Muslim Students in Rome see Learning as a Two-way Street

November 28, 2006

Author: Tracy Wilkinson

Source: Los Angeles Times,1,6960986.story?coll=la-headlines-world

ROME - When Zeinep Ozbek told her parents how she planned to pursue her education, they were shocked.

Not only was the young Muslim woman about to leave her native Turkey, she was venturing into a strict traditional bastion of Christianity: Rome.

Ozbek, 25, is now one of several Muslim students ensconced in the Vatican's system of higher learning in and around the Italian capital. They attend pontifical universities, schools sanctioned by the Vatican, taking lessons from nuns and priests and sitting in classrooms decorated with crucifixes, in buildings adorned with larger-than-life statues and symbols of papal power.

As Pope Benedict XVI travels to Turkey today, international attention is riveted on his attempts to improve troubled relations between Christians and Muslims. But here in Rome, at a more grass-roots level, a less-noticed experiment is taking place.

Officially, the Muslim students attend the Jesuit-run Gregorian Pontifical University and other Vatican schools to learn about Christianity. In reality, they have become mediators navigating the suddenly very tricky world of interfaith dialogue and understanding.