By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service
(Second in a series)
ROME — They say stereotypes exist for a reason. Well, the first person my wife Kim and I met in Rome was named Mario. How much more cliche can it get than meeting an Italian man named Mario? But this Mario is not a plumber and he doesn’t have a twin brother named Luigi. He is the barista at the cafe around the corner from our apartment in Rome. He makes some pretty good cappuccinos, which I indulge in frequently.
While we all know that the “all Italians are named Mario” stereotype is not true, our Mario is the only Italian that Kim and I have had the chance to befriend in the two weeks since our arrival.
The people we have met so far have very un-Romanesque names because they all hail from places like Uganda, India and Mexico. When most people think of Rome, they don’t typically think of it as a melting pot. Yet here we are making new acquaintances with such a diverse group of people that would make any American university admissions officer jealous.
Some of the new friends we have made reside at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. The Lay Centre “promotes the lay vocation, Christian unity and interreligious dialogue.” Thanks to the warm hospitality of the staff, we were able to meet scholars from Mozambique and Brazil, and sit in on a roundtable on human trafficking that featured the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See and a Kenyan member of Jesuit Refugee Service. I highly recommend making a point of visiting the Lay Centre while you are in Rome. They go above and beyond to make you feel welcome.
However, most of our new friends are my fellow students at the Gregorian University — 24 students from 18 different countries. On Tuesday, I had the chance to speak with one of my classmates, Brother Amandi Mboya, a Christian Brother who works in Kenya. Our conversation centered around issues of abuse in East African communities.
I was not surprised to learn that like dioceses in the United States, dioceses in countries like Kenya and Tanzania are focused on changing the culture within their communities so victims are supported and encouraged to report abuse. While abuse remains a major problem in East Africa, and the neglect of victims by authorities and society in general remains an obstacle to justice, advocates like Brother Mboya are working with their local churches to reverse these trends. More conversations with other students in my program made it apparent that while the church is diverse, dioceses and communities across the world are facing many of the same issues.
Recently, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reported on the rampant abuse that took place in the Catholic Church in Australia. The question now, more than ever, is how can the church better protect children, bring healing and justice to victims, and ensure the scandals that have engulfed the church in countries like the United States, Ireland, Germany and Australia do not reach other parts of the world? For unless we do something, we will never be rid of the negative stereotype of the “pedophile priest” uttered by the media, the public and sometimes our own faithful.
These are questions I will pray about when I attend our new parish, St. Sylvester, whose Mass is celebrated by two Irish priests and whose parishioners are overwhelmingly Filipino. I will surely find some answers during the next few months of my studies at the Gregorian University, but one thing I have already determined is that Rome is definitely not a city of stereotypes.
Next week, I hope to write about the start of my courses. This week’s meetings were all about enrollment forms, orientation and payment. Ci sentiamo presto!
Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim.