Russell Berrie Fellows on the Orientation week in Rome

We are excited to welcome Cohort XIV of Russell Berrie Fellows who are starting their interreligious journey in Rome! Despite the pandemic, this year all 11 Fellows from 10 countries (Albania, Georgia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Poland, UK, Romania, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe) have safely arrived in Rome and started their fellowship at the Angelicum. This year the Orientation Program was held in the hybrid format allowing JPII Leaders from different parts of the world to welcome a new cohort.

Fellows share their first impressions regarding the Orientation experience.

Jan Janoszka (Poland/UK):
“It has been far from easy—uncertainties have never disappeared due to the global pandemic—and yet, each member of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue team has been able to navigate the difficulties and offer us a very engaging, stimulating, and inspiring orientation week. I love being involved in the international and multi-faith environment, so naturally, I deeply appreciated all our activities together either in small groups or in joint hybrid sessions. Although the meetings at the Pontifical Councils (for Interreligious Dialogue & Christian Unity) or the exciting tour of the Necropolis and the tomb of St. Peter will certainly be cherished for their spiritual not just informative value, let me highlight one of our morning sessions at the Angelicum. I am referring here to the guided reading, presentation, and discussion focused on the “Nostra Aetate” (Paragraph 4). It reminds me that in contrast to some degrading, antisemitic or islamophobic movements in the world, we need to reaffirm our rich Judeo-Christian tradition, respect the Jewish people’s covenantal election and life with God, and strive to discover how each religion can understand and see the truth of the other in the light of “God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows” (NA 4:4).”

Evans Nyamadzawo (Zimbabwe):
“The Orientation Program was so catchy: informative, engaging, and interactive! It exposed me to the uniqueness of the Russell Berrie Fellowship program. I cannot wait to study at the JPII Center and Angelicum, to attend interreligious workshops, to go for the Israel tour and to meet the great JPII Leaders Network. It was also nice meeting with my colleagues who have various backgrounds and who are experts in the field of Interreligious Studies; I can’t wait to learn from them as well. Without a doubt, I am at the right place, and I hope this year at the Angelicum will give me enough exposure I need in the field of interreligious dialogue.”

Olena Komisarenko (Ukraine):
“I was most impressed by our visit to the excavations in the Vatican City, the necropolis underneath the Basilica. We were professionally guided by Taras Dzyubanskyy, Senior Alumni Advisor, who made this tour incredibly engaging. After we had said a prayer together near the tomb of St. Peter, I realized that this Fellowship Program would also be a spiritual journey for me. I am delighted to join an amazing community of like-minded Fellows who would be an essential support for my personal and professional growth.”

Vladimer Narsia (Georgia):
“Dialogue is a medium to identify our existence towards others. God is a source of all otherness, which is rooted in the divine call to Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1.28). Therefore, the other is a unique gift of God in which our identity is formed throughout the dialogue. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the image of otherness, together with the image of undivided unity, says Christian theologian Metropolitan John Zizioulas. So being in dialogue with others fairly demonstrates our existence within Logos.”

Bogdana Katarzhuk (Ukraine):
“I think it is normal to be a bit afraid when entering a new university in a foreign country. But the Orientation gave me the feeling that everything would be fine and that I was not alone there. In addition to the basics of interfaith dialogue and outlining what awaits us this year, the organizers granted us four days of support and care. Also, I am grateful for uniting our team of Fellows. And I will always remember the range of emotions I experienced in those few days: from the incessant laughter with Fr. Norbert Hoffmann at the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to the slight awe of history in the Vatican Necropolis.”

Fr. Tran van Thien (Vietnam):
“Although I could not participate the Orientation Program in person or directly via Zoom, the technicians made the recordings and sent them to me. That was wonderful. With the video recording on the community building exercise on the first day, I can somewhat understand who the other Fellows are. Despite the language difference, I believe that we can work together for a peaceful and fraternal society.”

Fr. Humphrey Udechukwu (Nigeria):

“During our Orientation Program I was greatly impressed by the visit to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It was a rewarding experience. The lectures were revelatory and informative. I saw a new approach towards the reading of Nostra Aetate. The vision of the Catholic Church on other religions is positive. Members of other religions are children of God, and we share the same fatherhood. However, much can still be done towards promotion of interreligious dialogue because there are many areas to be explored.”

We wish our new Russell Berrie Fellows an inspiring intellectual and spiritually rich interreligious journey in the new academic year!