On Thursday and Friday, May 21-22, we visited this experimental university in , Italy. In the picture we are listening to a panel of students chaired by Professor Amy Uelman. Our students were impressed by the truly international student body. This panel from left to right included students from Syria, Brazil, Argentina, Italy and India. The university has as its goal giving students the skills to build a ‘culture of unity.’ There are students studying communication, economics, philosophy and theology, and political science. Management students especially work to build a new style of business building an ‘economy of communion,’ where profits are divided into thirds, one third reinvested in the business, one third to promote the wider economy of communion in the community, and a third to be used to support the poor.
We were quite impressed by the focus on religious diversity on campus and the related emphasis on dialogue and understanding in contrast to proselytizing. The expectation is that students of different religious backgrounds, including ‘no-religion,’ would hear and learn from each other and learn to pursue a common ‘golden rule.’ That will bring peace.
While in Loppiano, we also visited the local arts program, where some remarkably talented and globally grounded artists produce works that contribute to cross cultural unity. We also visited several cooperative enterprises ranging from a café, a winery and a fabric producer who are guided by the economy of communion concept.
After our visit to Loppiano, our final stop is Marzabotto, Italy (between Florence and Bologna). We picked an agrituristica site for our last three days so that students could prepare their final project proposals in a relaxing and reflective community. We have stayed at Chiesa D’Ignano 1778, lodging built into an old chapel destroyed by the Nazis in 1944 as they fought partisans in retreating from Central Italy. Marzabotto was the site of a Nazi massacre of civilians in this beautiful mountain region. The massacre is much like that at Oradour-sur-Glane in France, except it was spread across a mountain into two valleys. The massacres in this region have recently been the subject of two films – Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna (2008) and an Italian film, whose English title is “The Man Who Will Come.” The images which differ in the emails, show how half the chapel was destroyed when a German tank fired into the front door. Both films show how the Nazis rounded up people in the churches and killed the priests and the parishioners, as at Oradour.
On a lighter, final note, after drafting the policy proposal, the students climbed to the top of Monte Sole which is the center of a National Park dedicated to peace. In the image, they could not help recalling scenes from the “Sound of Music,” and as they posed on the meadow just below the summit they hummed “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music.”
While the final student proposal is only in draft form, it focused on helping Alma College learn from the emphasis on peace, economic justice, openness to religious and cultural diversity that they experienced during the visit to Sophia University.