By Heather Walker
ROME — On the journey toward Christian unity, Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, has aptly noted, “We cannot undo the history of separation, but it can become part of our history of reconciliation.”
His statement is pertinent to this decade, when the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity are commemorating the historical events pertaining to Martin Luther, culminating with the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030.
The Lay Centre’s ecumenical charism
In 1986, The Lay Centre’s founders, Donna Orsuto and Riekie van Velzen, committed to continuing the charism of ecumenical hospitality and dialogue fostered by the Ladies of Bethany, an order of Dutch nuns, who carried out this charism for decades from their guesthouse in Rome, called the Casa Foyer Unitas. The Casa Foyer Unitas, located in the Collegio Innocenziano in Piazza Navona, played in important role during the Second Vatican Council, hosting ecumenical observers who met weekly in the neighbouring Centro Pro Unione for debriefings with Council Fathers and special consultors.
Today, The Lay Centre continues to take care of the torch that was passed on by the Ladies of Bethany, heeding the invitation to “fan into the flame the gift of God that is within you” (2 Tim 1:6), for it is only by rekindling this gift that the “hearth of unity” will flourish.
This year, The Lay Centre will hold a special eight-day prayer journey for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18-25, which will offer reflections on the year’s theme, “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5-9). Each reflection will focus on a particular biblical citation, proposed for that day, by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Daily citations are found in this document, starting on page 6.
The initiative is part of a wider "Lay Centre Alumni & Friends Project,” which seeks to pool ideas, knowledge and expertise, build the alumni community, and create an effective outreach. Since each year, for 35 years, The Lay Centre has hosted a community of scholars, the alumni now number several hundred, and they all “have their own call to unity within diversity.”
We are grateful to our alumni and friends from around the world who agreed to contribute to our eight-day journey of prayer. They include:
Bishop Johann Schneider (1993-1994), who was elected in 2011 as regional bishop in the Lutheran Church in Central Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Mitteldeutschland) in the region of Halle-Wittenberg.
Rev. Lisa Buratti (1996-1997), who is a pastor in the parish of Lomma (Swedish Lutheran Church), in the Diocese of Lund and a PhD candidate in New Testament studies. She is a translator for the Swedish Bible Society for a pilot project of a new Swedish translation of the New Testament.
Rev.d Ruth Frampton (2014), who was ordained a priest for the Church of England in 2016. She ministers in parishes in six rural villages in the Benefice of Teign Valley & Haldon Hill on Dartmoor, near Exeter, England.
Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. (2018 visiting professor), who is an ordained minister for the Assemblies of God. He serves as senior professor of church history and ecumenics and as special assistant to the president for ecumenical relations at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has served on numerous bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogues, and currently co-chairs the International Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue.
Ms. Claudia Kock (1991-2001), who resides in Hamburg, Germany. She studied ancient history and patristics at the University of Kiel, Germany, at La Sapienza, Rome, and at the Augustinianum, Rome. She works as a freelance translator and author.
Dr. Dimitrios Keramidas (2009-2010), who was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He studied ecumenical theology in Greece and missiology in Rome, where he currently lives. He is an invited professor at the Pontifical University St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) and in Greek academic institutions.
Mr. Simon Billington (2020), who is an ordinand for the Church of England. He has spent most of the last three years undertaking theological study at St. Stephen's House in Oxford, where he lives with his wife and two children. He began his theological formation after a 10-year career in theatre as an actor.
Dr. Donna Orsuto, who is the co-founder of The Lay Centre and a professor of spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. She gives lectures and retreats worldwide and has authored two books and numerous articles.
If you wish to participate in the ecumenical eight-day prayer journey for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, please register here to receive the daily reflections by email starting Jan. 18.
Reading: “Hearth of Unity” published in 1996, describes the 40 years of the Foyer Unitas ecumenical centre in Rome, 1952-1992. It was founded by several Dutch nuns from the Congregation of the Ladies of Bethany, who served the cause of ecumenism by trying to make both ecclesiastical and secular Rome transparent to their visitors. They played an especially crucial role during the Second Vatican Council when they hosted members of the non-Catholic delegations.