Andrea Riccardi, professor of modern church history at Rome University, stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue and the use of proactive measures as ways to promote peace at a ceremony in Gaston Hall yesterday.

Riccardi, who founded the Sant’Egidio Community, a lay Roman Catholic association committed to aiding the poor and promoting peace, was bestowed an honorary degree at the event.

Riccardi said he believed the honor reflected the work of the Sant’Egidio programs as well as his own scholarly work. He asked students and faculty to examine the suffering of impoverished people around the world.

“Listen to them,” he said. “Look at their faces marked by war. They teach us something no historian can . [The value of peace] is forgotten by those who live in peace.”

The elaborate commencement ceremony included university officials as well as Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.

University President John J. DeGioia said the honor was a result of Riccardi’s many important contributions to the Catholic Church. He commended the Sant’Egidio Community for bringing religious leaders, academics and government officials together to discuss ways to bring about peace.

Riccardi said that the frequent outbreak of war and violence throughout the history of mankind have turned peace from a viable reality into a dream.

He encouraged listeners to foster peace by promoting nonviolence in their daily lives, and recounted biblical passages advising individuals not to harm others lest they be harmed themselves.

Riccardi also advocated the use of dialogue between individuals and nations to preserve peace and avert conflict.

“The dream of peace lives in the heart of humanity, even during the most terrible war,” Riccardi said. “The dialogue Sant’Egidio continues to promote is an expression of preventive peace. This peace is the hope and faith. Peace must be a preventive peace.”

Riccardi discussed the role of the poor, who he said were the most vulnerable to the devastating effects of war. The Sant’Egidio Community’s dedication to helping the poor is therefore a crucial component of a long-term strategy for peace, he said.

“They are communities of men and women reading the gospel, and helping the poor,” Riccardi said in reference to the Community membership.

“Peace is possible,” he continued. “Sant’Egidio continues to work for peace, work for dialogue between worlds unable to understand each other.”

Graduate student Sara Kushnick (CED ’05), who worked for the Sant’Egidio Community in Rome after reading about the program in a class, said she admired the close-knit organization of the group.

“The communities are halfway between family and formal structure,” Kushnick said. “Their faith in the power of prayer was realistic . [yet] almost magical.”

Riccardi founded Sant’Egidio in 1968. The community is a ministry of lay Catholics whose mission is to care for the poor and help promote peace through the fostering of inter-religious dialogue.

In 2000 the Sant’Egidio Community founded the Dream Project, an effort to combat AIDS and malnutrition in Africa.

The Community also received the Balzan Peace Prize earlier this year for helping to negotiate an end to civil war in ozambique.

Since its inception, communities have spread to 60 nations with approximately 40,000 members.

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