ROME — A group of four students from Lehigh University, situated in Bethlehem, PA, arrived in Rome June 20 for a six week internship program at The Lay Centre. They will participate in various activities at The Lay Centre, have opportunities for interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, still finding time to visit Rome and see various historical sites. The group was accompanied by Professor Lloyd Steffen.
One of the students is Anastassiya Perevezentseva. She shared with us her experience during her first week in Rome.
The first week of my internship at The Lay Centre has flown by at a very fast pace. It seemed to me that I was just walking out of the airport, and a moment later I was waving at Pope Francis while he passed through the crowd. On the other hand, during this first week, I have already learned where the best gelato places are in the city, how to jaywalk, and how to stare at the tourists who take a bunch of selfies in front of the Colosseum. Though sometimes I still feel not fully acquainted with the city, I could confidently say that it feels Rome met me with a warm embrace.
During this week I have learned so much more about my own Catholic faith. I have been amazed by the way Pope Francis has shown us a personal example of following the teachings of the Church and “loving his neighbor as himself,” by giving a general audience with a group of young refugees.
I am very lucky to be in Rome during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and the strong emphasis on mercy is promoted not just by the Pope, but it is present outside of the Vatican as well. Almost every single church I have seen has at least a banner with the official emblem of the Holy Year. When we visited St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, I saw the tourists receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was available to them in many languages. I felt very fortunate to enter the Door of Mercy at the Vatican, the epicenter of the life of the Catholic Church, and to be able to connect in a profound way with other important historical milestones, such as the Second Vatican Council.
The unrelenting support of The Lay Centre is the reason behind our fast and smooth adaptation to living in a new city. The hospitality of the wonderful students and staff is present even in minuscule details. I had very profound conversations with the residents of the centre in this very short time. The residents are very open about communicating their faith and engaging in inter-religious dialogue, even in a very casual environment, which is one of the charming aspects of living here. The community at The Lay Centre is very accepting of visitors and makes everyone feel respected and welcomed. From the beginning of my stay I could feel how passionate the people who are related with The Lay Centre are about their studies, dialogue, and changing the world around them. Their strong belief in communication in a respectful, loving, and fruitful manner with each and every person, as well as firm determination in taking action to promote such interaction among other people from various parts of the world, is impressive. I cannot wait to see what else I will learn about the centre and about Rome next week.