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Italian language and culture program opens up to interreligious encounter

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Students from Hebrew University in Rome for the "Buongiorno, Roma!" program pose for a photo at The Lay Centre with Father Etienne Vetö, director of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Students from Hebrew University in Rome for the "Buongiorno, Roma!" program pose for a photo at The Lay Centre with Father Etienne Vetö, director of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

By Elena Dini

ROME — An opportunity to learn the Italian language and culture in Rome offered occasions for interreligious encounter and dialogue for 12 students from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

For the third year, The Lay Centre welcomed Hebrew University students for its “Buongiorno, Roma!” program. The initiative is the fruit of an ongoing collaboration between The Lay Centre and Professor Manuela Consonni of Hebrew University.Professor Consonni holds the university’s Pela and Adam Starkopf Chair in Holocaust Studies and is director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism.

For the entire month of September, the students lived at The Lay Centre and took Italian classes for four hours each morning at the Pontifical Gregorian University. They spent their afternoons immersed in the Italian culture and practiced their newly acquired language skills in the city. 

Hebrew University student Yuval Salomon said he knew his fellow “Buongiorno, Roma!” participants before the program began, but they grew in friendship over the past month of study and living in community. 

“We don’t let politics divide us, and our interactions are full of respect,” he said.

“I love Italian culture, art and music,” said Rusayla Kurd, a student of Italian and English literature at Hebrew University. In addition to the Rome-based program, Kurd was excited to visit other Italian cities on the weekends. 

Living at The Lay Centre, she added, felt “like being at home.” 

Salomon said the program exceeded his expectations.

“I learned much more than just Italian, by meeting people from all over the world and talking to them over dinner. I asked many questions about the other religions, such as Christianity and Islam,” he said, referring to his discussions other program participants and students of The Lay Centre community.

This experience of encounter and informal dialogue with people from different backgrounds was an important aspect of the program. And while some meetings were planned, most of these encounters occurred naturally. 

One evening, for instance, the group had dinner with Father Etienne Vetö, director of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Professor Maddalena Schiavo, who teaches at the centre. 

Father Vetö spoke to the students casually over dinner about the late Cardinal Augustin Bea, a pioneer in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, and the mission of the centre he directs. Of the teachers at the Cardinal Bea Centre, he said, 40 percent are Jewish, and a number of classes are taught jointly by a Jewish and a Christian instructor. 

“Catholics who lived 100 years ago would be surprised to see what we do now,” he said, referring to the advances in Jewish-Catholic dialogue. 

“Before, the idea was that there was ‘us’ and ‘all the others,’ but there was a huge shift,” said Father Vetö. “We understand now that there are so many commonalities, and we need to work together and learn from each other.” 

  

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