After an afternoon that allowed some time to finally kick back and rest a little at my room on Piazza Farnese I had dinner at The Lay Center on Friday evening, March 11. This invitation was arranged by Michael Severance of Acton Institute, mentioned in my blogs regarding Day One and Day Two. I was also joined by Nate Bacon, the leader of our Rome team.
The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas is directed by Dr. Donna Orsuto. Originally from Ohio, Donna is the co-founder and director of the Lay Centre. She is also a Professor at the Institute of Spirituality of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. She lectures extensively and gives retreats in various parts of the world. Her most recent book is entitled Holiness (New Century Theology)'>Holiness (London: Continuum 2006). She is involved in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, having served as a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and as a member of the Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue of the Diocese of Rome. She is a well-trained theologian, a gracious servant of Christ and an insightful ecumenist.
The Lay Center (I will use the English spelling henceforth) is designed for the lay person studying in Rome at one of the Pontifical Universities, Institutes or the Athenae. It is a residential international student community. I met people at dinner from many parts of the world who were living at the Lay Center and sharing “life together” in community in a rich way. You can see in the photo that the table was nicely laid out to ensure conversation and friendship. The students who live at the Lay Center are involved in a residential formation program at the house. The Lay Center is deeply committed to helping lay women and men live this kind discernment by providing an environment which fosters an attitude of active listening, thus it is a place for lay students from around the world to live and study in Rome in an inviting and rich context. The Lay Center’s mission is to provide a program of lay formation based on the four pillars of Christian formation identified by the Church: spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Lay Center’s vision is the commitment of the leadership to hospitality and to living what they call the “Dialogue of Life.” The Center grew out of the ministry of hospitality of the Ladies of Bethany. The Ladies of Bethany were entrusted by the Vatican with the particular mission of providing lodging for non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians in Rome. The Lay Center is thus a Roman Catholic institution that provides a residence while it also runs a program that continues to build bridges of dialog with other believers in keeping with the Church’s mission. From its beginning, the Lay Center has welcomed Protestant and Orthodox Christian students into its community. Profound experiences of dialog have also included the presence of Jewish and Muslim students in recent years. The presence of these students, often at the request of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, helps to promote a “dialogue of life” in which Catholics and others interact in a multicultural, ecumenical and interreligious community where mutual respect and genuine love – rooted in faith - are the basis of a common life shared by people of good will. The evening I shared at the Lay Center included a very charming and insightful guest in residence who is an American rabbi. studying in Rome. His daughter happened to be there for the evening and the two of them added so much to the conversation.
Donna Orsuto is one of the most gracious hosts, and conversationalists, that I have met in my travels. She made you feel like you mattered to her, to God and to the Lay Center. I felt like I knew so much about her and this place in such a short period of time, the mark of a great conversationalist. I will not say much more about our conversation, since much of it related to getting acquainted, but my evening at the Lay Center was truly an oasis for my soul. I left feeling like I had experienced biblical hospitality in a most unique way. Here I experienced memorable life-changing dialog in the manner that I hope will mark my life in the future.
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This Lay Center calls to mind the rich phrase of John Paul II, “Building a civilization of love”.