By Elena Dini
ROME — Brazilian layman Bruno Hermes de Oliveira Santos intends to study the process of subjectivation in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius among lay people.
“My research will have a socio-anthropological approach in the hope of giving new insights about the religious phenomenon in contemporary lay society,” he said.
The 29-year-old is working on his doctoral research at the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Ignatian Spirituality Centre in Rome.
“I was completing an MA in Iberian history in Brazil and I was working on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to rediscover the role of physicality in it. While I was reading the work of St. Ignatius, I was conquered by his proposal,” he recounted on a hot summer day at The Lay Centre at the end of his first year of study in Rome.
“It became clear to me that I wanted to continue researching on this topic while, at the same time, going back to my field of study in the social sciences,” he continued. “It was not necessary to come to Rome to work on an ethnographic study with people attending the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, but I got the chance to do it and I seized it.”
Hermes de Oliveira Santos knew two professors in Brazil who did their doctoral studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). They gave him information about the possibility of pursuing his PhD internationally. His family also had a priest friend who studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“It took one year to finalize this choice that I made in communion with my family. I finally sent my proposal to the Gregorian because it was a Jesuit university with an Ignatian Spirituality Centre and I could be with the people who are trained to preach the exercises,” he said.
Hermes de Oliveira Santoswas supported in this process by his bishop of the Diocese of Guaxupé and his parish priest in Alfenas, his hometown.
In trying to organize the logistics of his studies in Rome, he reached out to the Pontifical Brazilian College that recommended he reside at The Lay Centre. So, he applied and was accepted.
He didn’t speak any Italian before coming to Rome, but he arrived at The Lay Centre last September, just in time to join students from Hebrew University for the “Buongiorno Roma” Italian-language program.
Hermes de Oliveira Santos was required to do some prerequisite coursework prior to starting his doctoral studies, which he completed this past year.
“The Lay Centre helped me so much during this stage, supporting me and offering me a space where I could share with other students, who are mostly foreigners, like I am. Although most people speak English here, and I don’t, this was not an obstacle. Here, we communicate beyond words,” he said.
Hermes de Oliveira Santos said he appreciates the daily and weekly routine at The Lay Centre, including the prayer opportunities.
“The chance to pray compline together every evening and to celebrate Mass every Wednesday helped me a lot, above all at the beginning when I was still new in the country and felt homesick. Praying with the others and having a fixed schedule made me feel more comfortable,” he said.
The diversity of religious backgrounds and the many possibilities of exchanging with other Lay Centre residents also have been important points of his experience this past year.
“I am really grateful for this chance my family offered me and thankful to all the people here at The Lay Centre who believe in my academic plans and research here in Rome. I hope I will prove worthy of their trust,” he said.