THEOLOGY OF THE BODY CONGRESS – 9-11 JULY 2014
My attendance at the 2014 International Theology of the body Congress was surely an answer to prayer! Since receiving the information early this year, I prayed for my money-tree to become fruitful and provide! Well, I cant honestly say that that happened but God was good and about 1 month before the Conference things fell into place – sincere thank you to Damon Owens and the Institute who made it possible for us – and 3 weeks after confirming and booking our flights, Fr Donald McLoughlin (our South African TOB expert) and I were soon jetting off to Philadelphia. My excitement was tangible! I lacked sleep from the flight and hardly slept for the next 3 days but I found my energy levels high and my fatigue levels non-existent – something extraordinary for a person for whom sleep is like a drug! Adrenalin?
700 delegates from 23 countries – only two of us from South Africa – attended the 3 day congress. 120 of those delegates were clergy and religious (93 priests). The theme was : LOVE, MERCY AND EVANGELIZATION
The focus of the keynote addresses would cover:
– Meaning and relevance of TOB
– How to implement it in daily life
– How to incorporate it into a new evangelization
I couldn’t wait to attend and listen to the erudite speakers – most of whom I’d only seen on DVD’s or EWTN! Now I was going to hear them live and what’s more I was determined to try and meet some of them. My mission was also to form networks and relationships with as many notable speakers and TOB enthusiasts as possible. Again God was good! How fortunate to ‘bump’ into Professor Janet Smith after the first day’s session – on our way to our hotel rooms. I have been a great admirer of this notable Ethicist and profuse writer and defender of Humanae Vitae. I was drawn by her humility and friendliness. She made me feel like she had known me for ages and soon we were chatting and laughing – she has a wicked sense of humour!
Brian Butler, Christopher West and of course Damon Owens were some of the other well-known speakers/presenters I met – some of them again.
I was determined to meet many of the attendees and I had many opportunities as we made sure to sit at different tables for every meal. This is where most of the net-working and sharing of ideas and experiences took place. It was a great privilege to meet clergy and laity alike, who are passionately involved with TOB in one way or another.
I think of people like: Dr Patti, a psychologist in practice who is trying to discover ways to integrate St JPII’s understanding of the human person (as male and female), into her therapy sessions. How exciting if she develops a counceling theory modelled on TOB! I also met Dr Monique a pro-life Ob-Gyn practicing in New York city. She was very keen to make contact with our medical T.O.B’ers in South Africa! She is also an NFP consultant.
Fr Chris stands out as one of the kindest most hospitable person we had the privilege of meeting.
Not only did he host Fr Donald at his rectory during the congress but he was kind enough to open his house to me for a night before heading back home as I had not pre-booked a hotel for myself.
Last but certainly not least is the most memorable meeting of the whole week: that with the Sisters of Life in New York. Such a blessing it was to have been offered to return to their convent with them the day the Congress ended, to spend a night and to experience a very very small taste of convent life.
These sisters are Active Contemplatives which means they work as well as spend a great deal of the day in prayer. They pray for you and me daily! I experienced it from the moment I got into their car with them for the 1 hour drive to New York City. It started off with a prayer to our Guardian Angel, followed by the Angelus, followed by a rosary, followed by the Divine Mercy Chapelat. All I can say is next time you are travelling, get into prayer mode! It’s amazing how short the trip becomes!
The Sisters of Life are essentially a “Culture of Life” congregation and their Hope and Healing Ministry is only one small but highly effective and sorely needed area of ministry that they are involved in. This ministry deals with Post Abortion healing. It was for this that they invited me to come and meet with Sr Marie Therese, who heads up the ministry, as I believe this type of ministry is desperately needed in our country. We sat for 3 hours, during which time she so generously shared with me as much of her knowledge and expertise as she could in that short time. what a blessing!
I caught a bus the next morning, after Mass and headed for New York city for 2 days of time-out and sight seeing! I love New York city! I met Fr Donald and like true tourists we caught the sight-seeing bus and spent the day hopping on and off.
The last day was spent with Damon Owens of the TOB Institute in Philadelphia. He honoured us by taking time out, on his day-off to show us around the new “Theology of the Body Institute” building. He gave us valuable insights into the setting up and running of such an Institute in South Africa.
We spent the rest of the day at his home with his beautiful family – his wife, Melanie, their 7 (yes SEVEN) daughters Naomi, Leah, Rachel, Therese, Collette, Veronica, Olivia and only son Nathan.
We were blown away by the musical talents of each and every child and together with their Dad, they entertained us with singing and renditions! How special!
Damon’s hospitality and generosity was extended to us right up to taking us to the airport for our flight back to South Africa that evening. A true servant of God, a man full of energy and humility, had it not been for Damon Owens, I personally would not have been fed, enriched and encouraged the way I was by attending the Congress.
In the next couple of entries, I will try to share with you some of the content of the keynote addresses as well as some of the break-away sessions I attended.
About Marie-Anne te Brake
Happily married to Christo since 1980, mother of 4, and has half a dozen grandchildren! Enthusiastic Catholic, Lay Counselor, Sexuality Educator, Theology of the Body enthusiast and Chairperson of Foundation for the Person and the Family