Calgary’s first Theology of the Body conference was Bishop William McGrattan’s vision in action.
On March 8-9, more than 800 people of all ages and life stages came to participate in the conference at St. Michael’s Catholic Community. It dovetailed perfectly with the bishop’s long-range plan to cultivate missionary disciples who proclaim their faith in both words and action.
Theology of the Body is St. John Paul II’s vision of the human person. It’s a series of 129 lectures given at the Vatican between September 5, 1979, and November 28, 1984. It constitutes an analysis on human sexuality, and it’s considered the first major teaching of his pontificate.
The conference, centred around marriage and family life, brought together a mix of laity and religious, all engaged with the topic and even each other.
While waiting for the conference session to begin, McGrattan, in his bishop’s vestments, was making silly faces at a giggling baby slung over her father’s shoulder.
During a busy meal, a Franciscan friar was running around with his hood up playing Jedi with some young children. Young religious from over half a dozen different orders were mingling with young families.
Scenes like these were common place at the conference that attracted people of all ages from 15 years old and up.
This event was the result of Sister Helena Burns — who runs Theology of the Body workshops for the Daughters of St. Paul — mentioning the idea to Calgary parishioner Adam Soos, who took it as a personal challenge to start “a world-class” TOB conference. The event was quickly supported by the bishop.
“It is one of Bishop McGrattan’s visions to form missionary disciples,” said Huy Nguyen, head of pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Calgary.
“So, with that vision, marriage and family life become a centre, formation is also key, especially for young people as they discern their vocation.”
The day-and-a-half event featured a series of keynote speakers, including Sister Burns, Theology of the Body scholar Christopher West, Rev. Thomas Loya, a pastor who hosts radio programs on Theology of the Body, Vicki Thorn, founder of the pro-life Project Rachel website and Kevin Muico, a lay missionary with Couples for Christ Canada based in St. Albert. Sacrament of Confession and Adoration were also available.
“The biggest message I got from this conference,” said 23-year-old Edrienne Manalastas, “is how Theology of the Body is not saying no to what’s bad, but it’s giving your full yes to something so beautiful.”
“God, Creation, the Bible, the Church and science are all saying the same thing,” Burns said in the opening talk. “If one of them weren’t saying the same thing one of them would be lying.”
These five components were further developed throughout the weekend by the various speakers. Thorn presented biological facts about humans that demonstrated the miracle of our God-created bodies.
Loya, coming from the Byzantine rite, articulated how Catholics have a “sacramental-liturgical” worldview, and how this is crucial to understanding who we are as human beings.
West, the founder of the Theology of the Body Institute, gave the keynote address on “God, Sex and The Meaning of Life.”
“Sex has a language but most of us have learned that language at a construction site,” West told the audience. “We are made as sexual beings in the image and likeness of God. Only in the human person, does this reveal the image and likeness of God.”
West, along with Mike Mangione, finished the evening with a dynamic session incorporating live music, sacred art, and reflection on the meaning of life and love.
Saturday night Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savin of Venezuela. During his homily, he talked to a crowd about the evils his country is currently facing. Following Mass, a dinner was celebrated at the Parish with 200 additional Venezulan guests.
The Diocese of Calgary plans to continue their efforts in forming youth and married couples, as well as fostering a culture of vocations around their diocese.
“Even just for forming new friendships and maybe meeting people outside of your parish,” says Adam Drzewiecki, 27. “I think it’s good for the diocesan community as well so people aren’t ignorant of their faith.”
The event drew people from across Alberta as well as the northern United States.
All sessions were recorded and can be found online at St. Michael Catholic Community’s Facebook page.
– Katherine Szojka, 17, is a Grade 12 student at St. Gabriel Online School in St. Albert and a Youth Speak News columnist. This column was originally published by The Catholic Register.