28 June 2021

Russell Berrie Fellows' Graduation Ceremony

On Tuesday June 22nd, the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue celebrated the graduation of this year’s cohort of Russell Berrie Fellows. The meeting in-person was in Rome at The Pontifical University of St.Thomas Aquinas and those who couldn’t be there in-person joined online via Zoom.

Prof. Adam Afterman, Director of the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue, began by offering his congratulations and his excitement looking forward to the Fellows’ future leadership.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, JPII Center Director Emeritus, said that the Fellows were now prepared to do the work so desperately needed today. “Because of what you’ve learned and committed yourselves to, you can be a light to humanity,” he said, encouraging them to carry on the good work.

Naomi Shank from The Russell Berrie Foundation congratulated the Fellows on behalf of the organization; She wished them success in their new endeavors as they return to their parishes, universities, schools, and organizations. She also expressed her hopes to see them next year in-person in Jerusalem to forge bonds of friendship into the future.

Fr. Hyacinthe Destivelle, head of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at the Angelicum remarked on the Fellows commitment and enthusiasm throughout the year despite the complications of the pandemic, and shared his hope that this formative experience through personal encounters, not just academic knowledge, will mark their lives forever.

Sr. Catherine Droste, dean of the Faculty of Theology, managed to join the group for a few minutes to wish all the best to the Fellows in between two other faculty commitments.

A few of the fellows took some time to reflect on their year:

“Since the commencement of this fellowship, gratitude has always been my attitude” said Sr. Mary Ogeyi Odey (Nigeria). This year – she shared – she learned to be open, and be more compassionate in a deeper way. “Having encountered Rabbi Jack really influenced me. The way he appreciates everyone and gets to know people and their own perspectives, ” said Sister Mary, “My sole aim that I’m taking home is that our task in life is to be a blessing to everyone we meet, and to the world.”

Dr. Ana Petrache (Romania) looked at how many events in her life and past experiences with dialogue had led and prepared her for this Fellowship; “A lot of things I wanted to clarify in my life have become clear…being in Rome, the most beautiful city, this year is like wrapping up all of the experiences I’ve had before. It gave me meaning and clarification of my vocation.” She was very grateful for simple moments with other Fellows and the professors.

Fr. Baiju Julian (India) spoke of how this experience widened his thinking patterns, “ For the first time I listened to eminent scholars on Judaism and it gave me a taste for knowing this religion more deeply ” After his experience, he feels more confident to get involved in interreligious and ecumenical dialogue in India and has ambitions to write a book on Interreligious dialogue.

Taras Dzyubanskyy, Senior Alumni Advisor, welcomed the graduating Fellows into the global network of JPII Leaders around the world: more than 100 people in over 40 countries.

One of those JPII Leaders, Ms. Bernadette Mary McGonigle (Cohort XII, Ireland), reminded them that they are joining a new network of friendship. “We need to work with each other to bring this vision to fruition,” she said.

Cheryl Francisconi and Korlan Smagulova from the Institute of International Education welcomed the Fellows to the family, shared their hopes that the Fellows’ bonds would deepen, and that they stay strong in the face of future challenges.

Elena Dini, Senior Program Manager at the JPII Center closed with a blessing from Numbers 6:24-26:

‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

Congratulations to the graduating fellows, we are very proud of what you’ve accomplished! We are excited to officially welcome you into the JPII Leaders Network and to work together in the future to be a blessing in the world.