West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has reportedly been invited by Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Community of Sant’Egidio, for an international peace event, ‘Peoples as Brothers, Future for Earth’. Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Great Imam of Al Azhar (Egypt) Ahmad Al Tayyib have also been invited, reports say.
The letter, sent on the 22nd of July, reportedly congratulated Mamata Banerjee “on your significant election and for the important work for social justice, for the development of your country and, therefore, for peace, which you have been doing for over ten years now”.
The invite is also reported to have said, “Allow me to tell you that I feel your commitment and your generous battles in favor of the weakest and most disadvantaged, very close to my sensitivity and to the work of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome and in all the world.”
The suspicious bit about the news is that it has only been covered by Indian media. Given that Pope Francis and Angela Merkel have been invited, one would have expected coverage of the news in western media but that is apparently not the case.
And given the West Bengal Chief Minister’s previous experiences with global awards, especially the one that claimed to have been associated with the UN, there is reason for much caution.
Nevertheless, media reports in India say that Mamata Banerjee may not attend the event after all as the dates clash with Mahalaya, a very joyous occasion for Bengalis across the world and one that the Chief Minister is expected to spend with citizens here.
However, it is a good time perhaps to learn a bit more about the organisation behind the event in question.
What is the Community of Sant’Egidio?
According to its website, “Sant’Egidio is a Christian community born in 1968, right after the second Vatican Council. An initiative of Andrea Riccardi, it was born in a secondary school in the centre of Rome. With the years, it has become a network of communities in more than 70 countries of the world.”
Andrea Riccardi is a former Minister of Italy. A historian, politician, activist and professor, Riccardi served as the Minister for Integration and International Cooperation without portfolio in the Mario Monti government that served for 18 months.
The Community focuses on the poor and refugees, leading several efforts for the welfare of migrants. It also works for the homeless, HIV/AIDS patients and the destitute.
Nonetheless, the Community has had its share of controversies. A memoir of a former member of the Community caused quite the stir. In the memoir, the former member alleged that the authoritarian system that governed the lives of the community members had led to his separation from his wife through ‘coercion’.
In the memoir, the former member, identified as ‘G.F.’, says, “Both of G.’s parents were annoyed to see that their daughter, after beginning to frequent the community of Sant’Egidio, was often gone, did not come home for lunch or dinner, and didn’t even spend Christmas with the family. They had many discussions until she, with the support of the community, left home and stayed with one friend in the community, then with another. She didn’t tell her parents where she was living, and rarely called them. Her mother pleaded with her, but she said she was proud to have left her family to dedicate herself body and soul to the service of the community.”
The memoir said further, after elaborating that marriages were often arranged by the Community, “The most observant plan with their spiritual father whether or not to have children, whether to have a child immediately or after a few years. One of my friends was saddened to the point of tears when his wife, after he told her that he wanted a child, replied that he would first need to consult his spiritual mother.”
“Some of the couples within the community decide themselves not to have children, but frequently it is the spiritual parents who do not want them to have children, and they use their influence on the couples. In the face of the confusion of people outside the community, the usual responses are: “We’ll have one in a few years,” or “It just hasn’t happened yet.” Some have adopted children,” it added.
The person said about his marriage, “Returning to my girlfriend: she quickly became pregnant […] and in a little over two months we were married. In this brief period, I had to meet with all of my spiritual parents, old and new, and undergo their criticisms, accept their accusations of immaturity, thoughtlessness, and male chauvinism.”
He stated, “I cannot remember a more embarrassing day in my entire life than that one: I was about to marry a woman I did not love; I was ashamed to present her to my family; I felt the judgment of the community weighing upon me; I was waiting for I child I hadn’t wanted; my future was uncertain, and I was afraid.”