But that and other celebrated efforts at conflict resolution including more recent successes in Guatemala and Burundi happened only after years of working in the darkest corners of local society. "Our desire was to change the world, but our world was Rome, so first we had to change Rome," recalls the bearded activist. To do so, Sant'Egidio established the city's first extensive network of homeless shelters, counseling centers and soup kitchens. Then Riccardi exported the model, eventually setting up in more than 60 countries. Riccardi is guided by the Christian Gospels but never at the exclusion of other beliefs. "Fanaticism denies two vital aspects of religion: love and respect of man," he says. This evangelical message, most would agree, is worth spreading with zeal.
They call it the U.N. of Trastevere, after the ancient Roman neighborhood where it operates. The Community of Sant'Egidio the Catholic lay group Andrea Riccardi founded in 1968, at the age of 18 has become a much-valued "third party" between warring sides in some of the world's most vexing conflicts. Its first global coup came in 1992, when it the 11 negotiating sessions hosted by the group over 27 months paid off with peace accords ending two decades of civil war in Mozambique.