Russell Berrie Fellows’ Final Reflections (Cohort XIII, 2020-21)

This academic year came to a close. Because of COVID, it’s been a strange year for the Fellowship as some of the Cohort members could not physically be in Rome. Still, these changes to the program have allowed the students the opportunity to learn and connect in different ways. We’ve invited them to share some of their experience and insights from this year they will take with them:

Christopher (Cameroon)

As my first academic year draws to an end, I have come to discover surprising things. Primo, I have never thought in my life’s time of taking classes online. Though quite challenging, it was equally very exciting. Secundo, I am not only surprised but very sad about not living in communion with my cohort members. It was so sad meeting them only on the screen without “feeling the smell of the sheep” as Pope Francis says. In all these, I thank God for the grace of perseverance and I must celebrate two important people who did all their best not to let me be discouraged amidst all the difficulties of the pandemic, administrative procedures, the new technological online stuff with google meet and zoom. These two people whom I owe so much are Magda and Korlan. From all the headache stuff and with their constant presence and help, I have really learnt the importance of hardwork and the virtue of perseverance. Hope to pay them back one day. I pray to God that my 2nd year would be exciting with many more things to learn in this universe of Interreligious dialogue.

Sr. Mary (Nigeria)

Thank you for the opportunity to share my reflection upon this period of my studies. I was really amazed about how the whole program started and how it has been going amidst the Covid-19 pandemic challenges. The adjustment in terms of learning and participating in other extracurricular activities is so great. My greatest insight in the course of my studies is the availability and simplicity exhibited by some professors, especially the Jewish professors I encountered. I think these virtues are very necessary for interreligious dialogue. After the fellowship year, if I am granted the permission by my Superior General I would like to do a course on the Liturgy of the Church. If not, I will return back to my country hoping to deepen my involvement in interreligious dialogue from a practical perspective.

Ruki (Sri Lanka)

The things that surprised me most were the theological differences between Jews and Christians/Catholics. Previously I have not come into contact with Jewish people much. Only after attending lectures given by Jewish professors did I realize the divergence in belief. It was quite shocking for me. The biggest insight from the Berrie Program is the realization of the importance of engaging in inter-religious dialogue to minimize religious tension, especially in the South Asian region. Since I’m following the Diploma program online, my intention after this Fellowship is to continue networking at grassroots level among youth from different religions, mainly Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu. Since I’m a university academic in Sri Lanka, in an inter-religious context, I hope to network among undergraduates in different universities in Sri Lanka, both in state and private institutions.

Gianluca (USA)

This has been an extraordinary year to be in Rome—away from my family and my home country during a pandemic that has continued to rage. Throughout my time here, I have felt isolation and deep connection. While the connections I’ve made this year have been fewer than I might have liked—due, at least in part, to the nature of the world in this era of pandemic—they have been intimate and fulfilling. I’ve found myself and others more willing to connect deeply rather than superficially. I’ve been surprised by the flurry of intense emotions—from astonishment to frustration—that this experience as a Russell Berrie Fellow and student at the Angelicum has evoked in me. Questions, conflicts, and harmonies deep within myself have been stirred up in a way that previous educational experiences and contexts haven’t, and I’m grateful for this, even when it has been challenging. Finally, this precious time as a Russell Berrie Fellow has helped guide me on to the next step at Harvard University, where I’ll be pursuing a Master of Divinity.

Fr. Emmanuel (NIgeria)

I have taken a keen interest in Judaism and I am quite surprised how the religion has developed differently from the Biblical times. This could be seen in the unique nature of today’s Rabbinic Judaism and its various distinctions. Of course, I had expected some variations as is the case with every historic institution. Also, of a new awareness to me is the huge difference between the Jewish and Christian interpretations of certain aspects of the Bible. Genesis Chapter 1 stands out regarding this. Due to this, it might be helpful if each teacher emphatically informs their students that their position on such interpretations are strictly informed by their own religious background in order to avoid confusion in the minds of their students. Regarding my plan after the Fellowship, I intend to continue with my doctoral studies in Angelicum.

Fr. Baiju (India)

I consider it a blessing to be part of the Fellowship program. The one thing that surprised me is that this course gave me a key to open to the immense wealth of information in the field of inter-religious dialogue. Above all, it gave me a very good understanding of the important features of Judaism, and its relation with Catholic Church. With the terrible situation in India due to Covid 19, I could only follow the course online so there are things that I missed this year; If I would have been in Rome, I could have connected more with my fellow Cohort members and made good use of the libraries. The biggest insight from this experience is the realization that there is a good number of people who are dedicated and desire ardently to become promoters of dialogue and peace; without dialogue there is no coexistence. Beyond the barriers of religions and politics, I understand that there are many people who work in the field of inter-religious dialogue in order to promote human rights in this world. Now I will become a part of it thanks to the Russell Berrie Fellowship Program. After this year of Fellowship, I resolved to enter into the field of dialogue promoted by Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference back in my home land India. In fact, I have already begun to work with the secretariat of the Interreligious commission in Kerala. I wish to write a new book on Pope Paul VI and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, a renowned scholar on Hinduism and Eastern religions; to highlight their ideas on Interreligious dialogue.

We thank this year’s Fellows for their commitment to their studies in the face of obstacles and we are excited for them to become alumni joining the global network of JPII Leaders around the world. God bless your future adventures!