Video of talk by Vatican astronomer now available

The fascinating presentation by Vatican astronomer and Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno on the theme, “The Heavens Proclaim: Science as Worship,” is now online, thanks to the generosity of Pallottine Father Frank Donio, S.A.C., and his team at the Catholic Apostolate Center.

Brother Consolmagno, who serves as the director of the Vatican Observatory, gave the presentation at The Lay Centre’s benefit evening in Washington, D.C., on 30 January, which drew an audience of about 120 people.

Sprinkling his talk with humor and witticisms, the American Jesuit spoke about the major developments in astronomy, the contribution of the Catholic Church to the study of astronomy, and the relationship between science and faith.

While science doesn’t lead one to faith, he said, one can grow in knowledge of God and in relationship with God through scientific study.

The team of the Catholic Apostolate Center, based in Washington, recorded and edited the one-hour presentation, which includes introductory remarks by Donna Orsuto, director of The Lay Centre.

The Catholic Apostolate Center and The Lay Centre share the common mission of offering formation to develop leaders in service of the Church; both are inspired by the vision of St. Vincent Pallotti of forming active lay Catholics.

Father Donio, director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and Provincial of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, presided and preached at Vespers before Brother Consolmagno’s presentation at Georgetown Visitation.

This moment of prayer, led by Father Donio allowed, participants to centre our hearts on the “Lord of heaven and earth.”

For more information on the Catholic Apostolate Center, go to

Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ



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Welcoming the stranger: Meeting virtually, Loving virtually

Filipe Domingues speaks about human relationships in a world mediated by technology, as part of the VPI Spring Lecture Series.

As part of the Vincent Pallotti Institute Spring Lecture series on “Welcoming the Stranger,” The Lay Centre organized a morning discussion about virtual life and its consequences for human relationships.

The speakers were Jesuit Father Peter Lah, professor of communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Filipe Domingues, journalist, doctoral candidate and a Lay Centre leadership scholar. They reflected on the theme, “Meeting Virtually, Loving Virtually: Paradoxes of a disembodied life.”

“Internet has become a new basic need in our society,” said Father Lah, projecting a slide with Maslow’s pyramid of basic needs (pictured below), but adapted to include Wi-Fi and a battery.

“People use social media mainly to meet other people, to keep in touch with others or to have fun,” he said, showing statistics from several countries.

Slovenian jesuit Peter Lah is a professor of Social Communications at the Gregorian University, in Rome

Technology gives people new opportunities to “meet virtually,” he said. However, it poses new risks, too.

“Doing things through technology gives us the illusion of keeping our lives under our control. We feel safe. A playground seems more dangerous than a video game,” he said.

He warned that social media companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and others use personal information to learn about users’ daily habits and tastes and to offer products that match their consumption practices.

“These days, six in every 10 Americans get informed through social media,” he said.

Speaking on “loving virtually,” Domingues said many people worry that online relationships are not able to replace face-to-face relationships. For him, that is a minor concern.

“In our days, we cannot speak anymore of a separation between real world and virtual world. We live in one single reality that is made of physical and digital environments and we transit back and forth between them in our daily lives,” he said.

Citing sociologist Barry Wellman, he noted the “pervasive” adoption of smartphones and the fact that people do not “access” internet anymore. Rather, they live a great deal of their lives online.

Domingues also cited new media scholar Sherry Turkle, who speaks of the dangers of online relationships, namely how people maintain both closeness and distance at the same time. People have “the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” she argues. In short, she describes people engaged in online communication as being “alone together.”

Domingues said he believes the real question to ask now is: how can mediation complement face-to-face relations and vice versa? Human relationships are always problematic and difficult to sustain, he said. On the one hand, social media makes it easier to meet people. On the other hand, it is more difficult to deepen and maintain bonds of friendship and dialogue.

The same dynamic has been observed in the current mega-trend of worldwide migration, he said. Smartphones and social media are helping people to migrate: they allow migrants to find relatives they are looking for; to keep informed about conditions on their route and at their destination; and to keep in touch with their families and people they left behind. Refugees can spend up to one-third of their disposable income on staying connected.

In extremely mediated times, Domingues said, people must find new ways to encounter the other, the one who is different. The digital environment requires a new ethics of hospitality, he said.

Domingues cited the late media scholar Roger Silverstone, who proposed that in the real and pluralistic “mediapolis” in which we live, people always have something in common with the other. It is necessary to acknowledge differences and similarities, but also to keep a “proper distance.”

“Only then we can offer resources of judgment and reflexivity,” Silverstone claimed.

According to Domingues, it is hard to practice hospitality on the internet, because it is an open space, without a home and a host. In Silverstone’s words, there is still a need for broadcasting and for the “meaningful and effective exercise of individual and institutional responsibility.” This is possible only if people give a place to the other in their lives and in society.

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The youthful church in Iraq

by Tommaso Bacci

The Lay Centre student community was pleased to host its first intercultural evening of the year on 28 February. It was the first in a series of events that aim to enrich the community through the unique cultural diversity of The Lay Centre.

Two Iraqi students from Ankawa (Erbil), Lina Gelyana and Sana Rofo, both studying for master’s degrees in psychology at the Pontifical Salesian University, organized the inaugural evening. Our Iraqi friends shared a presentation entitled “The Contribution of Young People in the Archdiocese of Erbil”. Since Archbishop Bashar Matti Wardah of Erbil decided to devote energy and resources to youth ministry, Lina and Sana have been heavily involved.

Lina S. Glyana during her presentation

By looking at the Church of Ankawa in the Archdiocese of Erbil, which resembles the shape of a “ziggurat,” it is possible to understand one important characteristic of this Christian population: a strong bond with their land and an enormous historical background.

Ankawa is a majority Christian city and this deeply-rooted and historic Christian community has a vibrant pastoral life, demonstrated through the many services that the youth provide, such as: teaching catechism, hosting Aramaic language classes, organizing youth meetings, such as the “Ankawa Youth Meeting” in 2013, which coincided with World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, running charity activities, welcoming and resettling refugees, and fundraising. For more, here you can watch the incredible effort of the young people of Ankawa, who worked together with their bishop to make the new cathedral available for Christmas night.

Sana Z. Rofo during her presentation

Thanks to Lina and Sana for introducing the community of The Lay Centre to this wonderful ecclesial experience that is the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil.

Our next intercultural night will be on 14 March. Student resident Christos Delaportas from Greece will speak about Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church.

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New book takes ecumenical approach to evangelization


By Laura Ieraci

Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars, representing different church traditions, reflect on the future of Christianity and evangelization in Europe in a new book, titled “Sharing Good News: Handbook on Evangelism in Europe.”

The book was launched at the Ecumenical Centre of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva in early February.

According to a WCC press release, the book witnesses to a “renewed interest in evangelism within the ecumenical movement.”

The book is edited by Gerrit Noort, Kyriaki Avtzi and Stefan Paas; it is published by the WCC.

Noort articulates the purpose and urgency of the book project in the preface: “What it means to share Good News — within our radically changing denominational and religious European landscape — is a crucial question that requires a defined answer.”

The book’s 16 contributors include Protestant church ministers, Orthodox clergy, lay church leaders, as well as young and seasoned academics.

Donna Orsuto, director of The Lay Centre and a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, contributed two chapters that offer a Roman Catholic perspective on the topic.

The chapters she authored include, “New Paths of Evangelization in Roman Catholic Theology” and “The Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome: A Case Study from Italy.”

Book discussion on “Sharing Good News” © Ivars Kupcis/WCC (taken from

Other contributors include Orthodox Russian Father Vladimir Federov, a professor at the Russian Christian Academy for Humanities in St. Petersburg and director of the Orthodox Institute for Missiology and Ecumenism; Dimitra Koukoura, a professor of homiletics at the School of Theology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; Wonsuk Ma, a Korean Assemblies of God minister and executive director of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in Oxford; and Francis Brienen, deputy general secretary of the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom.

According to a WCC statement, the book offers readers a “contemporary” and “complete overview” of current issues regarding evangelization in Europe “in a systematic and ecumenical framework” that responds to the need “for new evangelistic paradigms relevant to the secular, multicultural and multi-religious contexts of our times.”

Click here to read a sample chapter and to learn more about the book’s contributors:


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Women at the heart of the Church

By Samantha Lin

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, Voices of Faith, a story-telling and community-building event that showcases the stories of diverse women in a wide range of fields, took place in Vatican City. In its fourth year, Voices of Faith is an initiative of the Fidel Götz Foundation in partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service and Caritas Internationalis, supported by the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, Loyola Foundation and Mary J. Donnelly Foundation.

This year, five women from The Lay Centre — three students and two staff members — attended the event, entitled “Stirring the Waters: Making the Impossible Possible,” which focused on the stories of women who have changed the status quo in extraordinary ways.

Fr Antonio Spadaro, SJ, Heather Walker (The Lay Centre Staff), Samantha Lin, Hansol Goo and Claudia Giampietro (The Lay Centre Students), Clarissa A. Oliveira (The Lay Centre Staff).

The event was moderated by the US-based CBS journalist Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson. The participants were warmly welcomed by Chantal M. Götz, managing director of the Fidel Götz Foundation. Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, delivered the opening speech, starting with the invocation: “We need to have the faith that gives the audacity to seek the impossible, as nothing is impossible for God.”

After speaking about his encounters with the incredible resilience of women in his native Venezuela, his final sentiment set the tone for the event: “But if we are honest, we acknowledge that the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived.”

The speakers of Part I more than proved Fr. Sosa’s belief that resilience makes the impossible, possible. Dr. Mirreille Twayigira, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, whose first memory is of burying her father, told a story of survival and grace that brought many audience members to tears. After years of moving from camp to camp, country to country, after losing her family members one by one, after drinking water out of rivers clogged with dead bodies, Mirreille and her grandfather settled in Malawi so she could attend Jesuit-run schools. In a surreal moment, Mirreille gestured to Fr. Sosa sitting just feet away from her, as she described her gratitude for the Jesuit education she received. In a feat of enormous personal strength, Dr. Mirreille graduated in the top six students in Malawi, received a scholarship for medical school in China and subsequently moved to China, learned Chinese and became a doctor. She is now back in Malawi working as a doctor and says she hopes her story can be an example that, if given the resources, and if they are told they are loved and that they matter, refugee children can succeed.

Dr. Mirreille Twayigira, Rwanda/Malawi

The following speakers, Syrian sisters Nagham and Shadan, were interviewed by Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson about their work teaching over 200 Syrian children with Jesuit Refugee Services before they were forced to leave. They attributed their belief that peace comes first from the inside, from your relationship with God, to their teacher, the courageous Fr. Frans van der Lugt, SJ, who was assassinated in Homs in 2014.

Stephanie Lorenzo, the founder of the non-profit PROJECT FUTURES, spoke next about her conversion from a self-centred 21-year-old to a passionate, motivated 30-something who, over the past six years, has raised $4.5 million to aid survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia. She works to change the conception that “philanthropy” is only for “people with deep pockets” and to provide resources for young professionals to turn their social networks into social responsibility. Above all, Stephanie said, she represents a generation that gets a lot of flak for being narcissistic but her experience has proven that the millennial generation has an “insatiable desire to connect.”

Scilla Elworthy, PhD, founder of the Oxford Research Group, Peace Direct and Rising Women, Rising World (UK) and Marguerite Barankitse (Burundi)

The first part of the event was brought to a close by the powerful, energetic “Mom” of the group, Marguerite Barankitse from Burundi. Since experiencing genocide as a Tutsi trying to protect her Hutsi neighbours in the early 1990s, she founded an orphanage, called Maison Shalom, for 30,000 children-victims of conflict. She does not refer to them as “orphans,” she says, but rather “princes and princesses.”

Part II of the event was a conversation among three women, Dr. Scilla Elworthy, the founder of three peace-focused organizations, Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer, whose clinic has served 50,000 victims of domestic abuse in India, and Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, the executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. The conversation was moderated by Kerry Alys Robinson, founding executive director and global ambassador of The National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, which works to introduce best business practices in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. All the panelists talked about dignity, inclusion and the special quality of women to listen.

Dr. Scilla listed the five traits of being a successful female change-maker:

1. Compassion, not just empathy, that moves one to action;

2. Radical inclusion: nobody has to be left out;

3. Listening to understand the current situation and taking an action right away;

4. “UBUNTU” or as our leadership scholar Isaias is fond of saying, “I am because we are.” Interconnectedness: we should not make decisions without thinking about the consequences to the next generations;

5. Regeneration and constant growth: using our inherent understanding of nature to help regenerate it; care for the environment.

IV Voices of Faith “Stirring the Waters – Making the Impossible Possible” 2017

For the young female Lay Centre students in the audience, the most impactful part of the conversation came when the four women talked about how to mentor and encourage young, Catholic women in the Church. Sr. Simone, who described herself as the “stomach acid in the body of Christ,” listed four virtues as an emphatic final word on being an active Catholic woman:

1. Joy;

2. Holy curiosity that leads to deep listening;

3. Sacred gossip: sharing good stories and good news to create a community and to multiply the stories;

4. Doing your part.

Meeting with Sr. Simone after the panel, she urged to never ever let yourself be sidelined, but to be the active woman that the Church may not always want, but certainly needs.

Samantha Lin (Lay Centre student), Sr Simone Campbell (executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, USA) and Flavia Agnes (a women’s rights lawyer and co-founder of the Majlis Legal Centre, India)


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Pontifical Council for Culture creates commission to hear women’s voices

Twenty-five members of the “Consulta”, with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

By Filipe Domingues

On the eve of International Women’s Day, the Pontifical Council for Culture officially announced the creation of the Consulta Femminile (or “Female Consult”). The consultative commission consists of 37 women, who have already been advising the pontifical council since June 2015.

By making the group official, it becomes a permanent commission. Although it has a strictly consultative character, the initiative is singular among Vatican dicasteries.

Its members come from different professional fields, such as journalism, nonprofit organizations, universities, government and the Church. The director of The Lay Centre, Donna Orsuto, is a member of the Consulta since its founding.

The head of the pontifical council, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, conceptualized the commission. Speaking to journalists at the Holy See Press Office on 7 March, he said the reason to create the consultative board was “not to go on the wave of recriminations that there are not enough women in managing positions in the Vatican. Nor is it a cosmetic element, or even a ‘pink quota.’ But it makes sense because I wanted to have a feminine perspective on all of the activities of our dicastery.”

Quoting the Book of Genesis, Cardinal Ravasi told journalists that God created man and woman in his own image, “male and female he created them” (1:27). Woman and man are complementary, he said.

“The relationship of a couple is generative and origin of love. Therefore, it is a definition of God,” he said.

According to the leader of the consultative group, Consuelo Corradi, pro-rector for research and international relations at Lumsa University in Rome, it is the “female difference” that gathers these 37 women together.

“There is a way of life that is typical of women. It is not an ideology,” she said, adding that  it is necessary for the Church to reflect, for example, on how to acknowledge and develop women’s presence in religions, work and the economy, and especially among young people.

The members of the Consulta gather in the Vatican three times a year to offer their thoughts and perspectives to the Pontifical Council for Culture. They offer reflections and comments on issues, such as artificial intelligence, neuroscience, sports and human anthropology.

According to a press release issued by the council, “The Consulta does not gather to speak of women. Rather, it takes to a male world a unique glimpse on contemporary society, stimulating the reflection of man on universal themes.”

For Donna Orsuto, who is also a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University and other Catholic institutes in Rome, the council’s initiative is “encouraging.” She said she believes the council is making a “concerted effort to listen to the voices of women” and she hopes to contribute in a constructive way.

“May many others follow the council’s example,” she said. “As the saying (about women) goes: ‘Nothing about us without us.'”

For more Italian press coverage on the consultative commission, go to:

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Jesuit retreat leader says the stranger is blessing

Father Corkery

By Laura Ieraci

Christians in western societies are in the position to ease people “away from fear of the other to collaboration,” said Jesuit Father James Corkery.

Father Corkery will lead The Lay Centre’s annual Lenten retreat, March 24-26, in Rome. The theme is “Walking with the Stranger.”

In an interview ahead of the retreat, Father Corkery told The Lay Centre that the Christian perspective of welcome toward the stranger is based on “God’s big dream for humanity.”

“When strangers come,” he said, “they are a blessing – and they bless.”

Read the full interview below.

For information on the retreat or to register, contact

Q. The challenge of “walking with the stranger” is as current as it is biblical. What does the Bible teach about walking with the stranger? Who is the “stranger” for a Christian?

Father Corkery: The Bible teaches that there is only one God, the Creator of all, whose salvation reaches to the ends of the earth. This is a God for all peoples and all nations; no person, no land, is beyond God’s reach. And because of this, the Bible holds, we should not be beyond each other’s reach either. Instead, we are invited to love our neighbors and welcome strangers from lands not our own.

A single human family is God’s big dream for humanity, where no one is a stranger any more and everyone is welcome to share what there is, so that life can be blessed for all.

Q. The sense of fear seems to be growing in some Western societies as they continue to become increasingly pluralistic. How can Christians and the Christian perspective help to allay these fears and even welcome this change? 

Father Corkery: Yes, there is fear when societies become increasingly pluralistic. People “from outside” are experienced as “different” and threatening – as wanting what we think is ours and changing what we think should last forever.

Christians, by remembering that all men and women are one as brothers and sisters of Jesus, ease us away from fear of the other to collaboration with the other, to rejoicing in the other, to loving the other. It can be a wonderful adventure!

The Christian perspective is a “one human family” perspective that enables us to celebrate what is different about each other and to resist everything that would keep us apart. Ultimately, it makes yesterday’s strangers today’s brothers and sisters. And who knows where it will take us tomorrow!

Q. You’ve written about “bringing God to the world” as a Jesuit. How is “walking with the stranger” “bringing God to the world” and what would it look like in the life of a layperson?

Father Corkery: Yes, when I was speaking about how Jesuit spirituality sees God “working in all things,” I said that the Jesuit’s task was to bring this “working God” to the heart of the world. What I meant was that he should show, should shed light on, how God is at work in the depths of things.

The layperson is called and able to do the same, of course, in his or her particular situation. Many people I know who are engaged with migrants and refugees – strangers in our lands today – come to recognize in their faces the hidden presence of Christ, the Stranger; and they bring this presence of Christ, detected in their “walking with the stranger,” to the heart of the world.

Q. What are some personal challenges, but also communal challenges, that Christians need to try to overcome to walk with the stranger?

Father Corkery: The key, it seems to me, for individuals and for communities, is to be able to see that when strangers come, they are a blessing – and they bless. Suspicion of, hostility towards and a sense of being burdened by the advent of strangers often grip persons and nations, leading to policies of exclusion and rejection: “Take them away; they are not like us.”

I am Irish and I’ve even seen this in my own country, so many of whose people have been welcomed in other lands. So here I think back on the challenge of a Celtic prayer that sees the stranger as a blessing and imagines us being blessed by the stranger rather than the other way around.

Of the stranger, the final lines of the prayer say: “He blessed myself and my house, my cattle and my dear ones; and the lark said in her song, often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.” Now to see things like this is a challenge – and a blessing

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