By Samantha Lin
ROME — Each spring during my time at The Lay Centre, I have looked forward to the annual five-day May seminar of the Cambridge Muslim College. This year was no different.
As a Lay Centre scholarship student responsible for organizing opportunities for interreligious dialogue at The Lay Centre, I joined The Lay Centre’s academic program coordinator Robert White in greeting the students of Cambridge Muslim College at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport.
While disappointed with the weather — the clime that day was more typical of England than of Rome — the students were enthusiastic and warm. As we were bussed to their lodging, I pointed out the Basilica of St. John Lateran and explained its role as the cathedral of Rome and the connection with Pope Francis. They were interested in why Catholics use the word “basilica,” how dioceses are organized and exactly who oversees the Diocese of Rome, since Pope Francis is at the Vatican.
Jesuit Father Felix Körner led the conversation over dinner that evening. He explained the Mass and we discussed the role of women in Catholicism and Islam, and the efforts to create more space for women as ministers in the Church and as scholars in Islam.
The next morning, the Muslim students were welcomed warmly by the Venerable English College, where they observed the Mass. The celebrant gave a homily, in which he reflected the Scripture readings and on his experience of being cared for by a Muslim woman in Jerusalem.
Afterwards, the students were greeted by the rector and members of the Venerable English College, and a thoughtful question-and-answer session about the Mass followed. The students of Cambridge Muslim College were grateful for their authentic hospitality.
The weeklong program continued with a visit with the British Ambassador to the Holy See and tours of the Vatican observatory, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Their program also included a public conference at The Lay Centre, “Witnessing to a Culture of Tenderness,” on the ways in which both Christianity and Islam teach their faithful to show compassion to people with disabilities.
Students from Cambridge Muslim College also visited the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, where they learned about the ways the Vatican sponsors interreligious dialogue and provides scholarships for non-Christian students to study for a semester in Rome. Afterwards, the students had special tickets for the Wednesday General Audience with Pope Francis.
That afternoon, the group listened to a Muslim refugee from Mali and Jesuit Father Aloysious Mowe, director of communications and Advocacy for Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), speak on Muslims and Christians working together to respond to the refugee crisis.
The refugee told the story of his journey to Rome, where he has found gainful employment at a parish. Father Mowe spoke about his work with JRS, but also his Islamic studies. He studied hadith and Arabic in Egypt, and he did his doctorate in Islamic financing, later working in Australia with an Islamic organization to provide interest-free loans to refugees who were barred by the government from receiving bank loans. The priest, whose sister converted to Islam, told two powerful stories — one personal and one professional — about Muslim-Christian relations. He said Christians and Muslims must collaborate and do things together.
As the overwhelmingly busy end of the academic year drew near, the visit of the Muslim Cambridge College was a blessing for me. God invited me, through the joy and curiosity, to step outside of my busy routine, to be present to these students and to engage with religion in a new light. I am grateful to have had the experience of walking with our Muslim brothers and sisters during their time in Rome, and I hope sincerely to one day meet them again.