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Chastity and the Gift of Self
More than 600 gather in Rome to study John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

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A view of the audience during the symposium.

Rome, Italy -- A gathering of about 600 people at Regina Apostolorum Pontifical College in Rome paid tribute to the legacy of Blessed John Paul II during the symposium “Love: The Splendor of the Gift” this month.

The international conference focused on the late pope’s Theology of the Body catechesis. The event commenced with participation in the November 9, 2011 papal audience and concluded with the November 12, 2011 Mass at the tomb of John Paul II.

Speakers, participants and invited guests assembled from all over the world, representing countries such as Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Malta, Portugal, Germany, France and many more.  A large contingent attended from the United States, according to one of the event organizers, Fr. Walter Schu, LC.  He said Legion of Christ seminarians were also in attendance, as well as students from the Rome campus of Christendom College and students from other Roman universities. (Click here to read Fr. Schu’s presentation given during the symposium.)

Fr. Schu said the idea to hold the symposium came about at a breakfast meeting two years ago between Fr. Schu, Fr. Martin Connor, LC, and Fr. Pedro Barrajón, LC, rector of Regina Apostolorum. 

Fr. Connor, who also helped organize the symposium, led a 9-day “Theology of the Body” pilgrimage as part of the program.  The pilgrimage included visiting sites in Rome and Assisi, the home of St. Francis of Assisi. Fr. Connor said one readily noticeable “fruit” was a “profound experience of the ‘communion of persons,’” which is a basic tenant at the heart of Theology of the Body.

“The teaching releases a beautiful communion, a deep bonding expressed in the joy and enthusiasm among the participants for the faith and a true family spirit which reigned among all of us from around the world,” he said. “It
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Fr Martin celebrating Mass in the first church of St. Francis.
was an authentic experience of the Universal Church and left a profound impact on all of us.”

Fr. Schu said the symposium has given more impetus to the spread of Theology of the Body in Europe.  He referred to one of the presentations given during the symposium by Fr. George Elsbett, LC, stationed in Vienna Austria.  According to Elsbett, only about 1 percent of Catholics in his city attends Mass regularly, let alone has heard of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

Other symposium presenters included Christopher West of the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia, Dr. Janet Smith, professor of Moral Theology and the Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Katrina Zeno of Women of the Third Millennium and Dr. Michael Waldstein from Ave Maria University in Naples Florida, who translated and wrote an introduction for the most recent edition of John Paul II’s catechesis Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body.

Dr. Smith told the Catholic News Agency she thought the symposium was quite a success. “I love the international dimension both among speakers and the audience and I think it gives us an opportunity to see how the Theology of the Body is studied worldwide,” she said.  She added that the conference highlighted the “multitude of angles from which we can study the theology of the body,” and that it is “going to be decades if not centuries,” before this catechesis is fully understood and developed.

“I was extremely impressed by the terrific organization and quality of talks at the congress,” said Katrina Zeno.  “It is always inspiring to meet people from around the world who are the little seedling of Theology of the Body in their country and to encourage them in their work.  It is very significant that the Legion also provided this for their young men in formation so that Theology of the Body becomes part of their spirituality from the very beginning.”

One of the highlights of the conference for speaker Christopher West was a comment made by Brother Daniel Turski, LC, during the Q & A session of West’s presentation.  “I was very impressed with (this) young LC seminarian who stood up during a Q and A session and courageously outlined the different approaches to sexuality found in John Paul II and Father Maciel -- one knew how to keep his wounded humanity open to the light and was recently proclaimed Blessed by the Church, while the other hid his broken humanity away,” said West. “This is a lesson for all of us.  We are all broken, and we must entrust our broken humanity to Divine Mercy.”

Click here for an interview with one of those who attended the symposium: Leslie Kuhlman, executive director of Ruah Woods Theology of the Body Education Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.



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