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Reflections on a Term at the Gregorian University

The university provided my wife, Patsy, and me with an apartment in a small student community known as the Lay Centre. It is located on a hill overlooking the nearby Coliseum. It was about a ten-minute walk from the Lay Centre, which is home to about two dozen students from all over the world, studying various subjects in different Roman universities. They came from Slovenia, the Ukraine, Italy, Greece, Norway, England, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Malawi, Cameroon, China, Brazil, and the US. Patsy and I thoroughly enjoyed our time living, worshipping, and eating with these students. Many of them were both studious and highly committed to the Lord as well as to their church. Others struggled with what it means to be Catholic. Some were Orthodox. One was a Muslim. Patsy and I often sat at separate tables, changing our conversation partners throughout the nine weeks we were there. We listened as they told of their hopes, their fears, and their dreams. We shared our faith, gave advice when asked, and prayed with them. They viewed us as a new set of parents.

I was the first Pentecostal professor ever to offer a course at any Pontifical University.

Each Wednesday, the Centre offers an evening mass before dinner. Patsy and I enjoyed these services where we heard homilies from a variety of priests who presided over the Eucharist. One priest, originally from Ohio told me that the rest of his family is either Assemblies of God or Church of God (Cleveland, TN). The head of the worldwide Franciscan Order told me that as a young priest, he had worked among the poor with Assemblies of God churches in Appalachia and how much he had he enjoyed that relationship.

Mel and Patsy Robeck at dinner with students from Syria and Ukraine at the Lay Centre.

The Lay Centre occupies two floors in a building owned by the Passionists, an order whose members vow to bear witness to the passion of Jesus every day. The grounds are beautiful, covering several acres with lawns, trees, and various gardens. It sits quietly behind a twelve-foot high wall with a steel gate controlled with a code. In spite of its peaceful surroundings, the Lay Centre offers several public gatherings each month, which draw people such as Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, from Burundi, head of the Anglican Centre in Rome and his wife, Mathilda, and Dr. Timothy Maquiban, Pastor of the Ponte Sant’ Angelo Methodist Church, and his wife, Angela.

It is about a two-mile walk from the Lay Centre to the university. Upon my arrival, I was given an office and a library card, and I was shown my classroom. That evening, Patsy and I enjoyed dinner with Professor Körner and about 70 Jesuit priests in their private dining room at the Gregorian. Professor Körner announced everywhere that I was the first Pentecostal professor ever to offer a course at any Pontifical University. He is very proud of this “first”. He is a very warm, affable, and a delightful conversation partner and host, whose specialty is Catholic-Muslim relations.

I had several surprises that came from the lack of clear communication on the part of the university. We arrived in Rome on the day specified in my letter of invitation, only to find that they had given me dates from the 2016-2017 calendar while the course would begin one week later in 2017-2018, so we were a week early. Second, while my course, which met from 10:30 AM-12:15 PM each Monday and Wednesday was published on the Gregorian website, no one informed me that the university would be closed during Holy Week (between Palm Sunday and Easter) as well as Easter week. As a result, we had to extend our trip by two weeks in order to complete the course that I had outlined. Fortunately, I had the space in my calendar to do so.

Atrium inside the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In all of my trips to Rome in the past, I have spent perhaps 3 days sightseeing. Mostly, I have known the road from the airport to the Vatican, and a series of rooms inside the Vatican such as Santa Marta house, where Pope Francis now lives, and various convents, abbeys, and retreat centers around the city. I had hoped that since I was teaching two days a week, I would have some free time to look around the city. That was not to be. I learned on the first day of class that my students had no textbooks. The university had failed to order any of the five books I had twice requested that they order, and their library did not have any copies either.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2018

About the Author: Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Ph.D. (Fuller Theological Seminary), is Senior Professor of Church History and Ecumenics and Special Assistant to the President for Ecumenical Relations at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God who has served at the seminary since 1974. His work on the Azusa Street revival is well known. His ecumenical work, since 1984, is highly respected around the world by Christian leaders outside the Pentecostal Movement. He continues to serve as a bridge between Pentecostalism and the larger church world, leading international dialogues, participating in ecumenical consultations, and working on and writing about church-dividing issues. He appears regularly on the AmericanReligious.org Town Hall weekly telecast. He co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, 2014) with Amos Yong, The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy (Wipf & Stock, 2009) with Harold D. Hunter, and The Suffering Body: Responding to the Persecution of Christians (Paternoster, 2006) with Harold D. Hunter. He is also the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Thomas Nelson, 2006 and 2017) and Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian (Pilgrim, 1992). Faculty page

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