My wonderful life in Rome

Hi, everybody. My name is Minsu Li-Ching Chang in Taipei, Taiwan.

Thanks to the scholarship from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) and its Nostra Aetate Foundation, I had a great opportunity to live at The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas and to study at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy, for five months from 28 January to 29 June, 2016. It was a wonderful experience and now a sweet memory.


Minsu (at left) and The Lay Centre students at a general audience with the pope

I’m a follower of the T’ienti (God) Teachings (a new 36-year-old religion) in Taiwan, the Republic of China, and the first Nostra Aetate Foundation fellow in my community. I was very lucky to stay at The Lay Centre.

The Lay Centre is situated on Rome’s Cealian Hill, near the famous Colosseum. It is in one of the buildings inside the monastery of the Passionists. It’s very quiet and beautiful, and we can watch the beautiful sunset from its terrace.

My housemates came from different religions and countries. There were Catholics from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mozambique, Poland, Finland and Italy; an Anglican from England; a Jew from Israel; a Unitarian and Universalist from Canada; Orthodox followers from Egypt and Greece; a monk from Myanmar; and Muslims from Indonesia, Germany and Pakistan. We had interreligious conversation all the time. I learned a lot at The Lay Centre.

There were many religious and academic activities sponsored by The Lay Centre. I joined some of them. They were terrific. I attended the regular Scriptural Reasoning Forum and Interfaith Café. We learned about different religions and shared personal viewpoints on certain topics and texts. I even made my first visits to Catholic basilicas and churches, a Jewish synagogue, a Greek Orthodox church, and an Islamic mosque, and attended their prayers. It was amazing and I was touched.

The Lay Centre also organized sightseeing, such as a trip to Tivoli, a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo, and an open bus tour around Rome at night.

We had great chefs to make delicious meals and desserts every day. I miss them very much.

Everybody staying at The Lay Centre needs to contribute to community life. My responsibility was to get the fresh bread at the front door every morning and to bring it to the student kitchen upstairs for everybody’s breakfast. It was a difficult job for me because I had to set my alarm clock and wake up early. But I’m free of that now!

The Lay Centre had a great team, which is why I could enjoy my life there. To the dear staff in the office: Thank you very much. I miss you.

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Pilgrims to Rome reunite 10 years on

Group3WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some friends, who came to Rome 10 years ago for the pilgrimage “In the Footsteps of St Ignatius,” gathered for a reunion in Washington, D.C, on 8 August.

After Mass, presided by Fr. Jim Greenfield, OSFS, at Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, they joined together for a delightful Italian meal prepared by Nancy Lutz.

GroupPeter Albert, Charlotte Mahoney and Nancy Lindsay helped with the organization of the evening.

Other pilgrims included Bill and Cindi Broydrick, Apryll Nakamura, Mike and Lauren Schultz, and Fr. Matt Hillyard, OSFS and Donna Orsuto.



We were delighted that the pastor of Holy Trinity Parish, Jesuit Father Kevin Gillespie, joined us as well.

Group4The evening was a wonderful opportunity to catch up and to discover how the pilgrimage continues in our daily lives.


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A dear friend is ordained a bishop in Brazil


Bishop Sales meets the people of Cajazeiras, Brazil (Photo: Damião Fernandes)

ARARIPINA, Brazil — A good friend of The Lay Centre was ordained a bishop in Brazil: Bishop Francisco de Sales, O.Carm.

Our Brazilian resident, Filipe Domingues, represented The Lay Centre community at the celebration, held 4 August.

Domingues, who is in Brazil for his summer holiday, travelled about 2,500 kilometres, from São Paulo to the small town of Araripina, in the Brazilian northeast, where Bishop Sales was born. The region is called “Sertão“, which translates to “outback” or “backcountry.”

Bishop Sales lived in Rome since 2011. In the years before his episcopal appointment, he served as the General Secretary of the Carmelite Order. The close connection between The Lay Centre and the Carmelite Curia allowed this friendship to flourish.

Bishop Sales would come to The Lay Centre once in a while to visit and to preside at Mass. During one of his visits, he talked to us about Pope Paul VI‘s life and virtues.

Bishop Sales is now the shepherd of the Diocese of Cajazeiras.

Our prayers are with the new bishop as he takes on this new ministry! More pictures here.


From left to right: Fr Raúl Maraví Cabrera, O.Carm, General Councilor of the Americas; Fr Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm, Prior General of the Carmelites; Bishop Francisco de Sales, bishop of Cajazeiras (Brazil); Lay Centre resident Filipe Domingues; and Fr Francisco Manoel de Oliveira, O.Carm, director of a Carmelite rehabilitation centre in Curitiba, Brazil.

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Pilgrims explore God’s mercy in Rome

By A.J. Boyd

ROME — Characteristic of The Lay Centre’s international programming, the centre’s 30th-anniversary pilgrimage, “God’s Mercy Endures Forever,” engaged Rome as a classroom and as a font for spiritual growth and renewal.

The 10-15 July pilgrimage came on the heels of two other anniversary events: The Lay Centre’s Alumni Reunion, 3-5 July, and an academic seminar on lay involvement in the Church, 6-9 July.

“God’s Mercy Endures Forever” echoes Psalm 136, and mercy is the theme of the this extraordinary Holy Year marking the end of the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Second Vatican Council. 


The group in the Jews museum

Organized by Lay Centre director Donna Orsuto, resident experts Hansol Goo (art history/cultural heritage of the church) and A.J. Boyd (ecclesiology, papacy, ecumenism) led most of the site visits. Their work is in continuity with the spirit of service and ecumenical hospitality fostered by the Ladies of Bethany and Foyer Unitas, who would lead specialised tours of the holy places in Rome for ecumenical and interfaith guests during their tenure from 1952-1992.

Regular guest guide Christiaan Santini gave the tour of the Coliseum and Roman Forum, while Abbot Edmund Power, OSB, gave a guided visit to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, offering a reflection on the Apostle Paul and mercy. The first night of the program included an opera at the Baths of Caracalla, a modern costume adaptation of Verdi’s Nabucco.

Rebecca Cohen, a Lay Centre resident and a student of Jewish-Christian dialogue, led a tour of the Great Synagogue of Rome and the neighboring Jewish Ghetto. Goo and Boyd led visits to San Clemente and to Santa Maria in Trastevere, after which the group dined at the Trattoria degli Amici, run by the Sant’Egidio Community, a lay movement that seeks to serve the poor.

The fifth day of the pilgrimage, themed “Mercy in Art and Architecture,” included an introduction to Saint Peter’s Basilica, followed by a visit to the Vatican Museums, which includes the Sistine Chapel. From depiction of the virtues to the motivation of the Jesuit baroque as treasures of humanity. That the poor have access to the same grandeur reveals that they, not the art and architecture, are the “treasures of the Church”.


The group in front of the Synagogue of Rome

The cathedral of Rome, the Archbasilica of St John in the Lateran, its baptistery, and the nearby basilicas of St Mary Major and St Prassede topped off the week, connecting the church that is “head and mother” of all churches of Rome, with the largest church dedicated to the Mother of God.

As the pope opened the holy door at Santa Maria Maggiore, on January 1, the Solemnity of the Theotokos, he reflected, “She is the Mother of Mercy, because she bore in her womb the very Face of divine mercy, Jesus, …The Son of God, made incarnate for our salvation, has given us his Mother, who joins us on our pilgrimage through this life, so that we may never be left alone, especially at times of trouble and uncertainty.”

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Seminar inspires ways for interreligious dialogue on campus


A session of The Lay Centre/CTS seminar, “Full, Conscious and Active: Lay Participation in the Church’s Dialogue with the World”, held in Rome, 6-9 July

By Anastassiya Perevezentseva

ROME — Lehigh University Rome interns had a chance to assist in the organization of the seminar, “Full, Conscious and Active: Lay Participation in the Church’s Dialogue with the World,” co-sponsored by the College Theology Society and The Lay Centre.

During the panel dedicated to laity as participants in interreligious dialogue, I noted a strong emphasis on a specific form of interaction, termed “the dialogue of life,” in a presentation by Professor Sandra Keating.

Prof. Keating’s examination of the writings of ninth-century West Syrian theologian Abu Raita al-Takriti as an example of the “dialogue of life” between Muslims and Christians  led me to reflect on my own experience of growing up in multi-religious Kazakhstan.

I have participated in the dialogue of life between predominantly Muslim and Russian Orthodox people from childhood. Kazakhstani people of various backgrounds are each other’s neighbors, colleagues, friends and relatives. By living in one community, people are prompted to share joyful moments together, to mourn together, to participate in the exchange of thoughts and ideas, to help each other out in daily activities and to support one another in times of difficulty.

On a basic human level, we related to the feelings of others, even though the way they celebrate or mourn certain events in life may be dictated by very distinct cultural and religious traditions.

People in Kazakhstan are very accepting of each other’s faiths. For example, it is not unusual to see citizens wish each other well on both Muslim and Christian religious holidays.

At The Lay Centre, this dialogue of life — the ability of students of different faiths to relate to each other on a basic human level — is interwoven with academic conversations.

The Lay Centre students study religion and therefore are often more knowledgeable about their own religious tradition than the average person. I have witnessed more profound conversations and even debates because of the students’ solid theological foundations.

Explaining your faith or the specific religious practices of your own country can only positively contribute to a deeper understanding and appreciation of your own religion and the beliefs of others: one cannot explain to another person something that they do not know.

An academic focus of a conversation also allows people to discover how concepts and ideas that were once studied in a religion class are not an abstract belief, but a visible part of another person’s daily life.

Therefore, I do agree with Dr. Keating that certain laypeople, who are well formed in the teachings of their faith, should have the ability to participate in a theological dialogue between religions, even when the dialogue of life still remains the primary means of interreligious communication not only for laity, but for many representatives of various religions across the whole world.

Anastassiya Perevezentseva

Lehigh University student Anastassiya Perevezentseva asks a question during the seminar.

The second panelist, Prof. Giovanna Czander, used the example of the Focolare Movement to describe how the four principles of the interreligious dialogue they promote could be applied in the daily life of the laity.

The four principles are: to exhibit the most universal and unconditional love and the highest form of charity (agape); to exclude no one from this love; to live by the Golden Rule; and to love others so much that they will love you back.

I was most interested in learning about the “dialogue of action,” which seems to me the most suitable way to promote interreligious dialogue among youth. Magnanimously serving others or working towards a noble cause requires the four principles of the Focolare Movement as a prerequisite.

While cooperating towards a higher cause, students potentially can engage in a discussion about the moral principles that guide them, which may stem from their religious tradition: justice, mercy, respect for human life and others.

Another form of dialogue mentioned by Prof. Czander that I found interesting was “spiritual dialogue.” She mentioned as an example of this type of dialogue an event organized by the Christian and Jewish communities in New York City. The participants studied Scripture in pairs, using the Jewish tradition of studying the Torah with a partner as an example. This type of activity removes any fear associated with compromising our own religious identity, which often arises in interreligious dialogue, and instead provides us with an opportunity to learn something from other religious traditions that can only enhance and develop our own spiritual life.

Listening to the presentation and examples of various forms of dialogue made me realize how much wisdom is contained in the four rules of the Focolare Movement centered around selfless love: if starting inter-religious dialogue is the most difficult part, it is possible to overcome any obstacles, such as prejudice and fear, by making a self-giving sacrifice, which Prof. Czander connected to Christ’s Passion in her presentation.

Both presentations offered many interesting ideas; I am only mentioning a fraction of them in this reflection. I am confident that the lessons the interns and I have learned from sitting in on these two lectures will serve as an inspiration to promote inter-religious dialogue on campus in effective and creative ways.


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Comprehensive seminar reflects on role of laypeople

By A.J. Boyd

ROME — Taking their cue from Sacrosanctum Concilium, the first document published by the Second Vatican Council, the College Theology Society (CTS) and The Lay Centre co-sponsored an academic seminar, from 6 to 9 July, on the theme, “Full, Conscious, and Active: Lay Participation in the Church’s Dialogue with the World”.

The conference was live-tweeted, and a publication of the proceedings is expected within the year.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See Secretariat of State, gave the keynote. He addressed the laity’s involvement in politics with the famous quote of one Msgr George Talbert, written to Cardinal Henry Manning, in reaction to Cardinal John Henry Newman’s On Consulting the Faithful, in 1859:

What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain? These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all, and this affair of Newman is a matter purely ecclesiastical…. Dr. Newman is the most dangerous man in England, and you will see that he will make use of the laity against your Grace.


“Full, Conscious, and Active: Lay Participation in the Church’s Dialogue with the World”, seminar

Sandra Keating (Providence College) moderated the first morning’s discussions on ecclesiology, governance and history, featuring James Keating, Michael Canaris, Lynda Robitaille, Nicholas Radermacher and Dianne Traflett.

“Among the unfinished work of the Council is the effective consultation of the faithful on doctrine and on governance,” said Keating. She also challenged the dominant narrative of the “hermeneutic of rupture,” positing that “Vatican II did not unmoor the Church from the faith. Rather, it revealed the fragility of pre-conciliar piety” as a basis for Catholic identity.

Canaris offered a different edge on popular piety as a key for understanding the “pope of the pueblo,” Pope Francis, because it “leads to what is essential, if it is lived in communion with the Church and its pastors” despite being peripheral to the core of the faith.

Pope Francis is the pope of receptivity, of popular piety, and of a pyramid [hierarchy] inverted,” he said.

Lynda Robitaille, one of the first laywomen to earn a doctorate in canon law from a Roman pontifical university, detailed the state of consultation in the Code of Canon Law and the gaps in its implementation or expectation.

“The need for transparency in consultation and [ecclesial] governance is not optional,” she said.

Nicholas Radermacher offered Mary Elizabeth Walsh (1905-1987) as an exemplar of pre-conciliar lay leadership and ministry, especially to the poor and people of color.

Similarly, Dianne Traflet presented Dorothy Day and St Edith Stein as pre-conciliar pioneers of Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a “field hospital.” She held up St Brigid of Kildare as a model of prayer and action — an image of the mercy of the Church and our participation in it.

Afternoon papers on marriage, family, and youth moderated by Lynda Robitaille (St. Mark’s College), included Aldegonde Brenninkmeijer-Werhahn, Donna Orsuto and Filipe Domingues, Karin Heller, and Joann Heaney-Hunter. Brenninkmeijer-Werhahn offered advice from 50 years of marriage, to set aside “sacred time” each week for practical communication with your spouse, putting into practice the idea that the spirituality of communion at the heart of marriage is built upon communication.

Orsuto and Domingues offered reflections on Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ second apostolic exhortation, as a model for discovering God in every day life.

Karin Heller said Amoris Laetitia calls people to move beyond the previously perceived limits of theologies of relationship, however carefully. Joann Heany-Hunter called on the domestic church as the forum, however constituted, for youth to learn to live in prayer and justice.

The third day of the conference began with James Keating (Providence College) moderating contributions by Robert White, Karen Scott, William Portier, Matthew Shadle and Dan O’Brien on historical, philosophical and practical sources for understanding the laity.

White said St Gregory the Great called all the laity, not only those in religious life, to the ascetic ideal of the monk. Scott presented St Catherine of Siena as a prophet of mutuality and reciprocity in ecclesial ministry.


Bill Portier said Thomas Judge was the originator of the idea, in 1918, that “this is the hour of the laity!” That Pope Francis recently lamented the “clock has stopped” on the hour of the laity is both disheartening and encouraging, he said.

Shadle explored the idea of the lay vocation as “properly secular” by taking apart the nature of secularity, and finding the former makes sense only as a repudiation of integralism, since the world is still the realm of God’s activity.

O’Brien spoke of Catholic healthcare as a case study of lay engagement with the mission of the Church “in the world.”

William Portier (University of Dayton) led the afternoon discussions on communications and interreligious dialogue with Donald Maldari, Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Sandra Keating and Giovanna Czander.

Donald Maldari opened with a look at the lay apostolate as ministerial participation in creation’s evolution wherein there is nothing profane about the secular order.

Daniella Zsupan-Jerome said, in today’s digital culture, having a voice that matters and the possibility of collaboration is a given; any system failing in either accessibility or transparency is inherently suspect. The danger of discouraging ecclesial as well as liturgical participation is not an inactive laity, but an exodus from the Church.

Sandra Keating said the laity are primary actors in interreligious relations, offering Abu Raita al-Tikrit, a 9th-century West Syrian theologian, as a model. She further emphasized the continuity of Nostra Aetate within the great Tradition of the Church, over against those who would see it as something entirely new and a cause for rupture.

Czander similarly emphasized the lay role in dialogue, turning to Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, as the model.

Robert White (Angelicum/Lay Centre) moderated a morning of discussion on media, culture and challenging paradigms of lay identity with Mary Beth Yount, Catherine Stevenson, Mike Russo, Katherie Schmidt and Peter Baltutis.

Yount began by calling attention to the lacuna of lay ecclesial ministry: though called and authorized to serve in the Church, a “secular” vocation it is not. Universally treated poorly and lower paid than their clerical counterparts, the Church needs to be more intentional in remembering the laity as “assets” in Church ministry, she said.

Stevenson presented on the lay orders, such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as alternatives to parish-diocesan and movement-religious models for participation of the laity.

“Vocation sometimes emerges as an epiphany,” she said. “But sometimes it progresses as a pilgrimage, and we need room and support for both.”


Russo spoke of the challenges of social media, which allow greater polarization and the glorification of a fringe few in the contemporary dialogue on the Church. In contrast, he held up Pope Francis as a model of adaptive leadership.

Schmidt traced three stages of papal magisterial engagement with social communications, from the invention of the printing press to the digital age, ultimately bringing us beyond a producer-consumer binary.

Baltutis presented the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis, as an example of episcopal-lay collaboration that has suffered a deterioration and retrenchment of clericalism in recent years.

A.J. Boyd (Angelicum/Lay Centre) led the final session on ecumenism, catechesis and formation, with Linda Taggart, Karen Petersen Finch, Zoe DeBlasio and Anne Jamieson.

Taggart offered a sample lesson in undergraduate pedagogy for world religions, while Petersen-Finch employed Lonergan’s writings as a method of ecumenical reception, and reception as a means of catechesis. Reception ought to begin and end with the local Eucharistic assembly as the source and summit of ecumenical dialogue, she said.

DeBlasio spoke of how successful modern church architecture as a means of encouraging lay participation in the liturgy and beyond.

Jamieson explored the ecclesial identity of the lay catechist, whose understanding of belonging influences their ability and understanding of participation.

CTS President Bill Portier closed the seminar, stating that consultation needs to be formalized in canonical structure, as does the presence and reality of lay ecclesial ministry. He urged those present to continue the good work of the Church in the meantime, stopping in at the sacramental way stations that God provides for his pilgrim people, as they follow their proper vocation, through full, conscious, and active participation in the mission of the Church.

The CTS was founded in 1954 as a professional association for lay and religious university professors of theology, and today counts 900 members, including several Lay Centre alumni and residents.

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Alumni mark 30th anniversary, dialogue about future

By A.J. Boyd

ROME — As part of The Lay Centre’s 30th-anniversary celebrations during this Holy Year of Mercy, three interwoven events in July — an alumni reunion, an academic seminar and a pilgrimage — highlighted the past, present, and future of The Lay Centre.

The Alumni Reunion, from 3 to 5 July, gathered 20 current and former Lay Centre community members. They visited the current and previous Lay Centre residences in Rome, shared stories from the past, and engaged in dialogue about the future of the community.

The alumni first visited the Collegio Innocenziano and the Palazzo Pamphilj on Piazza Navona, where The Lay Centre opened in 1986, under the protective oversight of the Ladies of Bethany, who operated their ecumenical guesthouse, Foyer Unitas, there.

Continuing the historical tour, alumni visited the Pontifical Irish College, where The Lay Centre community resided, from 2001 to 2009, in what is now the Villa Irlanda guesthouse. The current rector, Msgr. Ciarán O’Carroll, presided at a Eucharistic liturgy in the college chapel and offered a generous reception to welcome the alumni back to their previous home.

Irish College

Alumni visiting the Pontifical Irish College

After an introduction to the Caelian Hill site on the grounds of the Passionist monastery — the current Lay Centre location — the heart of the reunion got underway with storytelling, sharing about the strengths and weaknesses of the community and its programs, and visioning for the future.

What emerged is that alumni with the strongest connection to The Lay Centre have often been those who came expressly looking for intentional community — a home in Rome — and gave the most to community life, whether officially or unofficially. In every case, the theme of community as the very essence of The Lay Centre repeatedly came forward, even in calls to consider more lasting ties and identity beyond the normal student experience.

The heart of The Lay Centre’s mission and identity has always been to offer an intentional Catholic Christian community of prayer, fellowship, and formation for scholars and students engaged at the Roman pontifical universities. Marked by a charism of ecumenical and interreligious hospitality learned from the Ladies of Bethany during the years at Foyer Unitas, nearly 270 people have called The Lay Centre “home” in the past 30 years.

Immediately following, from 6 to 9 July, most of the alumni remained to participate in an academic seminar, “Full, Conscious, and Active: Lay Participation in the Church’s Dialogue with the World,” co-sponsored by the College Theology Society. Read more about the seminar here.

The third part of the anniversary series was a pilgrimage through Rome on the theme “God’s Mercy Endures Forever,” from 10 to 15 July. Read more about the pilgrimage here.

Participants at the Alumni Reunion included:

Donna Orsuto, 1986-2016

Riekie van Velzen, 1986-2016

Lynda Robitaille, 1986-1989; 1991-1992

Claudia Kock, 1991-2001; 2009-2010

Jim Keating, 1993-1995

Sandra Keating, 1993-1995

Dianne Traflet, 1993; 1995-1997

Catherine Stevenson, 1994-1995

Lisa Buratti, 1996-1997; 2001

Stephan Kampowski, 2000-2006

Robert White, 2003-2012

Andrew (A.J.) Boyd, 2009-2013; 2016

Anna Surrey, 2009-2011

Doyen Nguyen, 2010-2011
Filipe Domingues, 2012-2016

Linda Taggart, 2012-2013

Rebecca Cohen, 2013-2016

Hansol Goo, 2014-2016

Michael Canaris, 2014-2015
Visiting around the reunion:
Stian Heggedal, 2009
Eveline van der Ham, 2009-2010

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