|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.
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
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!
|Leslie addresses those attending the symposium.|
What was your
experience at the symposium? Did you meet anyone interesting?
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.
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
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
What was it like attending with your daughter?
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.
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
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.