Philadelphia, July 23, 2014 – Pope Saint John Paul II has said the future of humanity passes by way of the family, and because it passes through the family, it passes first through individual hearts. At the 2014 International Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia, sponsored by Theology of the Body Institute, a focus on personal holiness, love of others and recognizing human dignity in them pointed the way to the World Meeting of Families, which Philadelphia will host in September 2015.
Bishop Jean Laffitte is Vatican Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the office that is organizing the World Meeting of Families – an event which Pope Francis is expected to attend. In his keynote address, Bishop Lafitte encouraged radical generosity. “Pope Saint John Paul II’s gift of Theology of the Body is a gift for the entire Church,” Bishop Lafitte said. He highlighted the principle of alterity, or recognizing the “otherness” in one another and entering into the mystery of the differences between the sexes. Understanding this principle is key to understanding the family.
At the Theology of the Body Congress, speakers addressed the importance of the body at all stages of life. From teaching teens to works of mercy for the elderly, speakers spoke of preserving the dignity of the human body.
Fr. Michael Gaitley, Director of the Association of Marian Helpers, wove together the Second Vatican Council, Pope Saint John Paul II and the Theology of the Body. According to Fr. Gaitley, John Paul II’s entire pontificate was about implementing Vatican II, and TOB is rooted in its most central pastoral concern. “We need to make our faith not a part of the head,” Fr. Gaitley said. “But a part of the heart, and Theology of the Body is a beautiful way to do that.”
Christopher West, Director of the Cor Project, inspired the crowd with a presentation on the essence of Theology of the Body – the fact that the human person is a creature of infinite desire. We try to fulfill that deep longing with physical pleasures and indulgences, but it’s a longing that only Christ can fulfill, said West. Especially in the American culture today, people are confronted with many ways to attempt to fulfill the the fundamental desires of our hearts, to no avail. “The culture of death,” said West, “is a culture that separates body and soul, and Theology of the Body is the answer to our post-Christian, pornographic culture.” Theology of the Body, West said, is the primary tool of the New Evangelization.
Dr. Janet Smith, noted author, speaker and holder of the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, warmed the crowd with humorous and moving stories of caring for her mother who suffers from dementia. Smith reminded those attending that Pope Saint John Paul II said that this theology about the divine mystery of the human body is not only about sexuality but that the body remains gift through all stages of life. Even though our loved ones are not once what they were, “human dignity remains,” Smith said. “It’s all about love.”