Pontifical schools also addressing needs of laity

“The kind of society we want tomorrow depends on the higher education that we have today,” said Father Friedrich Bechina, FSO. The Undersecretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican joined The Lay Centre community for weekly Mass and supper Nov. 9.

He spoke with The Lay Centre community about the goals and purpose of Catholic education.


Father Friedrich Bechina, FSO, with The Lay Centre students

 “The universality of the Catholic Church allows us to have a more integral approach to education,” he said.

The church also has in its possession an incredible opportunity to learn together, with its global network of schools, he said. Currently, there are 214,000 Catholic schools in the world with 60 million students, including schools for people in difficult situations, such as in refugee camps, that typically would not have access to good education.  

By spreading the gift of education to those who desire it, the Church is able “to steer and fuse” a path filled with “fulfillment served for the common good,” never ceasing to shape and to transform the world into a more just place.

Rome, in particular, has a very specific role to play in the pursuit of these quests, he said. The Eternal City is a hub, where students of diverse countries come together with the aim of expanding their knowledge and faith. Father Bechina said the mission of pontifical universities of Rome is being constantly revaluated, based on the general changes and trends in higher education, but also based on developments in vocations and religious life.

“More and more we have lay students like you (at The Lay Centre), coming to Rome, looking for a integral formation,” he said. “Even if sometimes there are difficulties, more bishops are requiring better qualifications from the laity. The pontifical system has to address that as well.”

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The Lay centre #GivingTuesday



Dear Friends,

This year, on Tuesday, November 29, The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas is participating in #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving.

For the past 30 years, The Lay Centre has been forming lay Catholics in the faith, as well as in two important areas for our time — ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

I invite you to support The Lay Centre mission of formation on #GivingTuesday, especially of young international lay students, for a future of service and leadership in the Church and in society.

Pope Francis has confirmed the importance of the laity, saying,

“The future of the Church … calls for a much more

active engagement on the part of the laity.”

Lend your support to The Lay Centre this #GivingTuesday, Nov. 29.

Please click this link to the NCCF website, where you will find “Friends of The Lay Centre Fund” listed under “Gift Designation.”

Thank you for making a contribution to The Lay Centre this #GivingTuesday. 

We are grateful for your support.

Donna Orsuto

Director, The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas


To make gifts online in U.S. dollars, simply go to the NCCF website, where you will find “Friends of The Lay Centre Fund” listed under “Gift Designation”.

Gifts made by check in U.S. dollars should be made payable to “NCCF/Friends of The Lay Centre” and mailed to: The National Catholic Community Foundation, 1321 Generals Highway – Suite 202, Crownsville MD 21032, U.S.A.

If you would also like to donate your time and talent, please contact us at: info@laycentre.org

Thank you for your support.

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Interview with Fr. James Martin, SJ

The Lay Centre is pleased to welcome Jesuit Father James Martin December 1. The best-selling author agreed to a brief interview with The Lay Centre, ahead of his lecture on the theme, “Encountering the Real Jesus: Understanding the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith.”


Father James Martin, SJ (photo by Nutopia)

Lay Centre: What is bringing you to Rome at the start of December?

Father Martin: Other than the talk at The Lay Centre, which I’m very much looking forward to, I’ve helped to arrange a screening of Martin Scorsese’s new film, “Silence,” for the Jesuits in Rome during the week. Also, I’m meeting with some Jesuits and Vatican friends to catch up a bit. I don’t know Rome very well, so it’s always very exciting for me to visit.

Lay Centre: Focusing on the theme you will be addressing during your lecture at The Lay Centre, what are the three biggest challenges to inviting people to encounter Christ today?

Father Martin: First, a general unfamiliarity with the Gospels. One of the primary ways we meet Jesus is through the New Testament, but even many devout Catholics may be unfamiliar with the Gospels. So that is a definite barrier, at least for Catholics.

Second, many people tend to see Jesus through the lens of the church, and so if their church — whatever denomination it may be — does something that they disagree with, they may feel distanced from Jesus. It’s very unfortunate.

Third, secularization means that many people are very suspicious of the “supernatural,” and so things like Jesus’ miracles, for example, are not accepted or appreciated. That is, an overly rational mindset means that some people are not willing to meet Jesus the Miracle Worker, or Jesus the Risen One. Essentially, the miracles and the Resurrection, which are absolutely essential to understanding him, and therefore encountering him, are set aside.

Lay Centre: The title of your talk, “Encountering the Real Jesus,” seems to suggest there is a “fake Jesus” out there as well. Who is the “fake Jesus” people may be confused by?

Father Martin: The “fake Jesus” is, you might say, the one who is only divine, or only human. In my book Jesus: A Pilgrimage, I try to remind people that we need to reflect on both his humanity and his divinity. Too often Jesus is seen as only human. That makes him a man pretending to be God. Or he is seen as only divine. That makes him God pretending to be a man. Many people — believers and otherwise — tend to gravitate to only one of his “natures.”

Interestingly, the “fake Jesus” is the one that the Early Church was so intent on avoiding, by constantly reminding people to keep in tension both of his “natures.”

Lay Centre: Who is the “real Jesus” and how might people encounter him?

Father Martin: The real Jesus is the fully human, fully divine one. The one who not only spent time walking the landscape of the first-century world and lived an earthy human life, but the one who performed miracles, rose from the dead and is present to us through the Spirit. We can encounter him in many ways. First, through the Gospels, by coming to know his story. Second, through prayer, through the sacraments and through the Eucharist. And, third, through our companionship and friendship with our fellow human beings, especially the poor.

Remember, he’s risen and alive to us through the Spirit. So he is “encounterable.” As Jesuits like to say, we can “find God in all things.” We can do the same with Jesus.

Lay Centre: How important is the experience of community in encountering the “real Jesus”?

Father Martin: It’s essential. Remember, Jesus called together a group of Apostles. We tend to overlook this, but Jesus could have just as easily — if he wanted to — called a single person to help him, for example, Peter. Instead he called together a group of people. Why? One reason may have been that he needed a group around him — Jesus was human, after all, and needed companionship and support. Another reason is that Jesus understood that the Apostles and the disciples needed one another. They needed one another both during his earthly ministry, and after his earthly ministry was complete.

We are naturally social beings. And so it is for us. We find Jesus in the midst of community. What does that mean, practically? We find him in our church communities, in our groups of friends, and in those with whom we minister. It also means that we are called to worship together, not simply alone in our rooms. We pray in our rooms with the doors closed, but we also pray in churches with the doors open.

And as a friend of mine once said, “There’s a reason all those stories about the Holy Spirit happen to groups!”

Lay Centre: What have you observed of the millennial generation and their relationship with Jesus? How interested are they in encountering Christ and what challenges do they face in embracing him as Savior?

Father Martin: There are as many ways for them to encounter Jesus, as there are for generations ahead of them. Some millennials reach him through community service, some through theological study, some through campus retreats, some through communal worship, and so on.  Just like their parents and grandparents did. But I do sense that one thing very important to them is authenticity. They are, as far as I can see, particularly interested in religious communities and leaders who are authentic. This is one reason I think Pope Francis speaks to them so clearly. Those who are in authority who do not seem to embody Christian values of love, mercy and forgiveness — from any Christian denomination — tend not to be listened to by millennials.

And they are, to answer your question, desperate to encounter Jesus. So much of their lives today is in flux, is confusing, is changing, and they long for some place of security and comfort. Now, we know that Jesus doesn’t simply offer us comfort — he encourages us to shake things up as well. But in my experience millennials are looking to be centered, and centered on Christ.

The millennial generation could be one of the most fruitful of all Christian generations because they accept Jesus on their own terms. That is, they come to him in a highly personal way — different from older Christians, who may come from a strong Christian family where acceptance of Jesus is a given, and different from someone who comes to him because that’s what they’re expected to do. And in coming to him on their own terms, Jesus makes a stronger claim on the millennials. Thus, their faith is more of a personal decision, and therefore a stronger one.

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Robert White defends his doctoral thesis at the Pontifical Gregorian University


Riekie Van Velzen, Robert White and Donna Orsuto

On Thursday, 10 November, our good friend, alumnus  and co-worker Robert White had his doctoral defense in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. With a thesis entitled, “Gregory the Great and the Councils of the Church: Shaping of the Tradition”, Robert successfully concluded his research after years of hard work. He has dedicated the last decade to studying, teaching and serving the Church in many different positions as a Theologian, professor and through his love to History and Arts.

In his thesis, Robert reflects on the papacy and on Pope Gregory the Great‘s legacy to the Church through the lens of remarkable theologians of our times, including Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI).

Many of Robert’s friends, his mother, JoAnn White, and several Lay Centre residents attended the defense. Guests included Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, with whom Robert collaborated in recent years.


The Lay Centre hosted a festive reception after the defense, recalling with gratitude also the years in which Robert lived here as a student and worked as assistant Assistant Director.

Congratulations, Robert!

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Being church in the centre of Rome

By Julianne Calzonetti

On All Soul’s Day, The Lay Centre community had its weekly Mass and dinner with Father Angello Stoia, pastor of the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, a beautiful church in the historic centre of Rome.

The day’s reading was from the Gospel of John:

“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me… For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (Jn 6: 37, 40).

Father Stoia spoke in his homily of the natural fear many people have of dying. However, he said, people need not have this fear for Christ conquered death and promised eternal life.


Welcoming Fr Agnello Stoia, OFM.Conv. to The Lay Centre

After dinner, Lay Centre residents had an interesting discussion with Father Stoia about the historic centre of Rome, its history and community life.

The centre of Rome is sought after by tourists, with its hotels, pizza restaurants and ice cream shops as far as the eye can see. This relatively modern phenomenon has turned what was once a community into a place that accommodates visitors, presenting the challenge of how to create a society, he said.

Rome has many hurdles to overcome because, just as it was in the time of Augustus, the historic centre is continuously under the pressure exerted by people and developments that want to conquer it, he said.

In such a context, Father Stoia said Christians must continue to embrace the people, to evangelize, and to help in creating an identity for the community. We must never cease to sow seeds, he said, because we never know where they will begin to grow.

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Islamic studies scholar visits The Lay Centre

By Julianne Calzonetti

Arriving just as Rome felt the tremors of an earthquake that struck near Norcia, Father Christopher Clohessy quickly made an impact! The South African priest is a lecturer at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI), where he lectures on various topics in Islamic thought, particularly Shi’a Islam. Filled with passion for the life he leads, his words at Mass and dinner at The Lay Centre Oct. 26 inspired his listeners.

Due to the safety precautions that had to be taken because of the earthquake, Mass was celebrated on the main floor of The Lay Centre as opposed to the upstairs chapel. It was an hour that provided peace and comfort, especially to those who have family close to the affected area. The Gospel reading was Luke 13:22-30, in which Jesus speaks of the narrow door.

“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to… Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (Lk 13:22, 30).


Father Christopher Clohessy

The path to God is not an easy one, and at times it can seem filled with trials, tribulations, and temptations, said Father Clohessy in his homily. Yet it is this same path that produces only the most marvelous joys and love, because it is God’s path, and the path to eternal life, he continued. When we can remember this, it is then that we continue on in confidence and faith, filled with the hope that lies ahead, he said.

After Mass and dinner, Father Clohessy spoke about his experiences with inter-religious dialogue. He said students at PISAI are required to learn Arabic, which is necessary to understand the texts studied. He said without knowing Arabic, students would only read an interpretation of the religious texts, rather than the texts in their original language.

Father Clohessy and Lay Centre residents also spoke of the challenges inter-religious dialogue presents. Such dialogue, he said, requires mutual willingness to communicate. The desire to create a fraternal community must be shared, he said.

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Interreligious Pilgrimage to the Holy Door

The Jubilee of Mercy was formally declared through the papal bull Misericordiæ Vultus, issued on April 11, 2015, which emphasizes the importance of mercy and the need to ‘gaze’ on it; the bull also recalls the need for the Church to be more open, keeping alive the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.


The holy doors of the major basilicas of Rome were opened, and special ‘Doors of Mercy’ were opened at cathedrals and other major churches around the world. By passing through the holy doors, the faithful can earn indulgences after fulfilling the usual conditions of prayer for the pope’s intentions, confession, and detachment from sin, and communion. 

In the bull, Pope Francis states about the opening of the holy door, “the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope”.

On November 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, will be the closing of the holy door in St. Peter’s Basilica and the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy.

We are pleased to invite you to the Interreligious Pilgrimage to the Holy Door that will take place Friday 18 november 2016 at 5pm (departure from Castel Sant’Angelo). This is an initiative of SEDOS (Service of Documentation and Studies on Global Mission).


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