Thomas More College launches unique Vatican Studies Center

by Thomas More College on September 28, 2007

Operating on two continents, the new Vatican Studies Center aims to provide a comprehensive resource center for students and the general public for the study of the Vatican’s historic and ongoing role in world civilization.

As the semester opened, students who ventured into the Thomas More College bookstore were liable to hear something unusual coming from the adjoining office—the sound of Arabic on the telephone. That’s because one of our renovated offices in the barn now houses Tony Assaf, editor and creator of the Arabic language version of the Catholic Internet news service Zenit and of the Arabic edition of the newly launched Catholic television news agency, H2o. While both news agencies are based in Rome, the Arabic editions of Zenit and H2o are created and distributed around the world via Internet from Tony’s office in the barn.

But those are only two of the activities of Mr. Assaf, a Catholic journalist and translator from Lebanon. Assaf, along with his wife Andrea Kirk Assaf, also spent several years writing for Inside the Vatican, and he brings that experience to bear as he heads up the new Vatican Studies Center. The Center is based at Thomas More College in Merrimack and out of our campus in Rome. Operating on two continents, this Center aims to provide a comprehensive resource center for students and the general public for the study of the Vatican’s historic and ongoing role in world civilization. Its lectures, programs, and pilgrimages are intended to spread understanding of Church teaching and Catholic social thought, and explore their applications in individual lives and in public policy.

Just how will the Vatican Studies Center achieve these lofty missions? In little ways that can have a big impact. In addition to managing the College’s Rome semester, it will also offer pilgrimages for English-speaking Christians who want to experience a two-week pilgrimage so they can gain a deeper understanding of Christianity’s roots. Students will benefit from internships arranged for them by the Assafs with Catholic multimedia organizations. Andrea edits the English edition of H2o and she and Tony have an open door policy for students interested in learning journalistic skills, such as reporting, interviewing, editing, and reading for radio and television.

The Center will educate teachers, students, and the public about Church teaching and doctrine through its Vatican Forum lecture series, as well as debates, day-long conferences, and week-long seminars that cover a wide range of issues, including Catholic social thought, the relationship between faith and reason, sacred Scripture, liturgy, music, Church issues, trends, and bioethics, among others.

The first Vatican Forum event was held on November 15, featuring Charles A. Coulombe, Knight Commander of the papal Order of St. Sylvester, author of Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes, among many other books, discussing his upcoming book from Macmillan Publishers on the Papal Zouaves—the companies of international Catholic volunteers who converged on Rome between 1860 and 1870 to defend the Papal States against attack. (One of these volunteers was Maximin Giraud, who with Melanie Calvat, had experienced a vision of the Virgin of La Salette.) These intrepid soldiers fought bravely for a decade, defeating anti-clerical forces led by Garibaldi on several occasions, before being overwhelmed by superior numbers. With the absorption of Rome by Italy, the survivors returned to their home countries, many of them to found apostolates and Catholic political parties or movements.

The Vatican Studies Center also has a publishing program, which currently includes the sophisticated, faithfully Catholic theology journal Second Spring, edited by Oxford-based theologian and author Stratford Caldecott. In time, the Center will also publish biographies, translations of important works, histories, fiction, and poetry that stimulate a culture of life in our time. Mr. Assaf plans to prepare and support Catholic high school teachers by conducting teacher training programs and publishing an array of teacher’s and student’s guides that effectively nurture in young Catholics an appropriate understanding and appreciation for the sacraments and other modes of spirituality in the Church.

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