Scholarships offered by the Germany-based Aid to the Church in Need help to support some 400 seminarians, religious and laity worldwide at pontifical universities in Rome.
Following a meeting last March, the scholarship students met a second time in early December at the Pontifical Athenaeum Agustinianum in Rome.
"The students themselves asked that the meeting be held again," said Attilio Tamburrini, the Italian secretary of Aid to the Church in Need, which was founded by Father Werenfried van Straaten in 1947.
During the meeting, a number of testimonies were heard, including that of a Pakistani who arrived in Rome thanks to a post-licentiate two-year study scholarship.
In his country, 97% are Muslims and 2.5% Christians. "At present there are more than 3 million refugees from Afghanistan," said the Pakistani, who asked that his name not be used.
"There is no freedom of speech or preaching," he added. "Moreover, Christian institutions have been nationalized, but these restrictions have strengthened our faith."
Also problematic is the situation of Myanmar (formerly Burma). A student from that Southeast Asian nation of 52 million said that 85% of his countrymen are Buddhists and only 1% are Catholics.
"The government regards the Christian religion as foreign and colonizing," he explained. "Some churches have been forced to close down, others have been destroyed or turned into military depots. All the missionary, professional or academic schools have been confiscated without compensation."
Nigeria, where Sister Bridget, 25, of the diocesan Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, comes from, presents a different picture.
She is studying missionary spirituality at the Urban University and hopes to become a teacher.
"Catholics are a majority in my country, but there are other problems," she said. "Above all, there is that of the promotion of the dignity of woman in pastoral care. We have opened a consultation center for this purpose in the parish."
Sister Mable, of the Sisters of Mercy, has come from Zambia to study pedagogy. She will teach youth in higher education in Africa. "Among the different types of poverty is that of many families who cannot pay for their children´s school," she said.
For Brazilian Sister Mary of the diocesan Congregation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who is finishing her doctorate in mission studies at the Gregorian University, "the intercultural experience increases the spirit of solidarity."