By Heather Walker
ROME —The Lay Centre was delighted to help organize a four-part series, called “Awakenings,” for University of St. Thomas undergraduate students this past fall. The series was geared toward raising awareness about several issues central to people’s lives, safety and well-being.
The sessions reflected on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, through the lens of this statement from the website of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission: “The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining crisis of this generation, from which we can either emerge for the better or for the worse.”
The first session, “Being a Christian Today,” offered students an opportunity to begin their Roman sojourn by delving into deeper questions about life, hearing from guest speakers about their personal commitments and vocations within the context of their faith tradition. Guests speakers included Stephanie MacGillivray from Caritas Internationalis, Father Alan Piper, OP, a Dominican priest, and the Rev. Dr. Daniel Pratt Morris-Chapman, a presbyter of the Methodist Church in Britain.
The next session brought students into the realities of “Our Post-COVID World,” namely the world crisis caused by the pandemic. Jill Drzewiecki explained her work at the Jesuit Refugee Service in response to the effects of the pandemic on refugees. Josefina Mas and Marianna Beltrami of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development explained the role of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission.
The third session drove home the reality of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Blessing Okoedion, a young Nigerian lady, shared her story of being trafficked, escaping trafficking, pursuing her studies and founding Weavers of Hope, a non-profit organization committed to raising awareness, preventing trafficking and protecting victims. The students also heard from Sister Gabriella Bottani, who has worked to save countless lives worldwide as director of Talitha Kum. Also called the International Network of Consecrated Life Against Trafficking in Persons, Talitha Kum is an organization of Catholic religious sisters based in Rome that works to end human-trafficking. Both Blessing and Sister Gabriella are recipients of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Hero Award.
Many of the students were science majors and were captivated by Brother Guy Consolmagno’s presentation on “Faith and Science” in our final “Awakenings” session. The Jesuit brother, who is the director of the Vatican Observatory, led students on a journey, interweaving faith and science and interspersed with stories from his own life experience.
Touching on astronomy and the Spiritual Exercises, Brother Consolmagno also encouraged students to think about “Care For Our Common Home,” mentioning that Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” emphasizes that concern about ecology cannot just “save the whales.” Rather, our concern requires us to enter into the right relationship with creation, neither dominating or exploiting it nor idolizing or being dominated by it.
Learn more about The Lay Centre programming for university study programs here.
Photos courtesy University of St. Thomas Study Abroad Program staff and Lay Centre staff