Community evenings discuss outreach to peripheries, friendship and dialogue in Church, society

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The second round of Lay Centre community evenings for the 2022-2023 academic year included meetings with the Passionist general curia in Rome, Father James Martin, Father Bernhard Eckerstorfer and Dr. Isabella Bruckner.

Father Martin visited The Lay Centre Nov. 16 and, in an open discussion after dinner about his ministry
Father Martin visited The Lay Centre Nov. 16 and, in an open discussion after dinner about his ministry

The second round of Lay Centre community evenings for the 2022-2023 academic year continued this fall. They included meetings with important actors in the life of the Church in Rome and in various Vatican dicasteries, foundations, ecclesiastical universities and ecumenical and interreligious centres.

In particular, evenings in November and early December turned to themes concerning the lay vocation, synodality and dialogue in the Church and society. Among the guests we welcomed were:

  • The members of the Passionist general curia in Rome, including their superior general, Father Joachim Rego, CP. (WATCH ON YOUTUBE)
  • Father James Martin, SJ, editor at large for America Media and consultor to the Dicastery for Communications. (WATCH ON YOUTUBE)
  • Father Bernhard Eckerstorfer, OSB, rector of the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm (Anselmianum).
  • Dr. Isabella Bruckner, professor at the Anselmianum, chair in “Thought and Forms of the Spiritual,” and winner of the 2022 Karl Rahner Prize.

This academic year, community evenings have been held around themes that touch on the synodal dimension of the Church. This time, among the 10 thematic nuclei proposed by the Synod, we discussed “Listening” and “Dialogue in Church and Society.”


Father Martin visited The Lay Centre Nov. 16 and, in an open discussion after dinner, he talked about his ministry with LGBTQ Catholics in the United States and abroad. His most recent initiative is the website “Outreach” which, he said, responds to Pope Francis’ invitation to “closeness, compassion and tenderness” toward those in the existential peripheries.

About the criticism he receives for doing this kind of pastoral work, he said that when one works on the margins of society, one risks, at times, crossing some boundaries. However, he continued, his work is based on the model of Jesus in Scripture and Church teaching, and is supported both by his superiors and the pope. During his time in Rome, on the occasion of the plenary of the Dicastery for Communications, Father Martin was received by Pope Francis in a private audience.

In his homily, during Mass and before dinner at The Lay Centre, Father Martin reminded the community about the importance of being constantly focused on God’s reign, living lives of love, mercy and compassion toward others.

Praying with Roman Saints
Father Eckerstorfer joined The Lay Centre community Nov. 23, together with Dr. Bruckner.

Coincidentaly, on that day, the Church remembered Pope St. Clement I and St. Felicity, martyr. During the celebration of the Eucharist, Father Eckerstorfer noted that living and studying in Rome becomes more special when a student recalls that they are preceded by the continuous flow of the Catholic faith for 2,000 years, including by people who were ready to witness to the Gospel and be martyred for it.

Praying with Roman saints, he said, is a powerful spiritual resource that helps us live our faith in a deeper, stronger manner.

'Enlarge the space of your tent' (Is 54:2)

After dinner, Dr. Bruckner spoke about her work and mission as a lay woman and theological scholar in the Church. She offered insights about the concept of synodality and the powerful outcomes – spiritual and practical – of “walking together.”

She reflected, particularly, on the image of the tent used in the working document for the continental stage of the Synod on Synodality (2021-2024). This image, the document says, makes reference to “a vocation for God’s people and his Church”: “Enlarge the space of your tent!” (Is 54:2).

The image of the tent, she said, is perhaps even more powerful than that of the Church as a body, used in the letters of St. Paul, as a metaphor for synodality. In her view, that is because the tent inspires the idea of a Church that is always open and dynamic, in motion, as the tent is not a solid construction, but one that is itinerant, adaptable and on the move.

Celebrating friendships

On Nov. 30, feast of St. Andrew the apostle, our community welcomed the general council of the Congregation of the Passionists, as well as the superior of the community on the Caelian Hill, in Rome, where The Lay Centre is housed. The eucharistic celebration was presided by the superior general, Father Rego, who commemorated all of The Lay Centre’s deceased friends, benefactors and alumni. The life and legacy of Father Donald Senior, a Passionist priest who passed away in November, was commemorated in a special way.

Father Senior, a renowned biblical scholar and professor, was also a Lay Centre board member. He helped build bridges between The Lay Centre and the Passionists. “He was one of those people that, when you meet them, something changes in you,” Father Rego said in his homily. 

“I tried to reflect on ‘What is it about Don?’ His desire was to be a missionary and when he was ordained, he asked to go to South Korea as a missionary, but the provincial asked him to study Scripture.”

Father Senior was the type of person who would listen and do what he was asked to do, he said. 

“He was asked to teach and for the rest of his long life as a Passionist, that became his ministry: teaching and the many other works that came about. His desire was to encounter Jesus each day,” said Father Rego. “He did that by his ordinary relationship with Jesus in prayer and by his scientific work, his study. And he shared with the rest of humanity about who Jesus is.”

Filip Veber
Joseph Tulloch

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