It’s with great joy that the John Paul II Center welcomes Cohort XV to Rome! This year’s cohort includes a range of fascinating Fellows from around the world: the USA, India, Pakistan, Russia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Germany.
There is enthusiasm in this group about being at the Angelicum. “As the first member of my family to attend University, I have always considered knowledge-seeking an immense privilege,” shares Russell Berrie Fellow Hilal Avci (Germany). Liz Langan (USA) also sees this education a privilege for her own reasons: “Other than my personal faith, I have only studied religions in a secular context, so I’m looking forward to learning more about them in the Catholic educational setting of the Angelicum.”
“As a Buddhist Monk,” shares Ashin Mandalarlankara (Myanmar), “I am so excited to learn interreligious Dialogue in the Christian community, Christian University, with Christian Scholars and students.”
Beyond Christianity, the Diploma in Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum offers the opportunity to explore a variety of religious traditions, and Dr. Maria Petrova (Russia) hopes that these studies will broaden her “knowledge of Judaism and Islam as well as Catholicism and other Christian denominations.”
Fr. Jackson Johnson (India) writes: “From this Fellowship programme, I would like to know more about the theoretical and practical aspects of interreligious dialogue: theoretical aspects from the lectures and the seminars in Angelicum and practical aspects from the various events and programs organized by the John Paul II Center and the Fellowship.”
The Russell Berrie Fellowship and the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue offer learning even outside the Angelicum. During the Orientation week, the Fellows went to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to meet with Father Norbert Hofmann, Secretary to the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. They also went on a two-hour pilgrimage tour of the ancient necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, where, as Taras, JPII Leaders Coordinator, shares, “we visited 22 ancient Roman mausoleums and learnt how culture and religion coexisted and influenced each other in the Roman times.” This visit culminated in the Vatican crypts at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, where numerous popes are also buried.
With Orientation beginning at the end of September, Fellows are already feeling a sense of connection. Fellow Andrew Mixson (USA) is “already inspired” by his cohort: “we have had some fantastic discussions—and we have only completed orientation week!” Sr. Minh Sa (Vietnam) is excited by the prospect of getting to know others better in the coming year. “With this opportunity,” she continues “I will have more chances to build relationships, have more friends coming from different religions and varied cultures.”
As members of Cohort XV, these Russell Berrie Fellows join a rich network of over 100 alumni who have studied at the Angelicum, completed the program, and become JPII Leaders. “The aspect intrigues me the most,” writes Sr. Josmy Jose (India), “is the various opportunities during the year and the continuous network between the previous cohorts even after this year.”
The JPII Leaders Network is thrilled to get to know this year’s Fellows and connect with them on each one’s journeys—journeys that echo the goal that Halil Avci shares for his fellowship experience: “Rooted in the study of God and drawing from the world’s religious traditions, I am striving for personal and social transformation to seek peace and justice in a diverse and interconnected world.” May we find togetherness and support in our striving for transformation, peace, and justice.