As The Lay Centre prepares to welcome a new group of students for the start of the academic year, we are pleased to share with you the reflection of Emil Anton, one of our former residents from Finland, who resided and studied at The Lay Centre this past year.
By Emil Anton
ROME — The Second Vatican Council describes the nature and mission of the Church as being like a sacrament, a sign and instrument of union with God and the unity of the human race (Lumen Gentium 1). I found The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas to be the perfect embodiment of precisely that. The Lay Centre is doing exactly what the Church is supposed to be doing. It is Catholic, but it is also ecumenical and interreligious, and it was the perfect place for me and my wife, Beata, to live in while in Rome, the heart of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council also talks about the universal call to holiness (LG chapter 5): not only priests, nuns and monks but also ordinary laypeople are called to sanctity. Although people in the community were obviously very different, we felt that at The Lay Centre we were surrounded by saints, ordinary holy people, beautiful examples of both Christian and human virtues: joy, humility, generosity, etc.
As one of the winners of the Karl-Schlecht-Stipend, I was able to spend four months in Rome in order to work on my doctoral dissertation on Pope Benedict XVI and interreligious dialogue. My academic contact in Rome was Father Felix Körner, S.J., a professor of the Pontifical Gregorian University, a great friend of The Lay Centre. Both he and the only other Finn to have lived at The Lay Centre, Katri Tenhunen, recommended the place to me, and both my wife and I were very happy to live in this multinational community.
As we did not have to attend any lectures at the university, The Lay Centre became our university, too: we spent most days in our room reading and writing, and we also took part in events organized by The Lay Centre, such as the Vincent Pallotti Institute lectures, “Scriptural reasoning” and “Interfaith café”. We were also able to borrow many interesting books from other Lay Centre residents, as well as The Lay Centre library, and we learned many new and inspiring things from the various visiting priests and speakers on Wednesday evenings.
For me The Lay Centre served as a means of “connecting people”. Through The Lay Centre, I was able to meet some well-known Catholic writers such as Father James Martin, S.J., from America and John L. Allen Jr. from Crux. Furthermore, without The Lay Centre I would not have known of many interesting events in Rome, such as lectures at pontifical institutes and special liturgies around Easter.
In sum, our experience at The Lay Centre was overwhelmingly positive, and we will miss many things: the beautiful music and interesting homilies at the Wednesday evening Masses, the views to the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum from the garden, the good food and the good laughs we had at our common meals. At the same time, I do not want to overromanticize our time at The Lay Centre, either: there were also challenges and some difficult moments, such as when Finland lost to Canada in the ice hockey world championship final.