Young biblical scholar forges path to academic career

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Young biblical scholar forges path to academic career

By Heather Walker

ROME — Tommaso Bacci came to Rome from the Italian town of Prato, north of Florence, to study philosophy and theology, before pursuing further study at the Pontifical Gregorian University. It was through his introductory courses in biblical Hebrew and theology at the Gregorian that he first discovered his passion for Hebrew Bible studies and its languages. This year marks Bacci’s fifth year as a scholarship student at The Lay Centre. He will marry in July and begin his doctoral studies in Biblical Hebrew in the United States in August.

Why did you choose to study the Hebrew Bible?

I chose to study the Hebrew Bible because I am interested in the way our Sacred Scripture has developed. Behind this bound book that we hold in our hands, there are ancient languages and cultures that make up the Hebrew Bible as it was transmitted to us. The effort of understanding this process and the cultural and historical context — where and when it happened — opens doors to a vast and fascinating world.  

The Lay Centre has been your home during your studies. How has the experience of living in an international and interreligious community enriched your time in Rome?  

Living at The Lay Centre has allowed me to meet and make connections with people from all over the world, whom I would never have had the chance to meet, both on an academic and personal level. Being able to translate what I am learning in the classroom and making it relevant for our fellow Lay Centre members has been great and I get to engage with different fields of study.

You were accepted into the Leadership Scholar Program at The Lay Centre: How has this been useful for your personal and professional growth?

The Leadership Scholar Program is an opportunity to grow while I study. First, the commitment to care about the common prayer and liturgical life at The Lay Centre has helped me to “bounce back” from the lexicons and critical editions I study and to focus on the members of the community I am living with in order to share meaningful moments together. Second, given the diverse and fluid nature of the community, the exercise of “tuning” our common prayer and liturgies according to the needs and gifts of the residents has been a unique experience in growing and listening to others. It allows us to provide a different kind of care or service to the community and its members.  

How did COVID affect your academic life?

I was fortunate enough that COVID didn’t disrupt my academic life too much. I was unable to go to the library and it was hard to stay focused when I was inside all day, but I finished all my coursework on time. My thesis was delayed, so I’ve been really grateful the Pontifical Biblical Institute has made a special effort to keep the library open this academic year.

I was fortunate to be able to teach a course on the prophets and the Pentateuch at the Pontifical Beda College. Due to the Italian government’s anti-COVID restrictions, I gained experience in teaching online as well as in person. The students were great and, thanks to their flexibility, I had a wonderful experience.

Honestly, I think The Lay Centre has been the best place to be in a grim situation because we weather the challenges and setbacks together. There is a lot of companionship and hope, as we face the challenges of a COVID world. I’ve been really touched by the way that everyone takes this very seriously and works to keep each other safe.

What are your plans after your studies in Rome?

After I finish my licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Biblicum, I am going to get married in July to my fiancée, Samantha Lin, whom I met at The Lay Centre. And then, in August, I am moving to the United States to study for my PhD. I am excited to be able to pursue my academic passion with some of the best professors in the world. My mentors at the Biblicum have been a huge help in getting me to this point, including connecting me with their colleagues in the U.S. Plus, through The Lay Centre, I’ve gotten used to connecting with academics from all over the world. For instance, I reached out to a few Lay Centre alumni, like Jacques Van Ruiten, who is a professor at the University of Gronignen, during a summer program I did at the University of Leiden. I’ve just made such great connections through The Lay Centre. I hope to stay connected and to support Lay Centre students, just as I have been supported.


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