In church circles in Italy, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, is sometimes half-jokingly referred to as un cardinale laico, a “lay cardinal.” Technically, that’s not accurate – the last of the lay cardinals died in 1899, and even those guys were in minor orders and thus technically clerics. Yet the phrase nonetheless captures Riccardi’s exalted status as a papal confidante, Vatican insider, and molder of Catholic opinion.
Known as the "U.N. of Trastevere" for the Roman neighborhood where the group is headquartered, Sant'Egidio is celebrated for its work in ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and conflict resolution. Among other things, Sant'Egidio has negotiated peace accords in global hotspots such as Mozambique and Uganda.
tThis week, Sant’Egidio’s annual interreligious meeting for peace is taking place in Munich, Germany. (Just to illustrate that the cachet of Riccardi and Sant’Egidio is not limited to ecclesiastical venues, Germany’s President Christian Wulff attended the opening ceremonies, and Chancellor Angela Merkel made a point of meeting Riccardi.)