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In the Shoes of A Russell Berrie Fellow by Bernadette McGonigle

Being a Russell Berrie Fellow has given me the privileged opportunity to undertake a diploma in interreligious studies in the Faculty of Theology at the Saint Thomas Pontifical University in Rome, commonly called the Angelicum (and fondly called the "Ang"). In addition to studying under highly qualified professors, the fellows also learn so much from each other and from shared experiences while in Rome, such as our group visits to the Great Synagogue and Jewish Ghetto neighbourhood; the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. This years fellows come from Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, US, Nigeria, Kenya, Papua New Guinea and myself from Ireland. There have been rich sharings from previous experiences in interreligious dialogue as well deep friendships forged. The visit to Israel facilitated by the Russell Berrie Foundation cemented those relationships.

Fellows Standing on The Mount of Precipice

“Is your God too small,” a wonderful talk given by Br. Guy Consolmagno, the Director of the Vatican Observatory and attended by most of the Berrie fellows, opened the way for a visit to the Observatory and a tour with Br Guy.

This experience has remained one of the most inspiring learning experiences from our time in Rome. A group of fellows also attended the very relevant discussion: Fraternity Beyond Frontiers: St. Francis of Assisi Meets Sultan al- Malik al-Kamil. Yet another event at the Lay Centre where we gained very valuable practical insights was : Planting Seeds of Hope: Grassroots Initiatives on Creating a Culture of Dialogue. In short, being a Russell Berrie fellow has provided the opportunity to study at a Pontifical University in Rome along with a diverse group of experienced and committed people who are dedicated to the cause of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue; some due to the practical circumstances in which they work and all because they know that only through dialogue can peace be achieved. The Fellowship provides tools for life to engage in this dialogue and more importantly, a network of like-minded people to help and support each other on that journey. Has the lockdown in Rome due to Covid-19 affected the experience? Yes, it has but it has also provided opportunity for growth in terms of perseverance, discipline, awareness and deep compassion for the suffering of others, particularly the sick and the vulnerable (the widow, the orphan, the stranger).

Vatican Observatory Grounds in Castel Gandolfo

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