By Elena Dini
ROME — Studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, more commonly known as the Biblicum, are both demanding and rewarding. Lay Centre scholars studying there have a personal and solid motivation to start on this path.
“Two people encouraged me to study at the Biblicum: the first was Father Silvio, the pastoral assistant at a cultural association of university students I used to be part of,” said Monica Prandi, a Lay Centre scholar. “But the real coup de grace came from a woman, a biblical scholar, Rosanna Virgili, whom I met during a conference in 2003. After 10 minutes of speaking with each other, she asked me: ‘Why don’t you study at the Biblicum?’ That question stayed with me until 2016, when I finally enrolled.”
Prandi completed her licentiate at the Biblicum a few weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown and she said she plans to pursue her PhD there.
Christopher Donnelly arrived in Rome with the plan of taking only the preparatory year of Greek and Hebrew at the Biblicum, then continuing with a doctorate back home in Ireland. “Since I completed and enjoyed the first year of the licentiate as a guest, I thought, ‘Why not just continue and get the full degree?’” he said.
Donnelly said he still dreams of pursuing a doctorate, and the Biblicum has prepared him for this next step, giving him “an invaluable toolset for biblical studies” which, in one year, has “already dramatically changed the way I engage with the biblical texts.”
Among The Lay Centre scholars studying at the Biblicum is a young, Greek Orthodox scholar, Stergiani Tapaskou. Tapaskou discovered her interest in biblical studies very early in her first year of theological studies in Thessaloniki, Greece. There, professors suggested that she study at the Biblicum. Tapaskou has enjoyed her experience in the classrooms of the Biblicum a great deal.
“I like those moments when a random question from a student can bring new little insights in understanding something that is taken for granted or even almost standardized,” she said.
Tapaskou said her experience at the Biblicum has had a lasting impact on her life.
“In the course of your studies, you are so connected to the subject of your study that you can no longer easily imagine your life without the involvement of the research process or the texts themselves,” she said.
Tommaso Bacci, a Leadership Scholar at The Lay Centre, plans to conclude his licentiate at the Biblicum by the end of the year, pursue a PhD, and teach. Living at The Lay Centre during his studies made a difference to his human and academic growth thanks to the skills he applied, the centre's connection with well-respected scholars and the scholarship he received. Furthermore, the common prayer and liturgical life at The Lay Centre “helped me to ‘bounce back’ from the lexicons and critical editions of Scripture and remember that the Bible is also the sacra pagina of my faith and confession,” he said.
Prandi echoed Bacci. The chance to live with some of her schoolmates at The Lay Centre has transformed simple moments over dinner or tea to moments “of interesting and sometimes vibrant exchange on ideas, professors, courses and issues,” she said. “The Lay Centre allowed us to discuss among ourselves, to grow academically, as well as to grow in our friendship and in the mutual support we offered each other during difficult and discouraging times.”
Photo courtesy Lay Centre scholars. This photo was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.