First of all, thanks to organizers for their kind invitation to participate in this panel. I appreciate this very much because allows me to share reflections with the members of the table and with all of you about a relevant topic: Preparing humanity for the future, through education of children for Peace, in the global world in which we live. It’s an honor also to have the opportunity to highlight the importance of the experience of the 50 years of the community of Sant’Egidio, which has been distinguished by showing educators ways to make this purpose a reality. Traveled roads we can learn from. Indeed, the Community of Sant’Egidio is a great educational work that shows us the importance of making the effort of transforming education towards an integral education that has Peace as a consequence: Peace that children want and need to grow.
The development of the School of Peace, wonderfully explained in the Adriana Gulotta’s book (Gulotta, 2018), confronts us about the need to hear different voices, all interesting and meaningful. From these voices, we can learn to build Peace Education.
1. The first voice is the voice of the children themselves. The voice of the children who participate in the School of Peace, which Andrea Riccardi calls precisely "a world of children", this voice stands out the most: Children from different countries and cultures, from disadvantaged backgrounds, in contact in many cases with violence and conflict; their voices, their way of looking, their feelings, their experiences of transformation. They are children to whom the culture of peace has given words to speak. And they have expressed their desire to learn. They talk, they laugh, they explain, they have joy. "Maybe our cities have no joy because they have no childhood", says Adriana Gulotta. There are hundreds of successful stories, real stories of overcoming disadvantageous situations, touching histories. Everything that refers to children, or fragile people who suffer unfair problems, touch and connect directly with the heart. Sant’Egidio brings us the touching voice of boys and girls and helps us to understand why children need Peace.
2. A second voice that comes from Sant’Egidio is the referential voice of Andrea Riccardi. He and other young people initiated in Rome the first popular school, leaving the ghettos of the city centers and going to the peripheries. They were young students who wanted to fight against the exclusion of children. They started organizing review after-school classes, but soon they entered into the children's homes and discovered the precarious situation of their families. They belong to an idealistic generation, influenced by May-68, years of ideologies and theories, of student revolts. However, they were focused on friendship and solidarity, they were not against anyone. They were also motivated by the post-conciliar optimism in the Church: Times of the worker-priests of France, of priests who were going to live in the peripheries of the cities, for example in Madrid or Barcelona. Pedagogically they were inspired by Milani and Barbiana's experience where the older children taught the youngest, giving primacy to the word. The word replaces violence: The word motivated by Love. They managed to modify the fate of children by removing them from marginalization and giving them language and culture. They discovered the power of the word, of the friendly presence. A perspective inspired by the communitarian personalism very common in the Christian reflection of that time (Mounier, Marcel, Maritain,…). Andrea Riccardi has accompanied the community in its expansion through 70 countries with 70,000 children, many in contact with contexts of violence and conflict. For that reason, the name for the movement was School of Peace. Its objective is to give centrality to the periphery by building communities. Andrea Riccardi is a fundamental and significant voice of our time and for our world, a voice from Christianity, that don’t has references in excess that can go beyond the circles of the already convinced.
3. Third voice: The voice of the young volunteers. Young people confronted by the reality of children. Young people who took responsibility for their problems, approached their concrete reality, became friends, following a desire of solidarity, of sharing, which is a high human desire that connects with the depth of the human soul. Young people that wanted to listen, give their time, in some cases gave even their life: Experiences of generosity, gratuity, affection, the joy of living; experiences of friendship, personal involvement, unconditional giving, sharing. The children learned with them to be friends. His tireless presence reminds us that nobody is unrecoverable. They show us, through their work, that there are many reasons for optimism, and give us the concrete example of why to change the society we must start with children. Adriana Gulotta remembers that Montessori said: “in true education, the adult also experiences transformation”. These young people changed too. A second aspect is that they demonstrated to us how people can change things effectively. Peace has a personal basis. Starting with personal change "everything can change", Riccardi reminds us.
4. Fourth voice: the voice of the community of Sant’Egidio. It is 50-year teamwork, enriched by the ideal of community life, where the Gospel reading and the prayer are common experiences. A voice that shows the need to welcome everyone, to create safe spaces to support life, bet on to the peripheries. For example, in Barcelona there are five schools; parish activity, some actions towards the homeless and work with the elderly. The community has developed a true pedagogy of gratuity and rapprochement; a pedagogy of accompaniment. They have learned to read the reality, to see the signs of the times, to see the universal in the local. Focusing on helping the poor. We can say: "By their fruits, you shall know them" or "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-26). By acting they learn and educate themselves, at the same time that they are living. They relate formation and experience, reflection and prayer. They are acting as a local and global subject at the same time.
5. The voice of the world. More than a voice it’s a scream. Sant’Egidio invites us to know the world from the eyes of children. A world that is global, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, with socioeconomic and cultural differences. With some powerful societies that relegate children to the margin, to silence, which sometimes exploit them, humiliate them. The world is sometimes a school of violence where children have to be rescued from. The voice of the world is many times the cult of force, the contempt of children and the weak, the disdain of the loser, the law of the strongest, violence, abuse of the weak, the culture of the enemy (the other is the cause of my problems). The community has met the Camorra, the Maras from el Salvador, the Kosovo wars, the refugee camps of the Congo, the child soldiers of Uganda, the invisible children (not registered therefore don’t exist) that the Bravo program makes visible and rescues from anonymity in Burkina Faso, Mozambique or Malawi; also street children, “meninos”, children sorcerer (Congo), children without family, AIDS patients. How many problems! How much suffering! How many situations in which the rights of the child are not possible! How many children without childhood! But the world means also the European peripheries of Brussels, Paris, Madrid or Barcelona. Riccardi says that living together is also a European issue. The children's space (promoting health, school, food, registration) humanizes the family, the environment and the city. In these contexts, peace must be taught and practiced. To educate is therefore to build Peace. The future is in the hands of children (1998 Manifesto).
6. The Voice of the Gospel, a Voice modulated by the spirit of Assisi. In Assisi, there was in 1986 a meeting of religions. In 2001 our university participated in the Barcelona meeting and this year continues in Madrid. The spirit of Assisi is the spirit of Saint Francis and his sensitivity, courtesy, and humility, a spirit of Peace. The spirit of Assisi manifests itself in education, as education for living together in the encounter and the dialogue. All religious and philosophical traditions have in common respect, friendship, generosity, solidarity with the weak, gratuity, or the Kantian golden rule. Assisi is, therefore, a place to the encounter.
7. The voice of the Soul: A voice that reminds us of our purpose from within, the good, peace, and consciousness; a voice that believes in people, in countries, in life. It reminds us that we must build a civilization for living together by putting children in the center. The word motivated by love is different from the more common word motivated by selfishness and habits from the past. Peace must be taught and practiced. Friendship, the key to happiness, mobilizes the energies of good. It’s the force of unconditional love, of genuine love to overcome the selfish and egocentric culture that we have very close to us. The voice of the soul is sometimes dim but it reminds us of our humanizing purpose. A voice that calls us to perfection and purpose that we sometimes don't pay the required attention to. Pope Francis calls us to holiness in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” where he defines "the great work" and "to understand reality from the periphery".
There are these diverse voices that come from Sant’Egidio: Voices of children, Andrea Riccardi, the Community of Sant'Egidio, the young volunteers, the voice of the world; the Voices of the Gospel and the spirit of Assisi, and the voice of the human soul.
A symbol unites all these voices in one: the dove of peace that comes out from the rainbow (symbol of the Community of Sant’Egidio).
The rainbow is a spectrum of colors in which light decomposes. A symbol of the Alliance between heaven and earth, like a meeting place. The earth we already know what it is. But we also reflect the light that is decomposed into a color spectrum. The colors of light may represent that we are different in unity. Also the values of friendship, gratuity, humanity, generosity, integrality, courage in overcoming fear. The result is the resurgence of peace, the flight of the dove of peace. Unity wants peace. Children want peace.
These voices and symbols challenge us to examine our lives and to live these values, to develop joy of living, with friendship, and to go to the social and existential peripheries, very present today: Unfortunately, violence, xenophobia, racism, exclusion of the weak and looking the other way when there are human conflicts, is part of our reality. Thank you, School of Peace for helping us to leave from our comfort zone!
The reality of the world is unequal and polyhedral, as Pope Francis likes to say. The Spirit is perfect, peaceful, caring, loving. Education is a meeting place between these two planes. "Feeling subject is necessary otherwise we fall into resignation”, Riccardi (2018) reminds us. He also tells us that utopia is necessary as "mobilizing value, although it has its limits" (Riccardi, 2018). When we try to combine utopia and reality we transform education to integral education. Integral Education therefore means (Gallifa, 2018):
- Place the person, consciousness, and friendship at the center.
- Develop communities and culture, prepare the society of the future.
- Facilitate applied learning, transformative action, give the word.
- Acquiring and sharing knowledge.
Sant’Egidio is a reality on both levels, Spirit, and reality of the world; and an example of authentic Integral Education for Peace: The Peace that the children of the world need and want because will be the world where they’ll want to live.
- Riccardi, A. (2018) Todo puede cambiar. Madrid: San Pablo
- Gulotta, A. y Comunidad de San Egidio (2018) ¡A la escuela de la paz!: Educar a los niños en un mundo global. Madrid: San Pablo
- Gallifa, J. (2018) Educació Integral. Transformar l’Educació, formar la persona, millorar el món. Barcelona: Editorial UOC