WASHINGTON, D.C. — Friends of The Lay Centre gathered in Washington, D.C., Feb. 1, to mark the 30th anniversary of the institute.
The benefit evening, hosted at Georgetown Visitation, underlined the growth of The Lay Centre’s mission and its international reach these past 30 years.
Since its founding in 1986, nearly 300 postgraduate students from more than 60 countries have passed through The Lay Centre, said director Donna Orsuto in her introductory remarks.
The Lay Centre also held 180 local faith formation programs and 220 international programs over the past three decades, with a combined participation numbering about 12,000 people, she told the packed conference hall.
This year’s resident community at The Lay Centre numbers 31 scholars, from five faith traditions and representing 16 nationalities, she said.
The benefit evening began with Vespers, presided by Jesuit Father John Peck, followed by a reception and a roundtable on the theme, “Called, Gifted, Sent: Communicating the Good News to the Next Generation.”
The presenters included two alumnae of The Lay Centre and one current resident: Susan Timoney from the United States, Laura Ieraci from Canada, and Filipe Domingues from Brazil.
Ieraci, a journalist and a doctoral candidate, spoke about the traits and values of current young adult – the Millennials – and reflected on ways to evangelize this generation which surveys indicate is increasingly indifferent to religion.
Ieraci spoke of the attitudes Millennials hold toward religion, in particular the claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” their tendency to seek spiritual guidance and information about religion online, and the perception of religion in the current culture as “just another product among many to be consumed.”
To communicate the Good News to this generation, the Church must tap into this generation’s value system and communicate to them the contribution religion can make to their lives, she said, citing Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby. Fundamentally, Millennials are not looking for a good church as much as they are looking to be ministered to and cared for, she said.
Domingues, also a journalist and a graduate student in Rome, spoke of the importance of using correct “language” with young people in order to communicate effectively. “Language” is not so much words, but values and ideals, such as community, trust, faith and friendship, he said.
He spoke of the style of communication of Pope Francis as an effective model in capturing the spirit of young adults. He also spoke of the effectiveness of The Lay Centre in communicating the Good News to young adults through its residential community in Rome for lay scholars.
“Communities are intrinsically relational realities, based on trust and cooperation,” he said. “I strongly believe that empowering communities is one of the best ways to communicate a message.”
Timoney, who serves as Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, facilitated the roundtable.
“One impression I had is that Millennials would welcome opportunities to talk with other adults about living the faith and being parishioners together and their dreams for the church,” she said about the evening. About 10 young adults from in and around Washington attended the benefit.
Following the presentations, participants held discussions at their tables. They then shared their comments, reflections and questions, engaging in a brief exchange with the panel.
The Lay Centre has organized a series of events and projects in 2016 to mark the 30th anniversary. The first, held in Rome in mid-January, gathered 14 ambassadors to the Holy See for a discussion with the student residents on “Creating a Culture of Peace for the Next Generation.” Another event in July will gather alumni of The Lay Centre in Rome.