Centers of Vitality

There are several places on the human body medical professionals can check as they attempt to gauge the heart beat of their patients. Ones that come to mind are the inside of our wrists or on the side of our neck. But there are other less obvious ones as well. Just so, it might be said, the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, has its own “centers of vitality” where the pulse of the Holy Spirit can be convincingly evident. Some appear in unexpected places.Gaming, Austria, is one such center. Indeed, Cardinal Schonborn is so certain of the Spirit’s presence and guidance there that he has identified it as “the new hope for Europe”.

What inspires such confidence in His Eminence and in many other bishops in Central and Eastern Europe is the Language and Catechetical Institute (LCI). This center of vitality was founded in 1992 in a restored 14th century Carthusian monastery in a village called Gaming, which is tucked in the beautiful foothills of the Alps not too far from Vienna.

Established in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization, LCI provides Catholics from many countries (and even from different rites) with concentrated catechetical and spiritual formation while immersing them in the English language. Selected by Church leaders in their home countries, students comprise both lay and religious men and women.

LCI’s program is for one year during which these dedicated students share living arrangements with Americans from Franciscan University in Steubenville’s study abroad program. The intercultural exchange is rich and effective. As they become well trained Catholics, all are prepared to be a new generation of leaders whether they continue in pastoral work or in the work of civil society.

The curriculum is rigorously academic and the reality of community is palpable as students, faculty and staff share housing, meals and the celebration of the Eucharist. When the LCI students return to their native countries they pursue varied vocations. Some serve as catechists, others as teachers and administrators, and some even have secular professions. However, all sow the seeds of hope and inspiration and the truth of the Gospel to those around them.

LCI has graduated close to 400 students from 24 nations including more than a few countries where the Church was suppressed for generations. A review of just half the countries on the list will give a good idea of the universality of this very local community LCI has created in Gaming: Estonia, Bulgaria, Poland, Albania, Bosnia, Turkmenistan, Slovakia, Croatia, Lithuania, Belarus. One can imagine the sense of solidarity with the Church Universal as these graduates return to their homelands.

In recent years this global awareness has expanded with the arrival of students from Cameroon and China, adding the continents of Africa and Asia to LCI’s purview. Cardinal Schonborn’s “new hope for Europe” is becoming a new hope for the world.

As a “center of vitality” in the body of the Church, Gaming’s work is made possible by two other vital centers: the bishops and cardinals in Central and Eastern Europe who recognize its profound importance, and donors in the West who provide critical financial support. As LCI continues and grows additional sources of support will be necessary.

In its website (www.twelverivers.org) LCI validly likens its graduates to those “first signs” John Paul II wrote about in his Redemptoris Missio: “As the third millennium of the redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs.” As the Kingdom advances one wonders what other marvelous signs we will witness and what other spots on our planet will be centers of vitality.

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