Rome is, of course, known as the Eternal City, the city without time. Church historians observe that the Vatican deliberates in a “time-agnostic” way, that is in a manner so independent of concern for time that it thinks in terms not of years but of centuries. Ecclesiologists note that the inspired decisions taken at ecumenical councils bear their most important fruit generations later.

A Roman Catholic institution, the Lay Centre also provides “a residence” and runs programs that continue to build bridges of dialogue with other believers in keeping with the Church’s mission.

Catholicism has a special understanding of time. It respects the interplay between the two Greek concepts: kairos and chronos, the former referring to a timeless, privileged moment in time, the latter to the sequential chronology of time. The paramount example of kairos interacting with chronos is, need it be said, the Incarnation when ‘in the fullness of time’ God sent his Son (kairos) in an event that fundamentally altered human history (chronos).

It is an inviting challenge to identify those ‘times’ in the life of the Church when moments of kairos subsequently altered the chronos or ‘chronology’ of the Church. One thinks of the vision of Constantine at the Milvian Bridge or of the inspired vocation of Saint Francis of Assisi in the 13th century’s corrupt ecclesial environment. Today, among many other examples, would be the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas Institute in Rome.

As its website states, Foyer Unitas was a ministry of hospitality operated by the Ladies of Bethany in Rome for nearly 35 years. Pope Paul VI had asked them to provide lodging for the ecumenical observers at Vatican II, and then for other ecumenical and interfaith pilgrims to Rome.

When Foyer Unitas closed its doors in the mid 1980s Dr. Donna Orsuto and Riekie van Velzen, two women who had been student employees, developed the idea for a lay student residence to meet the needs of the growing number of non-ordained, non-religious students at the Pontifical Universities. One can easily imagine how conducive the timeless atmosphere of the Eternal City where so much of the Church’s past is present would be to the spiritual, intellectual and cultural education of these fortunate students from around the world.

A Roman Catholic institution, the Lay Centre also provides “a residence” and runs programs that continue to build bridges of dialogue with other believers in keeping with the Church’s mission.

From its beginning, the Lay Centre has welcomed Protestant and Orthodox Christian students into its community. Profound experiences of dialogue have also included the presence of Jewish and Muslim students in recent years. The presence of these students, often at the request of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue helps to promote a ‘dialogue of life’ in which Catholics and others interact in a multicultural, ecumenical and interreligious community where mutual respect and genuine love – rooted in faith – are the basis of a common life shared by people of good will.”

It well may be that the ‘dialogue of life’ cultivated by the Lay Centre among members of the interreligious community will not bear its rich fruit until well into the future. Then, as a result of seeds planted today, the path to unity for which Our Lord prayed will be clearer. At that point in the advance of the Kingdom, will the chroniclers of the faith identify the inspiration of the two co-founders of The Lay Centre as a moment of kairos? The answer is clear.

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  1. Dear Dana Robinson, thanks for your eloquent sharing of the important work of the Lay Centre and its two wonderful leaders, Donna and Riekie. I have visited them several times, both earlier when they were on the Piazza Navona and later in their current residence on the grounds of the Irish College. Their work is most important!

    Best wishes,

    Joe Holland, President,
    Pax Romana / Catholic Movement for Intellectual & Cultural Affairs USA

  2. I would like to thank Dan Robinson too for this article on the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas.

    Since last October (2010), the Lay Centre has changed locations and is now perched above the Coliseum on the Caelian Hill in the midst of a beautiful garden.

    Our new address is
    The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas
    Largo della Sanità Militare 60
    Rome 00184.

    Take a look at our new website for some pictures of the new space http://www.laycentre.org or even better, come and visit.

  3. Dear Mr. Holland:
    Thank you for your note.
    I have visited your website and am very impressed. Would there be any objection if I submitted an “Advancing the Kingdom” article about Pax Roman/Catholic Movement for Intellectual & Cultural Affairs? The purpose of these articles is simply to expand awareness.
    Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you, and congratulations on your impressive work.

    Dana Robinson

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