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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Thirsty for More:
Director of TOB Education Center discusses her experience during the Rome Symposium and her impression of the need for the Theology of the Body in Europe and the world

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Leslie Kuhlman with her daughter Laura.

Leslie Kuhlman was one of the approximately 600 people who participated in the “Love: The Splendor of the Gift” international Theology of the Body Symposium held this month in Rome, Italy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical College.  Kuhlman is the executive director of the Ruah Woods Theology of the Body Education Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.  She attended the symposium with her daughter Laura, who is a Regnum Christ consecrated woman.  Below is an interview with Leslie about her experience. 

Tell me about the pilgrimage that preceded the TOB Symposium.

The pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome with Fr. Martin Connor, LC preceded the TOB Symposium itself.  We had 22 people in our group and the pilgrimage began in the quaint, picturesque town of Assisi.  Fr. Martin began by preaching a “mini-retreat” where he conveyed the idea that God wants to love us in extravagant ways.

While in Assisi we celebrated Mass at San Ruffino and paid visits to Santa Chiara and Santa Maria sopra Minerva.  We toured the Basilica of St. Francis, visited his tomb and celebrated Mass in the chapel there as well.  We also travelled to see St. Francis’ Hermitage which was a beautiful, quiet refuge way up high with stellar views of the valley below.  The next day we celebrated Mass at the Porziuncola where God asked St. Frances to “rebuild my church.”   Assisi was the perfect place to begin our trip; to reflect and be receptive to all that was to come.

Next we went to Rome and had a remarkable time seeing all the sights.  Of very special note was attending the Wednesday audience with the Pope and being invited to be seated right up on the same level as he was rather than in St. Peter’s Square.  While in Rome, we celebrated Mass in the San
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Leslie addresses those attending the symposium.
Callisto Catacombs.  Father Martin also celebrated Mass at the tomb of John Paul II, which for us TOB buffs was such an exciting experience!  To be at St. Peter’s, in the heart of the Church and to celebrate Mass in so many remarkable places really set the stage for what was to come at the symposium.  I just couldn’t help but feel such gratitude for getting to experience and see so many beautiful things!  The Churches, historical sites, Roman ruins, the Sistine Chapel, the frescos, the sculpture, the paintings and art…it was so much to take in!

What was your experience at the symposium?  Did you meet anyone interesting?

On Wednesday evening I was invited to attend a pre-symposium welcome and dinner reserved for speakers at the event. Dr. Michael Waldstein addressed the group in a short talk. Afterwards, as we entered the dining room of the Regina Apostolorum, we were engulfed in a sea of black, greeted by about 100 seminarians dressed in their clerics.  Imagine my feelings as I sat down for dinner with TOB giants like Fr. Walter Schu, LC and Christopher West sitting across from me and Dr. Janet Smith sitting to the left of me. 

Thursday morning the Symposium began with a packed house!  It was amazing seeing and meeting people from all over the world who are so hungry to learn all they can about Theology of the Body.  The Symposium itself was very intellectual in its presentations.  Talks were delivered in English, French, Italian and Spanish so we had to wear ear phones with interpreters conveying the words of the presenters themselves which was a new experience for me.  I met people from Singapore, Brazil, Switzerland and Ireland and was even invited to Slovakia for a week!  One of the most interesting people I met was Lorea L. de Bringas from Mexico.  She was so exuberant in her passion for TOB and bringing it to her people in Mexico and Latin America!  She and her husband, Sergio started something called Amor Seguro and have created a video series for teens.  Another joyful couple was Corbin and Birgit Gams.  Corbin has a permanent smile etched on his face!  Birgit told the story of how she was puzzled at Corbin’s sudden change in behavior at being so nice to her.  Turns out he had just listened to Christopher West’s “Naked Without Shame” audio series and it really changed him!  In 2006 they began holding talks and seminars on the Theology of the Body. The Gams founded the association “Vision Liebe“ or “Vision of Love” in 2010 to support the spreading of TOB in the German-speaking world.

I also had the opportunity to give a presentation on Ruah Woods and how our TOB education center located in Cincinnati came to be.  I felt the crowd was very engaged and receptive, and it was edifying to respond to the many questions and comments afterwards.

The other wonderful thing about the symposium is that there were so many other Regnum Christi consecrated women from all over the world in attendance.  It was so good for my daughter Laura, who is also a Regnum Christi consecrated woman, to meet consecrated women there from Mexico, France and the US…some who had been consecrated for more than 30 years!  It gave her a wider picture of what the consecrated life is all about.  Their graciousness and love really made me feel a part of a larger family, and that Laura was in good hands.

What was it like attending with your daughter?

It was an enormous blessing having Laura accompany me on this whole trip.  She is in her fourth and final year of formation at Mater Ecclesiae College in Rhode Island.  Enjoying this rich mother/daughter adventure together was such a gift and one of the many ways God showed me His extravagant love that Fr. Martin first spoke of in our retreat. 

When you are a teen, having a mom “hyped up” on TOB may not be so much fun (Can you just see the eye rolls that both my then teen-aged daughters would give me whenever I “pontificated” about TOB topics?)  But seeing my daughter actively engaged in hearing what these philosophers and theologians had to say was heartwarming indeed.  My interest in TOB is a legacy I’m so pleased to pass on to my daughter, knowing that part of her life’s work as a consecrated woman will be sharing TOB with young girls and college students. 

Surprisingly there were many young people Laura’s age in our pilgrimage group and at the symposium.  All were very curious about Laura’s vocation to consecrated life.  At many a meal, while I ate with colleagues or new friends, she was surrounded by several young women asking all kinds of questions about her life.  She said she must have told her vocation story a million times!  There’s just something about the transforming power of consecrated life that makes one glow and this is attractive to others.  Laura always had a flurry of activity around her!  It was good for a mom to see!

What is your impression of the spread of TOB in Europe?

I learned that we are so fortunate in the United States to have many TOB resources, from all of our great theologians, philosophers and speakers to the books, DVD’s and CD’s to the centers like the TOB Institute and Ruah Woods, to the great organizations like TOBIA and TOBET.  The US is very rich in resources when it comes to this topic.  On the other hand most of Europe (and the rest of the world for that matter) is resource poor!  They have very few resources translated into their language and if it is translated often it’s not the best translation.  Attendees came from all over the world to this conference just to get a sip of water; they’re so very thirsty for TOB!  I was bowled over when I met a woman who came all the way from Singapore to this conference!  Another twosome from Slovakia invited me over for a week, asking if I would give talks to them about how to reach teens with this message.  I had to laugh…sometimes people complain that they have to drive 30 minutes to get to a TOB class at Ruah Woods…there were people at this conference that got on several planes and flew across the world to be there!  It appears, and it often is the case, that the United States has a serious calling to show other countries how to spread the word about TOB.  The topic is attractive to all people in a universal way. 

By the way, I learned that the next International TOB Symposium will be held in 2013 in Fatima, Portugal. 

Who was your favorite speaker at the symposium and why?

One of my favorite speakers was Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai SDB, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Evangelization of Peoples.   The title of his talk was The TOB and Evangelization and he spoke of TOB as the salvific message to fight the Culture of Death with the Culture of Life.  

Also, Christopher West and Mike Mangione performed an abbreviated version of their Fill These Hearts tour.  With music, light, video and other art forms, the program presents the message of Theology of the Body as an artistic event, couching Christopher’s presentation in an atmosphere of art, culture and beauty.

How are things at Ruah Woods?  Give us a quick overview of your progress spreading the TOB word.

Work is continuing to progress at Ruah Woods. Our most exciting new project is the launching of Ruah Woods Psychological Services.  In August we brought on board Dr. Andrew Sodergren, a clinical psychologist who has his Master’s from the John Paul II Institute for the Studies on Marriage and Family and Doctorate from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS).  His practice is providing therapy to individuals, families and couples will be opening at Ruah Woods this December.  We continue to offer TOB classes and book discussion groups on-site at Ruah Woods with about 350 students served this year.  Our work with teens and high schools continues with many teens joining our group Kenosis, which goes deeper into TOB with the aim of creating leaders who will share this message with their peers in high school and later in college.  The fruits of this have been amazing with teens starting Eucharistic Adoration at their high schools, pro-life clubs growing from 20 students to 200, and many students deciding to pursue Theology degrees to study TOB in college!  Even the Cincinnati Catholic high schools are considering a proposal to include TOB in the religion curriculum in our Archdiocese.  I’ve been on a couple of consulting trips to Cleveland and Toledo working with other groups  of people interested in starting centers similar to Ruah Woods as well.



Related links

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