Cover Story

In the piazza: Conversational witness in Rome

I took two folding chairs and walked with my wife to the park near Sapienza University of Rome, Europe’s largest university. Students dotted the large field on this warm spring morning, eating their lunches, smoking, lying in the sun.

My heart beat faster as we unfolded the chairs and surveyed the scene. I had debated an atheist two days before, but that was in a café next to Roma Tre, another university in central Rome. To debate in the open air seemed more daunting.

These debates had been arranged by a university ministry named the Gruppi Biblici Universitari, which had invited the Italian Union of Atheists and Agnostics to provide a speaker. The union’s director had debated with me two days before. Now I was going to debate Roberto Sabatini, who teaches sociology at Sapienza.