Mentoring can help bridge gap between church and youth, says cardinal

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.s.S.R., archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, delivers his presentation to a packed room for Georgetown Visitation Feb. 5. He was the main speaker at The Lay Centre benefit evening in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Laura Ieraci)

By Laura Ieraci

WASHINGTON — Accompanying young people in a style similar to that of Pope Francis can help to “bridge the ever-widening gap” between the church and young people, said Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.s.S.R.

The archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, was the main speaker at The Lay Centre benefit evening Feb. 5, where he shared his reflections on the theme, “You Will Be My Witnesses: A Mentoring Church.”

(Left to right): Lay Centre alumna Dr. Dianne Traflet, Cardinal Joseph Tobin and Lay Centre Donna Orsuto. (Photo: Laura Ieraci)

Cardinal Tobin pointed out that the “growing tide of unbelief in the U.S. is driven by the youngest cohort,” with young women leading the way.

He urged his listeners in the packed Heritage Room at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School to respond to this “changed landscape” by helping young people “to discover their true face, their own voice and reflect the face of the Church, which is always reflective… of the light of Christ.”

“In the task of accompanying the younger generation, the church accepts her call to collaborate in the joy of young people rather than be tempted to take control of their faith,” he said.

Cardinal Tobin poses for a photo with some young adults who attended the benefit evening. (Photo: Samantha Lin)

The cardinal’s talk hinged on the upcoming Synod that will gather Catholic bishops from around the world in Rome in October to pray, discuss and reflect on the theme, “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

He began his presentation saying he would not be offering a guide to accompanying young people “in 10 easy steps.”

Rather, Cardinal Tobin pointed out how Pope Francis demonstrates the importance of accompaniment through his actions. He said to accompany, according to the pope’s example, means, “You meet people where they are. You presume the good in them and hope they will presume the good in you. You have a conversation. You open your heart and mind. You prepare to learn something from them. You go where they are going, if only for a little while, trusting that something good will come of it. You keep your wits about you but you don’t let scruples rule you.”

Cardinal Tobin addresses those gathered for The Lay Centre benefit evening. (Photo: Samantha Lin)

However, accompaniment also means more than “simply walking beside” young people, Cardinal Tobin said.

The Church’s rich spiritual tradition emphasizes the importance of spiritual discernment as a tool that helps people to recognize the Lord’s call in their lives and respond to it.

Referring to the preparatory document for the Synod, Cardinal Tobin emphasized that “one who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries, which no one can fully know from without.”

A young adult asks a question of Cardinal Tobin after his presentation. (Photo: Samantha Lin)

As well, an adult who accompanies a young person in discernment must have “the hard personal experience of interpreting the heart to recognize the action of the Spirit,” he said.

He warned against casting judgment on young people, and he distinguished between psychology and spiritual guidance.

“Spiritual guidance orients the person toward the Lord and prepares the ground for an encounter with him,” he said. It seeks to foster a young person’s relationship with God and helps to remove any obstacles that may hinder it, he added.

Dr. Susan Timoney offers a few remarks as moderator of the questions-and-answer period. (Photo: Samantha Lin)

He offered the Biblical example of the Apostle Paul and his relationship with young Timothy and Titus, noting that Paul’s accompaniment occurred in the midst of apostolic activity. While entrusting Timothy and Titus with their respective missions, Paul also gave them “rules for their personal lives and for their pastoral activity.”

The cardinal said Jesus’ encounters with various Gospel characters also highlight “the ideal profile” of someone accompanying a young person in vocational discernment: a loving look, which Jesus cast on his disciples when he called them; an authoritative word in his declaration in the temple in Capernaum; an ability to become a neighbour in his recounting of the Parable of the Good Samaritan; a choice to walk alongside others in his accompaniment of the disciples on the road to Emmaus; and an authentic witness of fearlessly going against preconceived ideas in washing his disciples’ feet.

Cardinal Tobin preaches during Vespers in the chapel of Visitation Monastery, prior to his presentation. (Photo: Samantha Lin)

Cardinal Tobin added that the narrative of the Gospel of John, which begins with Jesus asking the vocational question, “What are you looking for?” and ends with Jesus telling Peter to follow him, could also serve as a helpful guide in the process of spiritual accompaniment.

After his presentation, the cardinal took questions from the floor from several young adults in attendance. Lay Centre almuna Dr. Susan Timoney, who serves as secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, moderated the question-and-answer period.

Prior to his presentation, Cardinal Tobin presided and preached the Vespers service in the chapel of the Visitation Monastery. Guests also enjoyed a dinner reception.

Watch the full 54-minute video of Cardinal Tobin’s presentation here.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

VPI in depth: An interview with Professor Carole Sargent

By Samantha Lin

Last fall, The Lay Centre hosted a six-part lecture series, titled “The Peripheries in Our Lives, ” which featured theologians and other experts in their respective fields, who spoke from a faith perspective on a range of “peripheries” in the human experience. The topics included death, astronomy, nuclear disarmament and the challenges of urban living.

Professor Carole Sargent, a literary historian and the director of the Office of Scholarly Publications at Georgetown University, co-presented the lecture on nuclear disarmament titled, “On the Peripheries: Exploring the Paths to Nuclear Zero.” Professor Sargent is a friend of The Lay Centre, having participated in its monthlong Italian language and culture program, “Buongiorno Roma!”

In a recent exchange, Professor Sargent shared her reflections on The Lay Centre and its contribution to her personal and professional life.

What first brought you to The Lay Centre?

The Sisters of Georgetown Visitation Monastery encouraged me to meet Dr. Donna Orsuto (the director of The Lay Centre) when I first told them I was coming to Rome for an academic conference. Stepping onto the grounds was like traveling back in time, but I never really believed that I’d one day be able to stay. We had tea and biscotti in the dining room, and I felt wistful upon leaving, wishing I could be a student again. Donna and I stayed in touch, and I saw her a second time there during an Ignatian pilgrimage to Spain and Italy with the College of the Holy Cross. When she launched the “Buongiorno Roma!” program, I signed up right away. Georgetown was happy to grant the leave, and I loved being a student of intermediate Italian. It felt like a continuation of my journey with the Jesuits, and also with the Italian language that I have studied off and on for several years.

How has the impact of The Lay Centre been for you?

The Lay Centre is my secret passageway to Rome. It provides elegant entry to the people, places and ideas I care about most, and it is a perfect spiritual and academic partner with my work at Georgetown University. Although I’m half Italian and my extended paternal family is mostly Italian and Catholic, my father left the church before I was born, and my upbringing was separate from most Italian relatives and experiences. I came to the church as an adult via (religious priests and sisters), but I still had so much to learn in order to engage fully with the Italian church, the Vatican and, ultimately, my heritage. The Lay Centre provides context and structure to experience Rome as an academic who walks a path of faith. It is one of the few places in the world I can think of — the India International Centre in New Delhi is another — that combines the academy and culture so beautifully.

What brought you back to The Lay Centre?

Perhaps in part because of The Lay Centre’s direct influence, especially Donna’s and Riekie’s history of living with Catholic sisters, I now live in an intentional community with two Sacred Heart sisters and several lay women in Washington, D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood, aka “Little Rome.” Through my community I became involved with Catholic sisters who are activists in nuclear disarmament and I am writing a book about them. Father Drew Christiansen, SJ, professor of ethics and human development at Georgetown University, welcomed my research as a complement to his own work with the Vatican in the conversation around nuclear weapons. When he said he was coming to Rome in November 2017, to speak at a Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament and to meet Pope Francis, we agreed that my work on the sisters would make an excellent complement to his larger project. Donna welcomed me back to The Lay Centre to stay while in Rome, and she invited Father Drew to give a talk on the issue. He was the main focus, but I was honoured to join him as part of The Lay Centre’s “Peripheries” series and to share my list of now almost 30 sisters active in the cause.

The Lay Centre is always grateful to welcome alumni, such as Professor Sargent, who give back to The Lay Centre in so many ways.

The Lay Centre’s spring lecture series will explore the theme, “Antidotes to a Throwaway Culture,” starting Feb. 15. For more information, go to or contact

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Antidotes to a Throwaway Culture – Lent at The Lay Centre

Riekie van Velzen Art Exhibition

Thursdays February 15, 22 and March 1, The Lay Centre’s Lenten Series includes Morning Conferences 09.30am-12pm, Evening Conferences 6pm-7.15pm

February 15, following Evening Conference – Inauguration Art Exhibition: “When Waste is Not Wasted“, by Riekie Van Velzen, co-founder of The Lay Centre. Join us for the inauguration and a light reception (RSVP by February 12

Weekend Lenten Retreat – February 23-25

Full details of Lenten Series below.

The indispensable gift of Hope – morning series

09.30am – 12pm

In a world that teaches us to see everything as disposable, including our time, our talents and our very personhood, the gift of hope is something that God offers us in our concrete daily realities in order to encourage, strengthen and embolden us to live according to the timeless values in accord with the dignity of the creation, our community and ourselves. In this three week series of reflection, the former Abbot of St Paul Outside the Walls, Abbot Edmund Power, OSB, will help us understand what this theological virtue is, how we can embrace it as a gift, and why it makes all the difference in our attempts to remedy a ‘throw-away’ culture. The morning will include two 45 minute sessions including time for discussion, with a coffee break. Each morning will end with the celebration of Mass.

Oasis in the city – evening series

6pm 7.15pm

Antidotes to a Throwaway Culture – Conferences

The evenings include a presentation by a prominent speaker, a response, dialogue and vespers.

February 15

Adopt a non-consumeristic lifestyle – Most. Rev. Paul Tighe.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring) (March 1, 2011)

Most Rev. Paul Tighe is Secretary at the Pontifical Council for Culture.

(response by Uta Sievers)





February 22

“Speak the Truth in Love” (Eph 4:15)… in a Fake-News World – Dr. Margaret MacDonald

Dr. MacDonald, Dean of Arts, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, is currently the Visiting Professor for the McCarthy Chair in Biblical Studies, Pontifical Institute.

(response by Filipe Domingues)



March 1

Listen with the Ear of Your Heart – Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB.

Abbot Gregory Polon, OSB, is the Abbot Primate of the Order of St. Benedict.

(response by Donna Orsuto)


Lenten Retreat Weekend

February 23-25

Casa D’Esercizi dei Passionisti, Rome

“Let us then throw off the works of  darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12)

Using Romans 13:12 as a point of departure, Fr. Joseph Farrell will begin by reflecting on those things that are actually “good” to throw away and how we sometimes “throw away” what is good. Since, Romans 13:12 was also linked with St. Augustine’s Tolle Lege moment before his conversion in the Garden in Milan, the retreat will draw on some of the riches of Augustinian spirituality to consider some remedies for a Throw-Away Culture. The weekend will include moments of liturgical and private prayer, presentations, discussions, and the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Rev. Joseph Farrell, OSA is the Vicar General for the Order of St. Augustine.


For registration and information, please contact us:

The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas

Largo della Sanità Militare, 60, Roma 00184, Italia

T. +39 06 772 6761

F. +39 06 772 676 235




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

by Rev’d Ruth Frampton

They used to say that throwing a coin into the Trevi fountain would guarantee your return to Rome. Save your money! The fountain was drained and covered with scaffolding on my last visit and yet here I am back again at the Lay Centre for the month of January.

I came for six weeks in 2014 as part of my pre-ordination training, and returned again briefly after ordination in 2015 and 2016. But now I rejoice in a more substantial stay during January as an Anglican priest in the Church of England, to collaborate in ecumenical worship during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Rome is a huge contrast to my parish in England: I serve in Salcombe, a seaside town on the south west coast surrounded by agricultural countryside; a place for fishing and sea sports – yachts and sailing. It has a small resident population which welcomes thousands of tourists and holidaymakers. Here in Rome I can better appreciate the problems of urban living; I am volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity near S Gregorio.

Almost as soon as I arrived I was able to participate in ecumenical activity in the city and was privileged to sit in on three papers presented at a conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame: ‘The Whole is Greater than its Parts: Christian Unity and interreligious encounter today’. This was only one of the myriad of events and services held at this time to explore and celebrate ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. The importance attached here to ecumenical dialogue puts to shame many of our churches at home; we need to discover again that sense of urgency to implement Jesus’s desire ut unum sint.

The event organised by the Centro Pro Unione and the Lay Centre on the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was well-attended and Msgr. Paul McPartlan’s lecture gave us a clear insight into the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. There followed an ecumenical act of worship led by the Rev’d Canon Tony Currer in which I was privileged to give a short homily. Conversation continued over refreshments; hospitality is one of the foundations of our faith.

Among the events I have enjoyed most have been the tour of the Ecumenical Garden at S Gregorio by the Rev’d Dana English, who led an interdenominational group around the site – the garden is the only physical tribute to ecumenical dialogue in the city; the Sunday Eucharist at Caravita, another centre of ecumenical worship in Rome, where the celebrant and I exchanged blessings of grace at Communion; the ecumenical service organised by Churches Together in Rome where I was honoured to be asked to robe and join my Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican colleagues to represent the Church of England, as we celebrated the power of God’s right hand to bring about Christian Unity; and the Papal Vespers at S Paolo fuori le Mura, a fitting end to this week of concentrated prayer.

But the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity does not mean that ecumenical dialogue is put back in its box until next year! The Lay Centre is a hub for meetings and dialogue between any number of ecumenical visitors and liaises closely with the Anglican Centre in Rome where I have been supported and refreshed by weekly Holy Communion on Tuesdays. In addition to hosting visiting professors and academics who meet the students here, the Lay Centre organises educational courses for groups from all over the world. I have been privileged to meet a group of young students, from St Mary’s Catholic University outside San Francisco, who are “Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians.” I have been an occasional helper on their programme of lectures and visits, including a trip to S Maria sopra Minerva to learn about S Caterina, and a tour of the Vatican Museums, and accompanying them to the Papal Vespers at S Paolo. Later this year the Lay Centre will welcome a group of Muslims from Cambridge, England, who are coming to Rome to learn about Catholic spirituality.

At the same time the Lay Centre students have come to the end of the semester and are now in the thick of exams; an atmosphere of purposeful concentration pervades the building. Even so, they make time to show hospitality to visitors and contribute to the ecumenical effort. I have helped a team of residents put together a programme for night prayer: Compline is in a different worship tradition each evening, embracing Orthodox, Presbyterian and Anglican as well as Catholic forms of night prayer.

It has been an eventful ten days so far. I hit the ground running and it’s turned into something of a marathon – literally! My iPhone shows that over the last twelve days I have walked an average of 7km a day – in rain, in sunshine and usually in conversation!

And throughout all these, to me remarkable, events, the work of the Missionaries of Charity continues, day in, day out, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing a roof for the homeless and restoring dignity to the marginalised. They are a figure of Christ in this city.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cardinal Tobin to speak at annual benefit

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, will be the main speaker for The Lay Centre annual benefit in Washington, D.C., Feb. 5. (Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Newark)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Cardinal who has become known for his closeness to the members of his flock, to the marginalized and to their concerns will be the main speaker at The Lay Centre’s annual benefit in Washington, D.C., Feb. 5.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, will speak on the care and concern of the Catholic Church for youth, in view of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.

The annual benefit evening, held in Washington, D.C., is the only event of the Rome-based organization in the United States. It is sponsored by the Friends of The Lay Centre, a group of lay people in the United States who support The Lay Centre in its mission of lay formation, the promotion of Christian unity and interreligious dialogue in the heart of the church.

The evening, held at Georgetown Visitation, will begin with Vespers at 6:30 p.m.

Cardinal Tobin will preside and preach at Vespers, followed by a reception and the Cardinal’s lecture at 8 p.m. He will speak on the theme, “You Will Be My Witnesses: A Mentoring Church.” The floor will then be open for questions and dialogue with the Cardinal, with youth offered the first opportunity to respond.

Cardinal Tobin will share his vision and the importance of an intergenerational church, in which young people are welcomed, befriended and accompanied in faith by members of the local parishes across generations. How can intergenerational friendships in faith benefit young people and how can the Church in the United States develop a mentoring culture? These are some of the questions that will be touched upon over the course of the evening.

Cardinal Tobin was born in Detroit in 1952. He entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, more commonly known as the Redemptorists, and was ordained a priest in 1978. After several years of pastoral work in the United States, he served as superior general of his congregation for 12 years.

He was ordained a bishop in 2010, and served in the Vatican Curia as the secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. In 2012, he was named archbishop of Indianapolis, and then archbishop of Newark five years later. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 2016.

Georgetown Visitation is located at 1524 35th St NW. Parking is free on site.

Tickets are required to attend. For information or to RSVP before Feb. 1, please write to

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Chieti and Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue

Thursday, 18 January 2018 at 4:30 PM

The Lay Centre and Centro Pro Unione, on the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, cordially invite you to an afternoon of prayer and reflection.


“Chieti and the Trajectory of Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue”
Rev. Prof. Paul McPartlan
Carl J. Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism, School of Theology and Religious Studies, The Catholic University of America

Followed by

An Ecumenical Celebration of the Word

Rev. Anthony Currer, Presider
Officer, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Rev. Ruth Frampton, Preacher
Asst. Curate, Holy Trinity Church, Salcombe, England



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Recognizing the humanity in ‘the other’

By Samantha Lin

In December, we welcomed resident scholar Tamara Sonn, who holds the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair in the History of Islam at Georgetown University’s Alaweed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

While in Rome, Professor Sonn gave an intensive course at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) while also being an active member of The Lay Centre. She led a lively discussion on Islamophobia in the Western world at The Lay Centre’s second Interfaith Café.

We sat down with Professor Sonn to get to know a little more about her and her work in Islamic history and in fighting Islamophobia.

What inspired you to study Islam?

There are two answers. The short answer is that my first master’s degree was in Medieval philosophy, 13th-century metaphysics, which is all based on Aristotle. Working through 13th-century metaphysics, I realized there were numerous references to Muslim philosophers. Why did Muslim philosophers figure so highly? The answer is that European philosophers gained access to their Aristotelian base through Arabic translations. They didn’t have access directly to the Greek. I discovered that the classical Greek texts had lain in oblivion for centuries in Egyptian libraries until Muslim conquests when they were discovered. The Muslims saw value in them, translated them into Syriac and then into Arabic, from which the European Latin translations come. The professors who were teaching me at the time at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto said they needed a student to specialize in Islamic studies to figure out to what extent the European philosophers were influenced by the Muslim thinkers. I had the opportunity to study in Jordan and found, to my shock, that I was horribly ignorant of Islam in general and specifically of the Islamic heritage of European cultures. So I decided to start all over again in Islamic studies.

What do you hope for the future of Muslim-Christian dialogue?

Recognition of common humanity! That’s the short answer. Recognition of commonality. Islam teaches that the monotheisms are a single tradition. I think that is something Jews and Christians can learn from Muslims — recognizing that we have far more in common. All monotheisms are founded on belief in a single Divinity who intervenes in human history and who sends messages periodically. The messages are all the same but the interpretations are different. There is a profound metaphysical truth there that we all need to contemplate; we need to share our experiences, rather than compete in intellectual claims. It makes more sense to me to compete as the Quran says [Quran 5:48] in demonstrating our commitment to the single creator by struggling to do the creator’s will. In other words, to “compete in good works.”

What brought you to The Lay Centre?

Georgetown University established a memorandum of understanding with PISAI about three years ago to do a faculty exchange. Father Thomas Michel was the first exchange faculty and, by a stroke of miraculous luck, here I am! I happen to be on sabbatical this semester, and so Dr. John Borelli, special assistant for Catholic identity and dialogue to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, was so kind as to devise a special format for the faculty exchange: instead of a full year or full semester, to have an intensive three-week course during the month of December.

During her stay in Rome, Professor Sonn urged The Lay Centre residents to see the humanity of “the other” and encouraged the aspect of The Lay Centre’s mission that focuses on interreligious dialogue.

Professor Sonn said she is hopeful for the future, which she said begins in environments, such as The Lay Centre.

“You just have to hold onto that hope: that by studying other religions, one day human beings will recognize each other’s humanity,” she said.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment