By Heather Walker
ROME - Monica Borsari came to Rome three years ago to study spiritual theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, after studies in philosophy and theology at the Theological Faculty of Central Italy in Florence. She discovered her passion for the Word of God, and later for studies in spirituality, through her experience of the Spiritual Exercises and through pilgrimages in biblical lands. She arrived at The Lay Centre last October and will begin doctoral studies in spiritual theology at the Gregorian this fall.
Reading your bio, your studies and work certainly took you on quite a journey: Carpi, Bologna, Brussels, Strasbourg, Florence, Rome... Tell us about your studies and your background.
Carpi, near Bologna in northern Italy, is the city where I was born and raised, famous for Piazza Martiri, one of the largest squares in Italy. It was there that I became an active member of Azione Cattolica, the oldest Italian association of lay Catholics, established in 1905. The desire to be involved in civic engagement and to make my contribution to the creation of our “common home” led me to study history and politics at the University of Bologna. After graduating in political science, I felt a strong call to build Europe. So, I left for Brussels with the dream of working in the European Parliament. My dream came true and I had an extraordinary experience, which allowed me to travel and get to know other peoples and cultures. I worked on a couple of parliamentary committees and three mixed delegations, as well as the working group on bioethics. Back in Italy, I got involved in politics and joined the municipal council of my city. I specialized in EU programs, thus putting my “European years” to good use. Various assignments then followed, always in the context of European issues.
At some point, things changed and, as you say, you thought it was time to put your life in order. What happened and what was this next phase in your life?
It is difficult to summarize what I can only call a slow, inner process. I can say that, despite the richness of all my previous experiences, something else was growing deep inside. I felt a sense of incompleteness and malaise, yet it was hard to put my finger on something specific.
The turning point came at Villa S. Giuseppe in Bologna, the Jesuit Fathers’ retreat house. There, I moved on to a sapiential approach to faith and life in general. I made my first Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and my first pilgrimage to Holy Land - two experiences that marked me indelibly and made me change gears and perspective.
The encounter with the Man-God, Jesus of Nazareth, in the Word, prayed and experienced in His land, was life-changing. Again, the meeting with the pilgrim Ignatius of Loyola in his land, in his writings and in those of his first companions, was also decisive. Human sympathy for St. Ignatius and a profound connection with his “way of proceeding” led me to seek opportunities for formation, collaboration and service with the Jesuits. Thus began an adventure that continues today.
This phase culminated in the founding of Amici del Medio Oriente. Is that what inspired your studies in theology and Ignatian spirituality?
Amici del Medio Oriente is a small cultural association founded by lay people and Jesuits, which, however, also includes the collaboration of consecrated persons of other religious groups, monks and non-Christians. Together, we try to proclaim the Gospel through itineraries and experiences in the lands where it all began, to promote a culture of peace, reconciliation and solidarity; to foster the unity of the Christian Churches and to dialogue with those who are willing to do so. Over 10 years of pilgrimages to the Middle East, lived out in a certain way, have influenced how my subsequent choices came to fruition. My 2018 pilgrimage to Ignatian places in Rome at Pentecost also played an important part. However, the intuition to study Ignatian spirituality came to light during my convalescence for a bad case of bronchopneumonia in the summer that year, while I was re-reading the “Autobiography” of St. Ignatius.
Could you tell us something about what you are doing today?
Last summer, just before finishing my licentiate at the Gregorian, I received a nice surprise: The Postulator of the Society of Jesus proposed an assignment in the diocesan phase of the canonization process of the Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe (1907-1991). To be precise, I am a member of the historical commission for Father Arrupe’s cause, charged with drawing up the so-called positio to be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
My task is to read and select the letters of governance of Father Arrupe, who served as the Jesuits’ 28th Superior General, that will be forwarded to the Vatican authorities, and to write notes that highlight his heroic virtues. Each of the five members of the commission was assigned a geographical area. I was entrusted with the United States of America and later I will be given a country in the Far East. The material is truly immense. American Assistancy, which is the grouping of all Jesuit provinces in the United States, alone includes 54 volumes of his writings, approximately 600-800 pages each! Unfortunately, I cannot say anything about what I am reading because my work requires secrecy and for this I had to take an oath at the Lateran Palace.
I can say, however, that every day, through Father Arrupe’s letters of governance, I feel as if I am attending a course in spiritual leadership. I never go home without having received a pearl of wisdom to treasure and reflect upon. So, for me, it is a privilege to be able to approach this very significant figure of the post-Conciliar Church, through his papers. For that, I am very grateful.
Living at The Lay Centre
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