Quick trip to Rome: 4-6th November 2018

Just over a fortnight ago I wrote of the experience of a group of Italian students with their Professor, Alessandro Saggioro, arriving at the Cathedral totally unexpectedly and the special half hour that I had with them.

001I had the rather late opportunity to join a delegation, made up of academics, students from the University of Bahrain, and clergy and leaders from different faith communities, and headed by the Minister of Education, representing His Majesty the King, making a two day visit to Rome for the inauguration of the King Hamad Chair in Inter-Faith Dialogue Global Peaceful Coexistence, which was being established at Sapienza University in Rome on Monday 5th November. There were two parts: the first were the formal events in the main hall of the University in the morning, which involved several speeches, all in Italian, including the President of the Sapienza, University and the Head of the History of Religions Department and concluding with a lecture from Professor Saggioro also in Italian, but thankfully with an English translation and a helpful powerpoint, that illustrated his themes. He reflected on the study of religions, explored peace and religious freedom in different times and contexts and finally explored some key words that underpin the idea of peaceful coexistence among religions and suggested some directions for future research. It all took place in the shadow of a huge painting that clearly came out of the fascist era in Italy and it was interesting talking with students about that afterwards over lunch. 002The second part of the evening was a Gala Dinner at the elegant Rome Cavalieri Hotel, in their huge banquet hall. Several hundred people were present. Speeches were confined to professional presentations on the big screen prior to dinner. I found myself sitting between the Ambassador of Yemen to Italy, a very interesting lady in a hugely demanding role with the current situation in Yemen. Her father was a diplomat – but she had started her professional life as a teacher of English. I was able to talk about the work of the Diocese’s Ras Morbat Clinic in Aden On my other side was the priest of the Coptic Church in Rome, with whom I had to converse in French! It was lovely to catch up with an old friend, Tim King, from the Focolare Movement whose central office is in Rome and whom I’d sent an email about the dinner. Nancy Habib, who also has long-standing links with the Focolare Movement, and I were able to introduce Tim to Dr Shaikh Khalid, who heads up the Board of Trustees of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence and Bettsy Mathieson, who heads up This is Bahrain, as we had already talked with them about the spirituality of unity that is integral to the movement, possibly having a significant contribution to make in the context of Bahrain. I was also able to introduce the Chargé d’Affaires of the Arab League in Rome to Professor Saggioro, as she was interested in pursuing a PhD in interfaith studies and already had a prepared proposal. He was very interested in following this up.

The appointment of Professor Saggioro brings all sorts of new possibilities to bring a new depth to relationships between faith communities in Bahrain and to move from warm feelings to deeper understanding.

It was a privilege to be there for the launch of this new phase and particularly encouraging to see the generation of students from Bahrain and Sapienza clearly making friendships that will have a lasting impact in widening their horizons and building trust for the future.

003There was very little time to see much of Rome in the busy schedule, especially as it was raining for much of the time, but I did manage to walk down to St Peter’s Square on the first Sunday evening and with occasional glimpses of sun and dark rain clouds, the light was very beautiful, especially when the lights came on in St Peter’s.