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Enigmatic Martini makes bold ecumenical moves.

OXFORD, England - Next year in Jerusalem!' was the cry at the end of an interfaith meeting at the Catholic University of Milan last month. The invitation came from Jerusalem's Ashkenazy chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau.

Later Rabbi Meir Lau met Pope John Paul II in Rome and invited him, too. But, he reported, "the pope just smiled and said the time of the visit was drawing near.'

His hosts in Milan were more forthcoming. They will be in Jerusalem next year: Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini archbishop of Milan, who wearies of being tipped as John Paul's successor, and the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community. The Sant'Egidio Community is a lay organization that grew out of a modest Catholic Worker-type soup kitchen in the dolce vita Rome of the 1970s. Its lay leader is Andrea Riccardi, professor of the history of Christianity in Rome University.

Its chaplain is Don Matteo Zuppi, a priest famed throughout Italy for his help to immigrants and AIDS sufferers. Part prayer group, part voluntary organization, it counts 8,000 members in Rome and almost as many in Belgium, San Salvador, Argentina, Mozambique and Lithuania.

Among Rome's homeless were many refugees from the southern Sudan, Somalia and Mozambique. These contacts led Sant'Egidio - named after the ancient church in Rome's Trastevere quarter where they meet every evening - to broker peace in Mozambique between the Marxist government and Renamo rebels. They brought an end to the civil war through fax messages sent by satellite to the bush.

Remarkably, this freelance, unofficial peacemaking succeeded - in great measure because it was unofficial. The business of the Sant'egidio Community, says Riccardi, is dialogue, and dialogue leads to reconciliation.

After Martini was named archbishop of Milan in 1980 - an astonishing and unprecedented appointment for a Jesuit - he worked with the homeless cared for by the Sant'Egidio Community. He admitted that as rector of the Biblical Institute and then the Gregorian University he had been cut off from life. He needed this exposure to the underworld of the homeless.

That explains why Martini welcomed the Sant'Egidio Community in Milan. He also secured a star attraction, Mikhail Gorbachev, who spoke in Milan's prestigious opera house, La Scala.

Gorbachev's title was better than his speech: "Religion, Peace and Justice in the New World Disorder.' And he cut short his stay because of the crisis in Moscow.

Less obviously "religious" in the churchgoing sense than his successor, Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev now admits to being baptized as a child and takes a broad and somewhat lofty view of the importance of religion.

His peroration: "The union of politics, science, religion and ethics holds the key to the solution for the future problems of modem man. Only a reasonable, responsible, ethical man can open the way to a peaceful future for humanity.'

Gorbachev had to represent Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church still sulking in its corner. But up on the stage at La Scala sat Martini, flanked by the patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Zakka Iwas, Rabbi Meir Lau and Habib Belkhodja, a senior Muslim cleric from Saudi Arabia. Transport that group to Jerusalem next year and something dramatic will have been achieved.

Back in December 1991, when he was offered Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his 10-year term having expired, Martini declined. In interviews he declared that if be ever left Milan, it would be to go to Jerusalem where, as a biblical scholar, be hoped to die.

Almost as enigmatic as John Paul.
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Title Annotation:Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 15, 1993
Words:583
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