Kay in Italy

Kay Lechner with members of the Sant'Egidio community in Rome

October 2008

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Prayerful experience unites students, however far they travel

A retreat at St. Norbert College last month brought together college students from around the United States to talk about their experiences with the Community of Sant’Egidio.

Students from Boston College, Loyola University and Twin Cities universities joined the St. Norbert group for prayer and reflection, and to discuss ways to more fully live out the gospels in their own neighborhoods.

Among them were Ann Pederson ’10 and Linda Maier ’09, whose response to the lay community’s call to service and prayer has traveled with them both literally and figuratively. Pederson volunteered with the Sant’Egidio community in Indonesia this summer, and Maier worked with the community in Italy during her semester abroad this spring. Another member, Billy Korinko ’09, is currently in Italy.

When Kay Lechner ’09 spent a semester at John Cabot University, she worked with Sant’Egidio members who minister to the hungry in Rome. She says her experiences there really solidified her beliefs about the necessity of communal prayer and serving others: “When I returned from Rome, I found I had renewed vigor in giving to my community through service, and I began to look for more and more ways that I could live out the gospel teachings.”

Over the summer, the St. Norbert Sant'Egidio community kept in touch via e-mail since logistically, Lechner says, they could not meet in the usual way for their communal prayer. Now that the school year has resumed, they again meet weekly for prayer, and Sammi Kretz ’10 and Lechner volunteer at a local nursing home, visiting and praying with the elderly residents.
 
Read on for a firsthand account of Lechner’s first day serving alongside Sant’Egidio members in Rome, or to learn more about Pederson’s experiences with Sant’Egidio.

Kay Lechner's reflection

I had only been in Rome for a couple of weeks, and I barely understood any of the words she was speaking to me. Rapid Italian, with plenty of hand gestures, was being spouted out of this little woman’s mouth at me, and I tried desperately to keep up with her as she smiled and chatted on, giving me instructions, darting through the line of hungry people and around tables being served by smiling waiters and waitresses.

It is not a restaurant, though it seemed like it to me. Actually, it is called “La Mensa,” an Italian word roughly translated as a soup kitchen. The soup kitchen is run by the Community of Sant’Egidio, and Analisa is a young Italian woman who has devoted her life to involvement with the community. In addition to her regular full-time job and caring for her family, she sings in the choir for the Sant’Egidio community prayer that takes place each evening, and she spends countless hours at the soup kitchen each week, helping things run smoothly and making sure no one leaves hungry.

On the other side of the world, St. Norbert College students are visiting the elderly at Rennes nursing home once a week, embracing the community’s call to service, reaching out in friendship to others.

I turn my attention back to the soup kitchen, where Analisa has found an English-speaking Italian to explain some of the instructions to me. He speaks to me briefly, for he needs to get back to serving his table.

“We treat everyone like guests at a restaurant here,” he says. “You ask them what they want to eat, and bring it to them. Bread, cheese and first course first. Second course second. Analisa will tell you the food choices for tonight.”

Later I learn that my English-speaking friend, Gustavo, has a Ph.D. in history and is a professor at a local college — yet he tells me that he loves volunteering with the community of Sant’Egidio just as much as he loves teaching the college students.

He jokes around with those coming to the shelter for food, even sometimes sitting down at the table with them to talk and catch up. These are the regulars, whom Gustavo has gotten to know quite well during his years here, just as they have come to know and look forward to seeing him.

They do not just come for physical nourishment; they come to be treated with dignity, listened to, cared about, respected and loved.

Analisa had already assigned me a table to look after, and new people were coming to sit down. I offered them the food choices for the evening and then went to get their food.

When I returned, I handed the bread, cheese and soup to those sitting at the table. A couple of the people didn’t look at me, just murmured grazie under their breath and began eating hungrily. But one woman seated at the table took the food gently in her hands and looked up at me with the deepest and most sincere gratitude I have ever seen. She said, “Grazie mille, cara, grazie mille,” but then paused and thought for a moment.

“Danke,” she said, the German word for thank you. She thought I was German, and she wanted to express her gratitude in a language that I could understand. I smiled at her. “Prego,” I responded, telling her “you’re welcome” in her language. We smiled at each other as she began to eat.

Ann Pederson's reflection

I am a junior majoring in economics and minoring in environmental policy and religious studies. I first became involved in the Sant’Egidio Community at the college retreat last fall. Since then I have had the opportunity to experience the community within the United States and abroad.

During the spring I studied at American University in Washington, D.C. While in Washington I was able to meet members of the community and pray with them in Georgetown. I also spent my Sunday with the Community of Sant’Egidio at Rock Creek Manor, a nursing home in Dupont Circle. The afternoons I spent at the nursing home were some of my most memorable moments in D.C. I was able to form relationships with the elderly residents — through bingo, prayer and conversation — that I have kept up upon leaving.

There are many aspects of the community that I am drawn to. Among them is the fact that it is not only located in the United States but has an international presence. I have always wanted to be able to see the community in another country. I had this opportunity while traveling in Indonesia this past May. Prior to arriving in Indonesia I had made contact with the community. I arranged to meet them for prayer on a Saturday evening and planned to follow this by a visit to the School of Peace. The School of Peace is a free-of-charge centre that offers a family-like environment to help families in their child-raising tasks and propose an educational model open to people of all kinds.

It was so wonderful to be able to meet with them for prayer. Although the prayer was in a different language the music was still the same, and the feeling of welcome and community was apparent. I feel so fortunate to be able to have spent time with them.

I unfortunately was unable to go to the School of Peace due to flight changes, however I saw pictures and experienced their story. Through these new friendships and this new experience I have seen the grace of God within the community. I am apart of a group of friends who are working around the world to build friendship — working to make people's lives a little easier.



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