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Large crowds welcome the Theology of the Body to Australia

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Partnership with Sydney to equip a generation of leaders

The visit of Dr Christopher West, president of the Theology of the Body Institute, with some of his team drew about 1000 people across two events in Sydney last weekend to listen to his message of hope and the meaning of human sexuality.

It was just the beginning of a new partnership between the Philadelphia-based institute and the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, to bring its offerings to Australians, online and in-person, with Dr West and other staff returning in 2024 and beyond to teach students in Sydney.

After more than two decades speaking and writing on the subject, including in Sydney during World Youth Day in 2008, Dr West is perhaps the best-known communicator of St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

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The Made for More tour which now moves to Melbourne invited people of all ages to dive into a two-and-a-half hour immersion into the riches of the Catholic faith and the ways in which God reveals himself through creation and how our desires are meant to draw us closer to Him.

Audience members at St Mary’s Cathedral College Hall listen to Dr Christopher West, probably the best-known communicator of St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Dr West and colleague Mike Mangione, a singer, songwriter and guitarist, also presented at All Saints Parish in Liverpool. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

With singer-songwriter and guitarist Mike Mangione, Dr West asked the audience, first at St Mary’s Cathedral hall on 20 January and then at All Saint’s Liverpool parish hall the following day, to learn to look beyond mere appearances when it comes to engaging with others and understanding ourselves.

They also invited all to look deeper to see the meaning of liturgy, the Eucharist and to not be afraid to open their hearts to Christ in confession, the sacrament of healing.

Each person is made in the image and likeness of God, is unrepeatable, irreplaceable and indispensable and has been part of the Divine plan since the beginning of time, Dr West told audiences. And so meeting another person for the first time should be an experience of awe.

“We need to learn the difference between looking and seeing,” he said. “As Jesus says, we often look at the world, but we don’t really see it. ‘They look but they don’t see.’”

Not only is it dangerous for us if we look at a person without seeing their inherent and unique personhood, it also does violence to the other person, Dr West explained.

Mike Mangione performed some of his music inspired by the saint’s Theology of the Body. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“Do you know what it’s called when we separate a person from their body? Death. Each of us is not a spirit in a body, we are somebody.”

Dr West spoke of an “all out war” on the meaning of the human body and human sexuality today, warning that pornography offers viewers nothing but a hellscape, “a hellish mockery of a heavenly reality”.

He added that “looking without seeing” each person as unique and loved by God has led to the confusion of potentially an infinite number of gender identities and sexual orientations. He spoke of his own journey into adulthood, as a college student raised with notions about sexuality that led to repression and guilt and temptations for the “fast food” approach offered by the culture.

Discovering St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was one of the most significant events that happened in his life, he said.

The saint explained that eros is integral to every human person, and when properly directed leads us to God, Dr West said. Christians are called neither to repression or addiction when it comes to their deepest desires but to love and respect others and live the “ordinary mystical life” in which God prepares us to be completely fulfilled for eternity.

Sydneysiders gathered early for food and live music before the presentation of Made for More commenced at St Mary’s Cathedral College Hall on 20 January. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Dr West’s talk was seamlessly interwoven with songs written and performed by Mr Mangione to invite audience members to reconnect with their own experiences of yearning, heartache, forgiveness, love and hope.

Daniel Ang, director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, said the two evenings with Dr West and his team, which also included the Theology of the Body Institute’s Jason Clark, were inspirational.

“Christopher really is such an effective communicator of the sacramental vision of the human person, one that unites what some aspects of Western culture seek to render apart – woman and man, the body and our personhood,” he said.

“Over the coming years we’ll be working closely with Christopher and the Theology of the Body Institute to offer ‘theology of the body’ courses for people in Sydney and the wider Church in Australia, and to raise up and equip leaders in this field of evangelisation. So it’s a really exciting time and we’ve started planning for Christopher’s return visit in 2024.”

Marie van Rensburg, 25, attended one of the institute’s courses when training to become a missionary in schools with The Culture Project.

Christopher West, at right, talks with audience members after his presentation at St Mary’s Cathedral College Hall. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“That was a game changer for me and a catalyst for my own healing and growth as well,” she said. “We did the Head and Heart immersion course with Christopher West and that was incredible. It was actually, I think, the best thing I have done in my entire life.

“Growing up, there was a lot of confusion about sexuality and what to do with that desire, there were a couple of years where I struggled with pornography, which for a girl was especially taboo.

“What I learnt in the course put a name to the very deep feelings and longings I’ve had my whole life, that restlessness and feeling that I didn’t feel fulfilled by the things that were around me.

“I never knew what that was, what those sometimes-overwhelming feelings meant and where to place them. And I realised they are good and holy and show that I’m made for eternity, and there’s a way to orient them.

Seth McMurray, also 25, said that the Theology of the Body “just blows my mind”.

“It just reveals God in the world, in me and in everyone I know in a completely different way, and I want to tell people about it.

A thousand people attended two Made for More events hosted by the Archdiocese of Sydney in January, as part of a two-city tour of Sydney and Melbourne by Dr Christopher West and Mike Mangione of the Theology of the Body Institute. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“What it has given me is the realisation that you can be living your ordinary life but it’s not an ordinary life if it’s ordered towards God. It’s the most extraordinary thing imaginable to know and live in the knowledge that we are known and loved by God. It affects you and everyone around you.

“You can’t help but be enlivened in who you are, hearing about this, because it’s true and it rings true every time you hear it. I’d be very interested to see how this new partnership with the institute works, I’m definitely signing up to the waiting list.”

Therese Meaney, 17, said she valued Dr West talking about topics “not usually talked about in our society”.

“He’s appealing to young people and quite a wide demographic and the music was really good. I liked what he said about people needing to feel seen. I think a lot of women in particular need to hear that they are seen and valued.”

Theology of the Body I: Head and Heart Immersion Course (online)

Following Christopher West’s visit to Sydney this month, the first TOBI online course will introduce Australian students to the key themes of the 129 Wednesday audience addresses that comprise John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body’. 

Particular attention will be paid to the imago Dei, fall and redemption, Christian ethics and ethos, freedom and person, gender and vocation.

Students will be encouraged to journey from “head to heart” in applying the theological concepts they learn to their own lives and relationships, and the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation will also accompany students with local contact and information, prayer and more.

Course date: 17-28 April 2023

For more details including the course fees and how to register for this and future Theology of the Body courses that will become available in Sydney and online, visit www.sydneycatholic.org/tobi

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