Spotlight: Community and a supportive environment conducive to study

Susan Mulheron hails from Minnesota in the United States. A canon lawyer, she works as the chancellor for canonical affairs for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Susan is residing at The Lay Centre this term thanks to Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, who gave her permission to spend one semester in Rome to begin work on a doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. He recommended that she stay at The Lay Centre, which he described as “a very supportive environment.”

“I followed my archbishop’s advice and I’m so glad that I did! He was absolutely right about The Lay Centre,” she said. “I walked right into a wonderful community of friends with all of the comforts of home. People were welcoming and very helpful in getting me acclimated to Rome and ready to begin my studies. There is a very intentional community life here that is an anchor, especially when you are working long days. I can’t recommend The Lay Centre enough.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Lay Centre organizes class on Global Christianity for University of St. Thomas

The Lay Centre was delighted to welcome students from the University of St. Thomas Rome CORE Semester Program for a course, Global Christianity. Donna Orsuto gave theological lectures both in and outside the classroom, and was joined by other experts for site visits that widened the students’ horizons and enhanced their understanding of Christianity.

The Lay Centre also engaged the students in a project about migrants and refugees. They met refugees firsthand, learned about the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, the Missionaries of Charity. They also volunteered at the Caritas Project for unaccompanied minors.

In addition, The Lay Centre also organized opportunities for dialogue on related topics, inviting friends from the diplomatic service, the Vatican Curia, and various agencies, in order to make the students’ time in Rome as meaningful as possible.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Interfaith Café

In line with The Lay Centre’s mission to promote interreligious dialogue, the Interfaith Café has flourished as part of a yearlong program, supported by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Angelicum’s John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue. The Interfaith Café is aimed at introducing a broad range of interfaith topics to the Roman community, especially young adults, through discussion with experts.

In October, about 40 students and friends gathered for the first Interfaith Café on the theme, “Religion in Dialogue: From Local to Political.” Victoria Martin, a Spanish journalist and press officer for the Group of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, and Fearghas O’Beara, who coordinates the European Parliament’s official dialogue with churches, as well as with religious and non-confessional organizations, led the discussion.

Professor Tamara Sonn, who is currently living at The Lay Centre while teaching an intensive course at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome, led the second Interfaith Café on Dec. 5. She holds the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair in the History of Islam at Georgetown University. She gave a survey of the history of Muslim-Christian relations in order to help listeners understand why Islamophobia appears to be growing in the West.

The Interfaith Café series will continue through spring 2018, and will focus on the work of the laity, as well as the role of institutions in interreligious dialogue.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thank you for your support


I am pleased to say that many of you chose to give support to The Lay Centre on #GivingTuesday.

Through online donations and messages of encouragement, I was very touched by the outpouring of your emails and the generosity of your gifts.

Please be assured of the prayers of all of us at The Lay Centre as we give thanks for all of you. Your support will enable us to continue the formation programs we offer for the laity and the activities we organize to promote ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, both locally and internationally.

I want you all to know how profoundly grateful we are for your continued friendship.

Donna Orsuto – Director of The Lay Centre


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A great opportunity to ‘begin again’

By Donna Orsuto

ADVENT is upon us once again. A great opportunity to “begin again,” to launch into a new liturgical year with joy. The first Advent candle, flickering in the darkness, invites us to embrace the light that is Christ.

Advent is a time of preparing—preparing surely to celebrate the Birth of Christ with our family and friends, but also preparing a space for Christ to enter into our hearts in the here and now, as well as for that day when we will meet Him face to face.

One poem that captures the paradox of the Advent season is Mary Oliver’s poem, “Making the House Ready for the Lord”:


By Mary Oliver
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice –it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances –but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And I still believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

Making the House Ready: celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation

In the Catholic Church, one way of “making the house ready” is to take time to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance, Confession). In Rome, an Advent initiative at the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere offers a beautiful and reflective space to do just that. Edmund Power, OSB, former Abbot of St. Paul outside the Walls, will be available during afternoons to celebrate the sacrament.

With regard to this sacrament, I have found helpful the following reflection written many years ago by the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini:

It is not my intention here to present a pastoral study, but simply to offer a suggestion to those who, perhaps, have found themselves making their confession less and less frequently, without quite being able to establish why; and who find themselves incapable of resuming a practice, by now formalised, because of a certain inner unease, I want to offer this suggestion only because it has been helpful to me. We all propose what we have experienced to be positive.

I asked myself – or, rather, the Lord inspired me to ask – when I found it difficult to make a short and hasty confession, why not try to make it at greater length, and with greater calm? This appears paradoxical; but sometimes even paradoxes may help to get us out of a corner.

So, with another’s help, I moved from confession to what I would call a penitential dialogue…

It seems to me that it is, above all, a dialogue with a brother who represents the Church: a priest, therefore, in whom I recognise God’s immediate representative; a dialogue carried out in prayer together, during which I put forward what I feel within me, at this moment: I present myself, as I am, before the Church and before God. Recognising what brings joy. 

To my mind, this dialogue includes two essential parts: the first one, which I call “confession laudis”, that is, confession according to the original sense of the word. Here again, we start off with a paradox: if it is so difficult and uncomfortable each time to say my sins, why not begin with good deeds? Saint Ignatius himself recommends it in the Exercises, taking thanksgiving as the first point: Lord, I want, first of all, to thank you for helping me, because such and such a thing has happened, because I have been able to establish contact with such a one, because I feel myself to be more at peace, I have got over a difficult moment, I can pray better. Thanking God for what I am, for his gift, in the form of a dialogue, a prayer, giving praise; recognising before God what, at this time, gives me joy; I am happy with such and such a thing, whether past or present.

It is important that these things come out before the Lord: recognition of his goodness towards us, of his power, of his mercy. Recognising what makes me ill at ease.  Having done this, you can move on to a “confessio vitae” which I would define as follows: rather than a seeking and enumerating of formal sins, it is saying before God that which now makes me ill at ease, whatever I would like to do away with in my life. Frequently, they are more attitudes or ways of being, rather than formal sins; but in the final analysis, the causes are the twelve attitudes listed by St. Mark: pride, envy, cupidity that come out in these states of soul. Or rather I will say before God: I regret not being able to speak sincerely with such a person, my relationship with such a group is not authentic, I do not know where to begin. I regret not being able to pray, I feel ill at ease in the grip of my sensuality, of those desires that I would rather be without, these images that haunt me. I may not have any particular sin to confess, but I place myself before the Lord and ask him to heal me. It is not a matter of placing three or four sins on the table, so that they may be wiped out, but rather of a baptismal immersion in the power of the Spirit: Lord, purify me, guide me, enlighten me.

I do not only ask, in this confession, that such and such a sin be obliterated, but that my heart be changed, that there be less heaviness in me, less sadness, less scepticism, less pride. Perhaps I do not know where to begin, but I put all of this in the power of the crucified and risen One by the power of the Church. Out of this emerges a prayer that you can make together with the priest: you may like to recite a psalm, a thanksgiving or petitionary prayer from the Bible, or even a spontaneous prayer, upon which the sacramental absolution comes down like a showing forth of God’s power that I am seeking, precisely because I am incapable of making progress all on my own, I place myself once more at the foot of the cross, under that power that baptised me, so that it may, once again, take me in hand. 

A penitential dialogue 

Here is what I mean by a penitential dialogue: it is not just a psychological dialogue, or a kind of therapy. It is not necessary for the confessor to reveal to me the secret sources of my faults: that can be done equally with a specialist of the human heart, but even if the confessor does not know much about the human heart, he can still pray for me, over me, with me. It is a matter of submitting myself to the power of the Church and thereby rediscovering the value of the sacrament. I am going to make a confession not in order to experience something interesting, nor to see what advice I will be given, but because I am the one who needs to submit him/herself to the power of God; and that is enough for me, brings me joy and peace. 

This, then, is the suggestion that I wanted to make to you – with its many possible variations. It is obvious that a confession, made in this way, can last a long time; but we face it the more willingly because we can see what it means in terms of our journey towards God. To each one of us the Lord will probably have suggested other forms, forms that can also be usefully communicated as experiences, because they will be of help to others.

Wishing all of you a fruitful Advent, where each of us can say to the Lord, in so many different ways, “Come, and come quickly.”

Donna Orsuto is the director of The Lay Centre and a professor of spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

My experience of American Thanksgiving

by Christopher Donnelly

On Nov. 23, The Lay Centre community celebrated Thanksgiving together. This American national holiday finds its origins in the celebration of the first harvest of the year. More specific stories of the holiday suggest that it originated from the first harvest celebration shared by both the Native Americans and Pilgrims. The overall motif of the festivities is, unsurprisingly, that of giving thanks to not only what we have in our lives, but also to God.

Being Irish, most of the experience I had with Thanksgiving was through its portrayal in American film and television shows. While I was aware that the holiday was celebrated through a large meal involving a turkey each November, I knew very little else about its origins or any other festivities that took place on the day. I was not alone in this regard as many in The Lay Centre community come from countries that are unfamiliar with Thanksgiving. However, Susan, Alex and Samantha (our three American students) were incredibly excited to help us celebrate Thanksgiving in Rome as faithfully as possible; and in this endeavour they succeeded!

The festivities began at 6:30 p.m., with some aperitifs in the dining room, which had been beautifully decorated during the afternoon resulting in a warm, friendly and autumnal feel to the room. Alongside the regular selection of beverages was a festive apple and bourbon punch that was reminiscent of cold winter days at home, despite our being in Rome. Keeping the guests entertained while we waited for the hallmark Thanksgiving dinner were a number of Thanksgiving and American-inspired activities. The final touch to top everything off was the projection of the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” and games of “American Football” on the rear wall of the room, both traditionally watched by Americans before, during and after the Thanksgiving meal.

We were then provided a short explanation of Thanksgiving and various traditions associated with the holiday, followed by a prayer of thanks read out by each of our American students and guests, in addition to a hymn sung by all in attendance. Immediately afterwards we came to what was arguably the main event, the Thanksgiving dinner, lovingly prepared by our wonderful chefs at The Lay Centre: Andrea, Laura and Sandro. On the menu were sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, sweetcorn, macaroni and cheese, and of course, turkey with stuffing, complimented with gravy and cranberry sauce. To finish our meal, we had some freshly baked apple tarts and pumpkin pie, alongside conversations and fun that lasted long into the evening.

Personally, Thanksgiving was a welcome experience, though unusual as it combined elements of other holidays which I was not used to seeing together. On the one hand, the autumnal feel of the celebrations alongside food such as pumpkin pie was very reminiscent of late October and Halloween in Ireland. On the other hand, the main course of roast, stuffed Turkey was identical to a traditional Christmas dinner. However, what was truly unique about Thanksgiving was the act of giving thanks itself. During our meal, everyone at our table shared something they were thankful for in their lives, an experience that was completely new to me. Overall, my experience of Thanksgiving was a warm and heartfelt celebration, one that I will remember (and miss!) when I return home.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Serving the ‘peripheries’ is crucial, says JRS director

by Samantha Lin

The Lay Centre welcomed Father Thomas Smolich, SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Service, for the final Vincent Pallotti Institute fall lecture Nov. 23. Father Smolich focused on the “peripheries in our cities,” namely the refugees and migrants who live on the margins of society.

Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, and members of the Carmelite Evangelization and Mission Commission also attended the last session in the VPI series. The more than 40 guests filled the conference hall with a positive and welcoming spirit.

(Left to right): Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, Donna Orsuto, and Father Thomas H. Smolich, SJ

Father Smolich described “the classic urban experience” in Rome. Within a few days of moving to Rome, he was stopped on the street by a man from Cape Verde who gave him two small wooden turtles in celebration of the birth of his son. They had a short conversation and then the man asked for a donation for his son. This scene replays constantly in Rome.

“A migrant from Cape Verde (is) hustling little animals to make a living,” said Father Smolich. “How we respond to this group is crucial.”

He said a majority of refugees and displaced people — about 40 million — live in cities worldwide, not in camps. In Rome alone, there are 9,000 homeless people; about 40 per cent of the non-native Roman population is from Africa and Asia. These two figures overlap and it is impossible to give an accurate number, he said.

“The periphery is the demarcation line between someone like me and someone not. Who is at that line?” asked Father Smolich.

“What do these 9,000 stories look like? What do these sisters and brothers have and how can we respond?” challenged Father Smolich.

He said Christians can find guidance in St. Ignatius’ mystical experience of encountering Christ, especially in those who are on the periphery. This mystical encounter motivated Ignatius to change the world. When he lived in a hospital with the sick in Loyola, Spain, rather than with his family, Ignatius described the experience as living among Christ. And, in a later vision of Christ crucified, Ignatius understood the call to stop crucifying Christ and to take him down from the cross.

“This is crucial to how we respond to the peripheries,” said Father Smolich.

Christians are called to stop crucifying the refugees, and to welcome them, to take them down from the cross. It is through the mystical experience of Christ and by encountering Christ in refugees that Christians are called to minister to the peripheries, he said.

Learn more about the work of Jesuit Refugee Service and the Centro Astalli, the branch of Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome, here.

To watch the lecture, click here: First PartSecond Part

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment