September 8, 2014
SARAH HINDS
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

PHILADELPHIA – For campus minister Amy West, St. John Paul II's theology of the body is more than just the late pope's writings on the human body, the creation of male and female, marriage and human sexuality.

It is also a means of healing and self-discovery for young people.

"What I see with each coming year is that students are wounded," said West, campus minister at George Washington University in Washington.

"They're wounded by their upbringing, by the evermore secular culture, by the evermore sexualized culture, and they've never learned or they've lost the value of their own self-worth and their own dignity.

"So theology of the body has brought a lot of healing to students," she said. "Through it, they find meaning."

More than 700 people – many of them young people – gathered in Philadelphia for the summer International Theology of the Body Congress.

For three days, philosophers, theologians, clergy, religious and the laity discussed the meaning and relevance of St. John Paul's work, how to implement it in daily life, and how to incorporate it into a new evangelization.

The first major teaching project of Pope John Paul's pontificate was a series of short talks given between 1979 and 1984 focusing on the meaning of the human body, authentic love, sexuality and marriage in light of biblical revelation.

DEEPEST DESIRES

In his theology of the body, the late pope teaches that the deepest desires of the human heart are for the divine.

His theology points to the fact that all Christians are called to live and love in a self-giving way, reflective of how Jesus gave completely of himself on the cross out of love for humanity.

Theology of the body is not just about sexuality, but also about how people are called to live as humans.

"It's changed my whole world view of beauty and how I'm called to something greater. There's this infinite love that I'm called to, and can participate in each moment of my life," said Amber Henry, 21, of Miami, a student at The Catholic University of America.

For Henry, learning and living the theology of the body has been life-changing.

"It's changed my life to know that there's a certain dignity in myself and in others, and to recognize people as walking tabernacles," she said. "It's freeing. It's true freedom."