Helen Copeland reviews Living Together by Andrea Riccardi.
[New City Magazine – June 2008]
There was never such bitter rivalry as that between close neighbours. You have only to be around Glasgow, Manchester or on Merseyside when the two local football teams are playing each other to experience the strength of finely-honed identities in opposition. In fact, the revolutionary nature of the Focolare Movement in its very beginnings was understood through the new-found unity between Trent and Rovereto, its closest neighbouring town. From neighbours to nations, we are used to stories of conflict and violence. The question arises, especially for those who strive for peace, can we ever live together?
Andrea Riccardi is well-qualified to address this question. A lecturer in history, he is also founder of the St Egidio Community which places the quest for peace and social justice at the heart of its actions. In this book, Riccardi takes us on a world tour of modern tensions, and offers a fascinating and illuminating assessment of the state we find ourselves in. An understanding of history is surely essential to future progress, and while Riccardi is obviously challenged to pare down his wealth of knowledge for the purposes of this overview, his analysis is extremely helpful.
The crisis of identity seems to be the common theme for conflicts and tensions across the globe, and Riccardi points to two main factors behind this crisis – the demise of colonialism and the end of the Cold War. With this immense shift in the balance of world power, Africa and Asia, once united in being courted by the superpowers, then went their separate ways. The crisis of identity began. The fall of the Berlin wall intensified the situation, as gradually, people’s dreams of political participation and economic well-being were dashed. The advance of Westernisation seemed to provoke the emergence of fundamentalism, not uniquely Islamic.
With so many (certainly oppressive) constraints removed, nations – according to Riccardi – found themselves groping for new identities, or looking to resurrect old ones. Patriarch Athenagoras is cited as tracing this tension as early as the 1970s, noting ‘the advent of planetary man’ set paradoxically against the tendency of nations to ‘cling to their own distinctive origins’. The cruellest irony then surfaces: that the more peoples discover how similar they are, the more they assert their differences.
Although the book makes sobering reading, it is certainly not without optimism. Riccardi’s experience of peace-making means that his recommendations of dialogue and understanding do not ring hollow. As many would testify, it is certainly worth the effort.