A Sant'Egidio community blossoms in Berkeley
Six people gather, silently, in the chapel of St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley on Thursday evening. It's late May; daylight illuminates the sacred space.
Thus begins the evening's liturgy of song, prayer, Scripture and reflection. The participants are gentle and kind with each other; they are new to this prayer.
Welcome to the nascent Community of Sant'Egidio in Berkeley.
Sant'Egidio, founded in Rome just after Vatican II, is a lay movement characterized by community prayer and friendship to the poor. Last November, Sant'Egidio community members in New York and Washington, DC, visited the Diocese of Oakland, at the invitation of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ.
This small, and growing, group of East Bay Catholics represent the first fruits of that visit, which included prayer and talks at St. Joseph the Worker and Holy Spirit/Newman Hall parishes in Berkeley; the School of Pastoral Ministry in Oakland; two Catholic high schools; and Saint Mary's College in Moraga.
The Christ-centered approach drew Mike Adamkiewicz, a parishioner at Berkeley's St. Mary Magdalen, to the Sant'Egidio community.
The community's prayer provides a foundation for its works of charity, said Greta Rosenberger, whose voice led the community in singing.
At the conclusion of the Sant'Egidio liturgy, the participants moved from the chapel to the church's vestibule, where bright tablecloths were spread on tables. Baked goods, fruit and nuts were placed on the tables, and tea was offered.
Participants talked about the future works of charity in which they might engage. Initial efforts to visit nearby nursing homes were met with some resistance from operators. Feeding the hungry was another story.
Seasoned Sant'Egidio community members who have been advising them were encouraging. "It's important to just get started," Troy Kaji said. "Let's just go."
On another day, community members gathered at the home of Sonia Davis, not far from People's Park in Berkeley, and made 20 sandwiches.
"Twenty sandwiches went fast," said Kaji. In serving the sandwiches, the community members learned about the culture of the people who make the park their home.
Davis, maker of the rolls the community was enjoying after prayer, had good news to share: The St. Vincent de Paul conference at her parish offered to donate food to the Sant'Egidio community.
This, Davis said, will allow community members to gather to prepare a hot meal, which they can bring to people on the streets after the community prayer.
Davis was baptized at Easter at St. Columba Parish in Oakland. She had been seeking a way to put her faith in action when she heard about Sant'Egidio. Now, as she told the news of the food donation, she looked forward to "making soup or spaghetti" for friends she has not met.
Newcomers are welcome at 7 p.m. any Thursday for prayer, followed by fellowship and participation in the work — and joy — of encountering the poor in the streets.
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