The Community of Sant’ Egidio is an “international public association of the laity” of more than 60,000 lay people active in more than 73 countries throughout the world.
The Community was founded in 1968 by Andrea Riccardi, an Italian historian, professor, politician and activist. Prayer, the poor and peace are the center of the voluntary service of all the members.
During her term as minister general, SM Celestine Giertych was in communication with the Sant’Egidio Community and made arrangements for the sisters
in the Generalate to house two families of refugees before the renovation project began.
The first refugee family consisted of five members–two elderly parents, an adult son, and an adult married daughter and her husband. They were Syrian Catholics who managed to escape the tyranny and torture of the civil war in Syria. The Generalate community provided a safe environment where they could begin to recover from the horrors of war.
The Sant’Egidio community located a farmer who was willing to take this family in and provide housing and employment on their property. The sisters tearfully bade farewell to them and gifted them with a crucifix for their new home.
The second refugee family consisted of two teenage girls who were being hidden from their Muslim uncle who attempted to sell them into marriage to terrorists. The girls were 17 and 16 and also stayed with the sisters for a month until Sant’Egidio had to move them deeper into the country to protect them. Both families stretched the sisters’ understanding of different cultures and religions and opened their hearts to all in need.
As the sisters prepared for the renovation project, many household items including dishware, silverware, linens, blankets, pillows, desk lamps, fans, and small furniture were donated to Sant’Egidio for distribution to the poor.
Sant’ Egidio also received many metal cabinets and shelving that assisted in reorganizing their pharmacy. The cabinets increased their storage capabilities for the donated medications and allowed them to lock up the psychotropic and opioid pain medications.
General councilor S Margaret Marie Padilla began volunteering her time on Friday evenings at the Sant’ Egidio Community Center in the Trastevere area (the oldest section of Rome). Sister Margaret assisted with distributing clothing to the members of the Gypsy Community in Rome. She became such a familiar figure at the Community Center, that she was recognized and acknowledged by those who benefited from her service wherever she traveled by bus, tram, or subway.
Shortly after the election of the current general administration, S Jusciêda Maria Araύjo Menezes joined Sister Margaret on Friday evenings at the Community Center. While Sister Margaret was away for her knee surgery in Chicago, Sister Jusciêda continued her service at the Community Center and assisted in organizing the pharmacy room by entering data in the computer. The poor around the Vatican greet Sister Jusciêda as Madre.
Palazzo (Palace) Migliori, which was owned by a wealthy Italian family and is located near Saint Peter’s Square, was donated many years ago to the Vatican.
It became home to two religious congregations at separate times for a number of years until the last group moved out and it became vacant.
Pope Francis donated the palace to house homeless individuals and he entrusted the structure of the palace to the Papal Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski who collaborated with Sant’Egidio.
The Palazzo can accommodate 50 men and women. In order to benefit from the housing program, homeless individuals must register. Once registered, they are entitled to have supper at the Palazzo, stay the night, and have breakfast in the morning. They must leave after breakfast, but may leave their belongings since they may return night after night.
After being set up to house the homeless, the palace was dedicated and blessed by Pope Francis. Sister Jusciêda volunteered to serve breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Since the hope was to have women religious and seminarians involved in this ministry, Sister Jusciêda invited members of the Generalate community to assist her in serving breakfast on the weekends.
Thus far, S Elaine Marie Frigo, SM Anita Bienia, SM Carlotta Myszka, SM Dominika Kazimierczuk, and
SM Renée Kurczaba have volunteered their time to minister to the poor.
According to Sister Renée, the most important aspect of this ministry is one of presence. She explained, “Most of the sisters do not speak Italian, but the poor around the Vatican are from several European countries and some of them speak English. However, the gift of presence transcends language.”