The Lay Centre has three major aspects to its ministry of hospitality and formation. The first is the one most familiar to anyone reading my blog or following my studies, which is the community of students and scholars who live in the house of formation throughout the academic year (Oct-June) and who eat, pray and learn together in an ongoing dialogue of life. The second is the ongoing adult formation offered (mostly) to the English-speaking population of Rome. Theology, spirituality, church history, liturgy, art, and architecture offered by faculty of the pontifical universities and visiting scholars every Thursday morning as part of the Vincent Pallotti Institute.
The third piece of the mission is the summer seminars and retreats offered by the lay centre. During June, July, and September groups come in from around the world to spend a week in Rome. Some have their own agenda and primarily enjoy the hospitality of the Lay Centre, while others are sponsored by the Centre directly and open to anyone from around the world.
A few years ago I remember hearing about Rome’s first-ever symposium on Lay Ecclesial Ministry, and recall thinking to myself, “First? This has been going on 50 years and they are only now talking about it???” Little did I know. (One can hear about how slowly time moves in the Eternal City, but you really have to be there to appreciate it, soak it in, and start wondering what all the fuss was about back when you cared about things like deadlines, traffic laws, and absolute concepts of any kind…)
One of the programs offered this summer was the latest in the series touching on lay ecclesial ministry, but with a timely twist. In honor of the Year of the Priest, and timed to coincide with the closing festivities of the year, the theme was taken from Pope Benedict’s address to the annual convention of the diocese of Rome (given at St. John Lateran on May 26, 2009) and again later to the presbytery of Rome at the beginning of the year: “Corresponsibility of Priests and Laity”.
The unique opportunities for a program like this in Rome include access to so much of the Church’s history within walking distance, access to curia officials, access to representatives of the Church from all over the world, and of course the hospitality of the Lay Centre.
The program progressed through the centuries day by day, with an examination of key saints and their experience of “corresponsibility”. We studied St. Paul and his collaborators with Abbot Edmund Power of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls – guardians of the tomb of the great missionary and co-patron of Rome. St. Justin Martyr, a layman, buried at St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. Pope St. Gregory the Great, with his oratory of St. Andrew is literally just over the wall from my Roman home. St. Vincent Pallotti was an early modern pioneer of lay formation.
Contemporary organizations and developments we looked at included the Emmanuel Community, Sant’Egidio, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and the Union of the Catholic Apostolate. Presenters included Dr. Marian Diaz, Fr. William Henn of the Gregorian, Ms. Ana Crisitina Villa-Betancourt of the PCL, Fr. Jean Baptiste Edart of the Emmanuel Community, and John Breen of the Beda College in Rome. The participants were mostly students and (both lay and ordained) ministers from the U.S., but included one Dutch pastoral life director.
[Further Reflection to Follow]