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Germany

Catholic Community Founder Awarded Charlemagne Award

Andrea Riccardi, the Catholic layman who founded the Sant'Egidio Community in Rome, was picked Saturday, Dec. 6 as winner of the prestigious Charlemagne Prize in Germany.

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The Charlemagne Institute honors Andrea Riccardi for his work for the poor in Italy

The civic prize, to be handed over next year in the western city of Aachen, honors his services to Europe.

Riccardi, 58, founded the lay community with other school-age friends in Rome's Trastevere district 40 years ago. The organization of Catholics based at the parish church of Sant'Egidio now has 50,000 members worldwide.

In addition to praying and providing food and clothing to the poor, the community has actively mediated between enemies in an extraordinary effort to bring peace to nations in Africa.

In what it calls the Sant'Egido Method, it flies enemy leaders to Rome to talk to one another in a parish hall. It has also mediated in Algeria, Guatemala and the Balkans.

The Charlemagne Prize board said it was hailing Riccardi as a "great European" for his international diplomatic achievements, which had brought his community of lay people a reputation as a giver of peace.

"Riccardi and Sant'Egidio provide social glue that holds together European society," said Juergen Linden, mayor of Aachen. The 5,000- euro ($6,300) prize is named after Emperor Charlemagne (768- 814).

One of Riccardi's mottoes was, "Nobody is too poor to be able to help somebody else."

Riccardi's greatest achievement was to help end the 18-year-old Mozambique civil war in 1992. He and other community members met both sides for two years to establish trust between the opponents.

In Italy, he has campaigned for migrants to be welcomed and integrated. The community also hosts an annual peace conference among religions.

The 2008 winner of the annual prize was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a mark of its importance, French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave the laudatory speech at the prize award ceremonies in Aachen.

It is to be handed over on May 21, 2009. The prize, founded in 1950, is managed by the city of Aachen, once the capital of the Emperor Charlemagne's European medieval empire.