ROME — On Oct. 23, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, presided The Lay Centre’s weekly community Mass to mark the opening of our academic year and the beginning of our 35th anniversary year.
The cardinal expressed his joy at seeing the community for the first time, which he described as “a wide, colourful spectrum of young people from different nations, with diverse experiences.” He also thanked The Lay Centre musicians for their participation, saying that music and song are essential and important components of the liturgy.
Reflecting on the Mass readings, Cardinal Ravasi highlighted the gifts of hearing and sight, in particular our ability to listen and to see, gifts essential to contemplation and reflection. Citing Blaise Pascal, the cardinal recalled that in faith, as in love, moments of silence are more eloquent than words. Concluding, he drew our attention to the new Lay Centre icon depicting the “Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah at the Oaks of Mamre” (Gen 18:1-15). The hospitality depicted in this icon is at the heart of The Lay Centre’s mission, handed down by the Ladies of Bethany.
As a reminder of the centre’s connection to the Ladies of Bethany, the cardinal wore the hand-embroidered chasuble gifted to the community of consecrated women in 1951, on the profession day of Leideke Galema, L.o.B. A detail of the chasuble depicts a sower sowing seeds. The Ladies of Bethany sowed bountifully and generously and the charism of hospitality and welcome continues to be a pillar of The Lay Centre’s mission.
The icon, blessed by Cardinal Ravasi at the end of Mass now has a place of honour in The Lay Centre chapel, dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. The icon is a reminder to welcome each and every person as they enter, friends and strangers alike. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb13:2). We are grateful to the iconographers: the Sisters of the Piccolo Eremo delle Querce, Calabria.
Dialogue and friendship
The Lay Centre community shared in conversation with Cardinal Ravasi and Bishop Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, at the dinner that followed.
Elia Gittardi from Italy, who joined The Lay Centre community in October, said meeting the cardinal was “a unique experience.”
“I really liked the reference he made to the icon during dinner,” said Gittardi, who studies in the faculty of history and cultural heritage of the Church at the Pontifical Gregorian University. “He explained to us how, in the film ‘Andrej Rublëv,' which tells the story of the 15th-century painter and iconographer who wrote the original icon of the Trinity, Rublëv was actually going through a crisis in his own faith due to the violence he saw in the world. But through colour and his icons, he found his faith again.”
Welcome and hospitality still at the heart of The Lay Centre after 35 years
Thirty-five years may not seem like a milestone in such an ancient city as Rome, but for our co-founders, two lay women, Dr. Donna Orsuto and Mrs. Riekie van Velzen, Oct. 1, 1986, is a date they will never forget. Since opening the doors to The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, hundreds of lay scholars and visiting professors of different nationalities and faith traditions have crossed the threshold, joined in dialogue and prayer, and become lifelong friends.
Lay Centre scholar Kevin Leavy from Ireland also arrived in October to study theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum).
“The Lay Centre’s 35th anniversary was a memorable occasion,” he said, adding that the blessing of the new icon was “especially appropriate, as hospitality is one of the defining characteristics of The Lay Centre, which I have certainly experienced here since my arrival in Rome."
“Though I am a recent addition to this community of lay scholars,” he added, “I have been made to feel very much at home, and was invited to participate fully in the anniversary celebrations, as if I had been here for years!”
As the anniversary year unfolds, we look forward to inviting friends to The Lay Centre.
Photos courtesy Stefano dal Pozzuolo