Highlights of the academic year's first community evenings

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Highlights of the academic year's first community evenings

The Lay Centre began the 2022-2023 academic year with unique opportunities for dialogue with people involved in the life of the Church in Rome, working in various Vatican dicasteries, foundations, ecclesiastical universities, and ecumenical and interreligious centres.

By sharing their experiences and knowledge they help students understand the universality of the Church. This October, we welcomed Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Sister Nathalie Becquart, XMCJ, Fathers Mí?éal O’Neill, O.Carm, John Dardis, SJ, Avelino Chico, SJ, and Robert Geisinger, SJ.

This academic year, community evenings will be held around themes that touch the synodal dimension of the Church. In October, some of the 10 thematic nuclei proposed by the Synod were broached: “The Journeying Companions”, “Co-responsible in the Mission”, “Authority”, “Discernment and Deciding” and “Dialogue in Church and Society”.

Some highlights from the first weeks are:

  • Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states within the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, visited The Lay Centre on All Souls’ Day. After Mass, he discussed today’s main geopolitical challenges and their repercussions on the diplomatic relations of the Holy See. Archbishop Gallagher expressed his concern about the ongoing wars and the complexity of international relations, but invoked hope in the commitment of the entire Church.

Lay Centre Scholar Alexander Campbell commented: “I found the evening with Archbishop Gallagher insightful and I believe it has caused much reflection among the community. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss ongoing global issues and we were given a genuine account of the diplomatic work of the Holy See.”


  • Sister Nathalie Becquart, XMCJ, undersecretary at the General Secretariat of the Synod, attended an ecumenical prayer service at The Lay Centre, followed by dinner with the community. She shared about her experience and work in that office, remembering also the many years she spent working in youth ministry for the French bishops’ conference and her participation in the Synod on Youth in 2018. She told The Lay Centre community to follow the synodal process and not to be discouraged by negative experiences, lack of openness or setbacks. Only by invoking and trusting the Holy Spirit can the synodal process be implemented in the local churches and at the level of the universal Church, she said. Lay Centre Deputy Director Filipe Domingues said: “The friendship with Sister Nathalie began during the youth synod in 2018 and continues to this day. She has brought great energy to the centre of the Church in Rome, and has helped us to think more about how to promote the lay vocation and to prepare lay men and women to be more participative and active in a synod-style Church.”

  • Father Mícéal O’Neill, O.Carm, prior general of the Carmelites, is a good friend of The Lay Centre. The community had the privilege to welcome him on one of the first evenings of the semester, in a family atmosphere, including some members of the staff.
  • Father John Dardis, SJ, gave an introduction on spiritual conversation and presided over Mass on the first week of the academic year, during the lay leadership formation program. The pilot program, part of a series of training initiatives for lay people organized by The Lay Centre, recognized the need to discuss the role of the laity in the Church and in the world. Read more about it here.
  • Father Avelino Chico, SJ, who works at the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, discussed its activities in connection with Pope Francis’ reform in the Roman Curia, through the apostolic constitution “Praedicate Evangelium.”

    Lay Centre scholar Filip Veber said: “His experience working with homeless, poor and migrants is a living testimony of how essential it is to have an open heart toward those who need our help and to be ready to be surprised by their stories, which often contradict thoughts and perceptions we may have.”
    Father Chico underlined how he is convinced that – due to the displacement of millions of people forced to leave their homes everywhere in the world – global and local migration will continue. Particular churches and bishops’ conferences need to face this emergency by strengthening their efforts to help and serve those who are suffering under such circumstances.

  • Father Robert Geisinger, SJ, promoter of justice at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and professor in the canon law faculty at the Pontifical Gregorian University, discussed his daily work and spoke of the shared responsibility of all the baptized – which implies that synodal processes need to be implemented, also when working in a tribunal.

    Lay Centre Scholar Maria Teresa Avila said: “I appreciated that Father Geisinger highlighted how much he values the work of lay men and lay women at the dicastery, and added that he would like to have more lay people collaborating with them – given also the importance of the perspective brought by those who are parents.”

    Father Geisinger inspired participants with the idea that more and more lay people are getting involved in safeguarding and protection in the Church to help prevent serious crimes that undermine the dignity of human beings and irretrievably wound their faith.

For 36 years, The Lay Centre has kept alive this tradition of celebrating the Eucharist in community, listening to the Word of God and then sharing meals with friends. This is key to understanding others and growing in true friendship.

Contributed: Filip Veber

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