One of the advantages to taking my seminary training in Rome was the opportunity to study with men and women from across the globe. I lived among my fellow Americans but each day went into the city to one of the pontifical universities. It was not unlike the old British university system or the American Greek system. At university I refused to sit with my American brothers. I probably seemed like a snob, but in reality I found it too difficult to concentrate on the lectures surrounded by my friends. At the Angelicum, my classmates hailed from the US and Europe, but also East Asia, South East Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Australia, Latin America, and even the Middle East.
I recall arriving at class one morning after learning that the US was (once again) invading Iraq and bombing the hell out of that country. I immediately went over to my Iraqi classmate to ask about his family. He was nearly in tears. Much to my disbelief, he told me I was the only American who would speak to him. I assured him that my brothers had nothing but goodwill toward him — they likely felt too awkward to approach him. (At least, I presumed that was the case.)
Now, normally my classmates were all Christians, but in one course I had a Muslim girl sit next to me. She was from Turkey and came to Rome to do research for her philosophy thesis on the Greek concept of logos. As logos features prominently in the Gospel of John, she signed up for a Biblical exegesis course during her semester in Rome. The first few lectures, before her copies of the required texts arrived, we shared my books, sitting in the front row where neither of us had to look at the dismayed stares we received. After all, it was quite unusual to see a Turkish Muslim woman in headscarf sharing a Bible with an American seminary student in Roman collar. She was smart, opinionated, and intensely focused on her academic endeavor; she was, undoubtedly, one of the best students in the class.
I don’t know what became of her, but I’m quite sure she’s a success today. Wherever she is, I hope she’s well.
July 16, 2016