Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Institute’s New Director on Speaking Truth in Understandable Ways

By Kathleen Naab

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, JAN. 9, 2012 ( A Philadelphia-based educational institute focused on promoting Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body has named a new executive director.

The 7-year-old Theology of the Body Institute picked Damon Owens, a successful businessman turned marriage promoter. Included on his extensive resume is his work as the Archdiocese of Newark’s Natural Family Planning and Marriage Preparation Coordinator, and leadership with the Life Education And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), the largest African-American, pro-life ministry in the country.

Owens is himself a certified Natural Family Planning instructor who has counseled more than 20,000 couples over the last 16 years. He often appears on Catholic television and radio, sharing various aspects of the theology of the body, as well as commentating on topics related to marriage and family. He and his wife, Melanie, have been married for 18 years and have eight children.

ZENIT spoke with Owens about the Theology of the Body Institute and its work, and the difficulties facing those who promote Blessed John Paul’s message.

ZENIT: The Theology of the Body Institute exists to promote John Paul II’s theology at the secular level, too. Is that truly possible and if so how?

Owens: Our mission is to train and educate men and women to understand, live and promote Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body. While most of the individuals who come in contact with our programs are Catholic, our on-site and Certification courses regularly draw non-Catholics and non-Christians. It is not only possible, but it is critical that we evangelize the broader culture. Our preparation as believers for the “springtime of the new evangelization” includes a deeper grounding not only in the “what’s” of our faith, but the “why’s” behind them.

As believers, we accept even what we cannot fully understand about God’s revelation, because we love and trust him. Still, our faith is reasonable. There is a tremendous amount of truth that can be encountered before an assent of faith. There is a tremendous amount of beautiful and compelling meaning that can be successfully proposed even to a darkened intellect and hardened heart.

Rooted in objective truth, the theology of the body provides a personalistic approach that is well-suited for evangelizing in the modern culture. Our sexuality — masculinity and femininity — carries deep meaning for the identity and vocation of every human person. It is also the place of deep wounds for so many. The Theology of the Body Institute desires to help persons in every state of life gain an understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image and to live out their call to love as he loves. Only from this foundation can an authentic culture of life and love take root and flourish.

ZENIT: Linked to the previous question, statistics about Catholic married couple’s use of artificial contraception seem to indicate there is plenty need for Catholics as well to hear and accept John Paul’s theology. What are your thoughts in this regard? Must we first clean up our own camp before engaging the secular world?

Owens: Beginning with your last question, evangelization is, of course, intimately connected with catechesis (the head) and conversion (the heart). It is always a messy, personal, and inefficient work! Our witness is hurt by our own sin, ignorance, and lack of faith. On one hand, our ongoing conversion strengthens our witness. On the other hand, we have to be careful about setting too high a standard of personal perfection before witnessing to perfection. Without question, contraception is a tap-root of nearly every modern evil. Moreover, the prevalence of Christians contracepting is both a cause and an effect of the rise of other grave evils such as pornography, divorce, violence against women, abortion, fornication and homosexuality. These were the predicted consequences of their widespread use, and the subsequent result of their widespread acceptance.

The question remains, however: How do we reach people’s heads and hearts to reject the evil of contraception? It cannot just be emphatic instruction on the mortal sin of contraception (the head). It must include a compelling invitation to a true conversion of heart. Their hearts must “see” how contraception is a withholding of themselves that deforms the marital act and stifles the very love they long for. Theology of the body is a means to illumine the immutable meaning of things (natural law) in the heart of the person.

Fortunately, the great majority truly desire love. Whether they are in a pew or at the mall on Sunday, they deserve to hear the truth in a way that they can understand it. It is in our heart — or inner life — that we as unique and unrepeatable persons encounter the One True God. While we certainly wish there were a more authentic faith witness from Catholic married couples today, we at the Theology of the Body Institute have been just as awed by conversions in the Faith as by those to the Faith. We remain passionately committed to the simple mission of educating and training men and women to understand, live, and promote the Theology of the Body.

ZENIT: Tell us about the institute and plans you have for it as the new executive director.

Owens: The Theology of the Body Institute was formed in 2004 with the simple mission to educate and train men and women to understand, live and promote the theology of the body. Each of the founders experienced a profound conversion through Blessed John Paul II’s great work and continue to be animated by the desire to make it accessible to the world — Christian and secular — in an understandable, engaging and attractive manner. Ours is an integrated educational approach that presents the rich intellectual theology in an environment that encourages a real encounter with Our Lord. As we often say, it is an immersion of the head and the heart!

Our certification program with its retreat-format courses is the heart of our mission. These courses include Theology of the Body I, II, & III, Love & Responsibility, Catholic Sexual Ethics, Writings of John Paul II on Gender, Marriage, & Family, The Thought of Karol Wojtyla, and Theology of the Body & the Interior Life. Our on-site events at schools, parishes, seminaries and conferences around the world complement these courses and have grown in number and size every year.

We have a world-class faculty that includes Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Michael Waldstein, Christopher West, Bill Donaghy, Dr. John Haas, and beginning for 2012-2013, Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV. To date, more than 1,600 individuals have come to Pennsylvania for our week-long certification courses, and thousands have attended our on-site events around the world. We also held the first Theology of the Body Congress in 2010 bringing together leaders from around the world to explore the diverse applications of TOB. So, I begin with an organization that I consider successful in its mission.

My plans are to build on this success with an enhanced Clergy Enrichment Program for priests and seminarians that enriches both their priestly identity and vocation as fathers. We also plan to expand both our faculty and our Certification course offerings to reach even more lay and clerical leaders. The fact remains that only a small percentage of people in the world are familiar with this profound teaching. I see my role as expanding this success, as opposed to any real change in direction.

ZENIT: You are taking over leadership of the institute when the push for same-sex marriage and adoption is unprecedented. What do you hope to contribute to this battle?

Owens: We are an educational apostolate, so our contribution to social issues such as these is teaching the meaning of things. What is marriage? What does our sexuality mean? What is love, truth, freedom, or joy? What does it mean to be a human person? How do I choose, act, and live in accord with these truths and meanings? These cultural issues ultimately represent a critical loss of the meaning and dignity of human personhood. God bless those who are taking up these issues in the public square. I did that for years and deeply appreciate the need for, and difficulty of, these urgent defenses. It is abundantly clear, however, that these issues incubated long-term in a culture steeped in a disintegrated concept of human personhood. Sexual complementarity devolved into sexual difference, now sexual difference has been denied all together. Equality is argued as sameness. So, the argument continues, since men and women are the same, there is no difference between a husband and a wife or a mother and a father.

This is an identity crisis that requires long-term reformation and restoration. If we don’t know who — and whose — we are, we won’t know how to behave in a way that is in accord with our dignity and brings us true joy. Sexuality, sexual morality, love, marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, family, and life itself are integrated realities that flow from who God has revealed himself to be — a Trinitarian Communio: Three Divine Persons in such union that they are truly One.

The Gospel is “good news” precisely because it reveals to us the deepest truths of our identity created in the “image and likeness” of God, and subsequently our vocation to love. The language, approach, and appeal of the theology of the body gives us a means to understand and embrace the Gospel by rereading the language of the body. Simply put, as the body reveals the person, masculinity and femininity reveal the original, enduring, and eternal meaning of personhood as a call to communion. Love is self-gift. By rereading the language of the body in truth, we see love as not simply something we do, but as a universal human vocation that flows from who we are.

With regard to the specific question of redefining marriage, students of theology of the body are equipped to articulate not mere disagreement, but why it is simply not possible.


Debate Continues Over Euthanasia

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 24, 2007 ( The issue of euthanasia came to the forefront of news again recently, with the publication of a note Sept. 14 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The statement, written in reply to questions sent to the Vatican by U. S. bishops, stipulated that providing nutrition and liquids to people who are in what is often termed the vegetative state is, with rare exceptions, morally obligatory.


After the fierce debate over the 2005 Terri Schiavo case in Florida, news came from Arizona a few months ago about a man who unexpectedly woke up from a coma. Jesse Ramirez suffered brain injuries in a May 30 car crash, reported the Arizona Republic newspaper June 27.

On June 8 his wife, Rebecca, had asked his doctors to remove the tubes providing him with food and water. Jesse’s parents objected and obtained a court order to reconnect the tubes. Subsequently, Jesse suddenly woke up from his coma.

Earlier this year another case was reported, from Denver, Colorado. Christa Lilly had been in coma since the mid-’80s in the wake of a heart attack and stroke. In the past, Lilly had woken up for brief periods, but until this year the last time was on Nov. 4, 2000, reported the Denver Post newspaper March 8.

According to the article, a neurologist from the University of Colorado Hospital, James Kelly, thinks that Lilly might have been in a “minimally conscious state” during these years, as opposed to a persistent vegetative state.

Killing machines

Euthanasia came up for debate in Germany recently, after the announcement by Roger Kusch, ex-justice minister in Hamburg, that he has designed a machine to help people commit suicide.

According to a report in the Sept. 9 edition of the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, a simple push of a button injects a lethal solution into the terminally ill patient. German federal law prohibits helping someone commit suicide, but does not make illegal the actual act of suicide by the person involved. So with his machine Kusch hopes to avoid any legal difficulties in helping people die.

News of the invention drew immediate criticism, both from politicians and Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg. Kusch is a candidate in Hamburg’s October elections.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, protests by residents in a Zurich suburb have forced the assisted-suicide group Dignitas out of its premises, according to a July 13 report on the Web site of the German magazine Spiegel Online.

Since 1998, around 700 people have come to the Dignitas center to put an end to their lives. According to the article, the largest group of clients is from Germany, with Britain in second place.

Earlier, in June, the Swiss Senate called on the government to draft a law aimed at improving controls of organizations offering assisted suicide. The National Commission on Biomedical Ethics, a government advisory panel, has also recommended increased state supervision of organizations such as Dignitas.

July also saw a court in the Swiss city of Basel sentence Peter Baumann to three years in prison for having helped three people with psychological problems commit suicide, the agency Swissinfo reported July 6.

Baumann, a retired psychologist, helped the people die between January 2001 and January 2003. According to the court, Baumann acted out of egoistic motives, hoping to obtain public recognition of his methods. The judges, however, defined his conduct as “inhuman,” and criticized his behavior as negligent.

Care, not death

During his trip to Austria, Benedict XVI raised the issue of euthanasia in his Sept. 7 speech to members of government and the diplomatic corps. Saying that the issue was of “great concern” to him, the Pope added that he feared tacit or explicit pressures on the elderly and ill to put an end to their lives.

“The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care and accompaniment on the journey toward death — especially with the help of palliative care — and not ‘actively assisted death,'” the Pontiff stated. He also called for reforms in the social welfare and health systems in order to assist people who are terminally ill.

Some of Canada’s bishops also addressed euthanasia earlier this year. In April the Ontario episcopal conference published a brochure titled “Going to the House of the Father: A Statement on the Dignity and Destiny of Human Life.”

“It seems a cruel twist of history that societies with such great medical capabilities are turning against the disabled and sick — with lethal results,” the introduction stated.

The bishops insisted that protecting life is not just a Christian or religious argument, but a basic human right. “To permit the killing of the disabled, frail, sick or suffering, even if motivated by a misplaced compassion, requires a prior judgment that such lives are not worth living,” they said. “No one forfeits the right to life because of illness or disability.”

“Unless the right to life is secure, there can be no sure foundation for any human rights,” they added.

The statement also explained that there is a difference between deliberately causing death and unduly prolonging life. We are not morally obliged, the bishops said, to prolong life if the means used are unduly burdensome or cause additional suffering and when there is little hope of recovery.

The bishops also recommended that Christians not neglect the soul and that they should draw comfort from the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Suffering and death for Christians, they continued, is not only a matter for medicine.

Disabled concerns

Another source of opposition to euthanasia comes from groups representing disabled people, as the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 6. According to the article, one of the reasons why legislative proposals to allow medically assisted suicide have failed in California in the past few years is the hostility of the disabled’s rights movement.

A combination of legalized euthanasia and pressure to cut increasing costs in the health care system could lead to the withdrawal of treatment for the disabled. The Los Angeles Times quoted a number of disabled people, active in groups who have fought against assisted-suicide proposals.

“The conditions I have are expensive to treat, and it would be a lot cheaper for the health care system to just let my health go to the point where I would want to die,” said Los Angeles activist Laura Remson Mitchell, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and diabetes.

Legal leniency

Other concerns arise from the increasing reluctance by some courts to punish family members who help a sick relative commit suicide. The application of the law in Britain in recent years has been eroded to the point where courts are reluctant to punish those who say they help kill someone out of love, commented Robert Verkaik, law editor for the British newspaper the Independent in an article published May 8.

Among other examples, Verkaik noted a case from October 2006, when a man who helped his terminally ill wife to die was set free with just a nine-month suspended sentence.

Earlier, in March, a French court convicted a doctor for poisoning a terminally ill cancer patient, reported the Associated Press on March 15. In spite of his guilt, the tribunal in southwestern Perigueux sentenced Laurence Tramois to just a one-year suspended prison sentence for his role in the Aug. 25, 2003, death of Paulette Druais in the nearby town of Saint-Astier.

Misguided compassion seems destined to lead to the deaths of still more people as pressures to ease restrictions on assisted suicide continue.

Life Academy Member Offers Critique of Series

ROME, SEPT. 13, 2007 ( The Fox Broadcasting Company’s series titled “House” reflects the existence of good and evil and the need to choose between the two, says a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Dr. Carlo Valerio Bellieni is director of the Department of Newborn Intensive Therapy of the University Polyclinic Le Scotte in Siena, Italy. He told ZENIT that the series “shows something interesting.”

He explained: “The show seems to be an apology for separation and absence: It tells the story of a misanthrope and harsh doctor, Gregory House, who doesn’t want any contact with patients.

“This separation, however, caused by his existential and physical suffering, is only apparent. While remaining surly and anti-social, each time he insistently tries to understand the depths of the person he is caring for.

“He is able to recognize suffering in others because of his own suffering and it is because of this that he can see things that may escape others.

“It is even more strange, and interesting, that the ‘non-politically correct’ actions and judgments, with some exceptions, come from a character who is in constant struggle with the world.”

A doctor’s role

The series debuted in November 2004 and stars British actor Hugh Laurie.

House “doesn’t follow the crowd when it comes to ethical relativism in medicine — the autonomy of the patient, the doctor as a ‘provider of a service’ that has lost the ability to give moral judgments on the practice of medicine,” Bellieni continued.

The pontifical academy member explained: “He speaks harshly with his patients to persuade them to accept a cure, not to give in to their wishes. He knows that there exists a good medical practice and a mistaken one and he wants his patients to choose the good one. But also because in the patient’s answer he is trying to find an answer for himself.”

Bellieni said this “is much better than those who leave the patient alone in the face of a diagnosis of words and numbers, only ‘free’ to choose to live or die.”

He explained: “To put it another way, the writers of the series paradoxically seem to tell us that often words, and certain sweet and pious expressions that are fashionable, serve to cover up distance between persons.

“This is wonderfully underlined by the soundtrack, full of music with a religious tone or that shows the dissatisfaction of a life without meaning, like ‘Desire’ by Ryan Adams or ‘Hallelujah’ by Jeff Buckley.”

“We observe two clear points by the creators of the series,” continued Bellieni. “First, that the doctor is not a ‘provider of a service’ to whom every request is equal, but he knows how to recognize a good answer from an evil answer and how to find the strength to not give them the latter.

“Second, the doctor-patient relationship is never a one-way street: There is not only the one who gives, the doctor, and one who receives, the patient, but the doctor either finds himself in the position to learn strength from the patient, his way of communicating and his hidden signals … or he gives an ineffective treatment.”

“House,” Bellieni explained, “goes to the depressed manager who is waiting to be placed on the heart transplant list and screams at him saying ‘Do you want to live? Tell me, because I don’t know if I do!’ and he doesn’t do this so he will write a ‘living will,’ but to reawaken in him, and in himself, a love for life.

“House is certainly not a saint and he sometimes makes bad moral choices. But if he were a saint, would it be so surprising to hear him cry out, as sometimes happens, against drugs or incestuous sex or in vitro fertilization?”

Finding humanity

The fourth season of the series is set to begin in the United States on Sept. 25. Laurie was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a drama series in 2005 and this year.

Bellieni said: “House knows how to astonish: He makes mistakes, grinds his teeth, but he knows how to recognize what is human when he sees it.”

“This is the important point, often overlooked in medical practice: amazement at the mysterious humanity of the patient.”

“House,” Bellieni remarked, “lets the little girl with a tumor hug him, whose life he prolonged by one year, and impressed with the moral strength of the little girl he begins to change his way of life.”

“In the same way,” he continued, “he is amazed by the little hand of the fetus as it comes out of the womb during surgery and grasps his finger. For the rest of the day he continued to look at his finger, asking himself who is that life that no one considers human, maybe not even himself, but that touched him.

“His amazement is the foundation of his curative ability.”

“House never seems to be there for his patients,” concluded Bellieni. “He is not a good doctor, he is full of pain; but he is rich with a meaningful question, which does not lead him to despair.

“For this reason he is impressive, in an age in which nothing seems to have value except one’s own whims, especially in medicine.”

A Look at the Agora Meeting

ROME, SEPT. 1, 2007 ( – Here is an overview of the Italian bishops’ three-year plan to give special emphasis to youth ministry, titled the Agora of Italian Youth. The plan’s program for this year is highlighted by Benedict XVI’s meeting with youth taking place today and Sunday in Loreto, Italy.

The texts, including two interviews, are provided by the Fides news agency.

* * *

Interview with Monsignor Paolo Giulietti, head of National Service for Youth Pastoral Ministry at the Italian bishops conference.

Q: Monsignor Giulietti, with what objectives did the March 2006 session of the bishops’ standing council approve the proposal for a national path of special attention for the world of youth articulated in three years: the Agora of young Italians?

Monsignor Giulietti: The objectives were many within the framework of renewed attention on the part of the Catholic community for the world of youth. The bishops defined young people a “pastoral priority” and the “Agora dei giovani italiani” intends to concretize this statement.

Hopefully it will lead to greater educational effort on the part of the community, serious efforts to invest in human and material resources to offer young people space for more participation in Church life and new missionary impulse with the involvement of the young people themselves.

Q: The Agora at Loreto is also dedicated to the theme of creation. What is the best way to educate young people to respect creation and nature?

Monsignor Giulietti: It is important on the one hand to intensify knowledge and motivation, anchoring attention for nature to a sound Christian vision of the relationship between man and creation; on the other hand it is decisive to offer young people the proposal of realistic and practical actions in day to day living — small individual and community actions that can improve the present situation and generate hope for the future. It is important to realize that we are all responsible for creation, we must not wait for someone else to solve the problem for us.

Q: Benedict XVI has confirmed his presence at Loreto. After the World Youth Day in Cologne this is the second major event he dedicates to young people. What do they expect from the meeting with the Holy Father? In your opinion why did the Pope accept to insert the meeting in Loreto among his appointments?

Monsignor Giulietti: The Pope — as he said on June 17 in Assisi — is anxious to be with young people, dialogue with them, propose the “great yes” of the Christian faith as the answer to their longing for a truly human life. He has confidence in the new generations and entrusts them with the mission to carry the Gospel to their peers.

For us the Pope’s presence in Loreto almost puts a seal on this three-year path, to which he will make a fundamental contribution in contents and motivation. In particular, the meeting with the Holy Father will be the celebration of a year devoted to listening and will open the year devoted to proclamation in interpersonal relations.

Q: Mission is an integral part of the life of faith. It is possible in your opinion that young people today still sense the urgency to communicate the Gospel of Christ to their peers? How can we kindle in young people a desire for mission?

Monsignor Giulietti: Mission is not something to do, it is more a way of being: Communicating with word and deed the beauty, the greatness of the experience of an encounter with Christ who makes life new. It is possible to kindle missionary impulse if we help young people to view their ordinary life with new eyes and to live it in an “extraordinary” manner. Naturally it is necessary to rethink the words and ways to speak of this at work, at school, at leisure time … for witness to be effective. The problem of little missionary spirit is due too often to dis-incarnated formation and spirituality.

Q: The Church often organizes meetings and appointments but there is little real faith life in our country especially among young people. In your opinion are these great rallies helpful for the faith of young people or not?

Monsignor Giulietti: To say there is little real faith life in the country would appear to me to be a generic statement: We have many young people who live their Christian faith with consistence. Some experienced the decisive moment in their journey of faith precisely at one of these great gatherings. I do not think we can say these great events are of no use; instead we must say that there is a right way and a wrong way to approach them. If well prepared, young people who take part can benefit greatly; if left to improvisation, participation can be disappointing. The event is an opportunity, a channel, and it is up to us to use it well.”

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Interview with Monsignor Mauro Parmeggiani, prelate secretary of the Vicariate of Rome and director of the Diocesan Service of Youth Pastoral Ministry.

Q: Benedict XVI has confirmed his presence at Loreto. After the WYD in Cologne this is the second major event he dedicates to young people. What do the young people of Rome diocese expect from the meeting with the Holy Father? In your opinion why did the Pope accept to insert the Meeting in Loreto among his appointments?

Monsignor Parmeggiani: Actually since the World Youth Day in Cologne the Pope has had other meetings with young people, for example recently in Assisi and Vigevano, and — in greater numbers — in Brazil — and before that in Krakow. I am thinking of his annual meetings in Rome with the young people of his diocese on the Thursday before Palm Sunday.

Certainly the meeting in Loreto will be an important national happening for young people with the Pope. The young people of the diocese of Rome are anxious to listen to Benedict XVI, knowing that he listens to them seriously. Our young Romans have already seen how the Pope is anxious to listen to them. They realized this when he agreed to answer questions off the cuff on various issues on life in their meeting with him in 2006 and then this year when the listening was more intimate and even sacramental when Benedict XVI, like all the priests present at the Roman appointment for WYD, entered the confessional and heard the confessions of six young people.

I think that in Loreto, too, the Pope will want to listen to the young people and speak to them in the name of the One whom he represents and of this responsibility he is deeply aware. The young people are aware that the Pope knows them and he knows the world in which they live, the relativistic, secularized and de-Christianized culture in which they are submerged, their family and affective difficulties, often much greater than one would imagine.

Certainly Benedict XVI appears to be reserved and shy … but as his secretary said recently in an interview published in one of our national dailies, his shyness, rather than a mark of his character, is due to a keen awareness that the Pope represents Christ and it is to him that he must give way.

I think therefore that our young people expect the Pope to help them solve their difficulties. This will not be a meeting of superficial youth, celebrating without contents, instead it will give interesting answers for life which broaden the scope of reason to make way for Christ to enter, which propose Christ as God’s magnificent “yes” to all men and women and to all the young men and women of today.

I think the meeting will be transformed into supplication, praise and prayer to the God whom the Pope will announce. I have the impression that Benedict XVI is most selective in his choice of appointments. If he has called the young people to Loreto it is to let them know that they are not alone as they strive to live their faith and to be disciples of Christ today, that the Church for them is a “trustworthy companion” in which to pronounce their yes for life, to Christ and to neighbor, and to spur them on to be together credible witness of Love.”

Q: Mission is an integral part of the life of faith. It is possible in your opinion that young people today still sense the urgency to communicate the Gospel of Christ to their peers? How can we kindle in young people a desire for mission?

Monsignor Parmeggiani: Certainly. They may have doubts as to how to propose the Gospel, but they — perhaps more than adults — realize that as John Paul II said, faith is strengthened when it is given to others.

Through the grace of God I see every year in Rome many young members of groups, movements, parishes preparing for youth Mission at the School for Evangelization, organized by the Diocesan Youth Pastoral Service in view of our youth mission called “Jesus at the Center” now in its 4th annual edition and which will take place in Rome’s city center from Sept. 29 to Oct. 7 this year.

Actually I believe that young people, more than adults, sense the urgency of mission and they desire an extroverted faith which spreads to their friends, their environments, starting with the school, leisure places, sport, university … And it is good to see how these young people, regarded by certain over-clerical lay adults or even priests at first with some diffidence, succeed in converting even the latter to mission.

Basically the truth, a sense of life, beauty, happiness is never lacking in the heart of a young person including the young person of today. This desire — we have been told many times by John Paul II and now by Benedict XVI — has a name: Jesus Christ, his mercy, his love. Young people need love and “Deus caritas est,” God is Love!

And if we help them encounter this love by being close to them, listening, explaining the word of God, administrating of the sacraments well celebrated, if we are witnesses of charity, of life, if we are adults consistent with their decisions — even though poor sinners — and faithful to the love of Christ who came to encounter them and captivate them, then they too will feel impelled to witness, to be missionaries because love spreads, it cannot be kept for one’s self, it demands by nature to be shared with everyone, through the power of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us — as Benedict XVI writes in his message to the young people of the world in view of the next World Youth Day in Sydney — “to the ends of the earth!”

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Agora of young Italians: three years of work

It all began during the March 2006 session of the Italian bishops’ conference standing council, which approved a proposal of a national path of special attention for the world of youth articulated in three years: the Agora of young Italians. A committee was set up to support youth initiatives and Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, former secretary of the conference, was appointed president.

The objective of the Agora of young Italians is to foster the realization of this path giving new impulse to youth pastoral ministry, greater participation of the new generations in the Church’s missionary activity and involvement in the path of the Church in Italy. The value of missionary activity is the fundamental dimension of the life and action of Christians, individuals and communities.

Year 1

The first pastoral year 2006-2007 was devoted to listening to the world of youth. This is the first dimension of mission; the aim is in fact to carry the Church (communities, young people, priests, pastoral workers) out of their own spaces in order to build new relations with young people on the terrain of hope, sought after and lived in the ambits of daily life, using the interpretations, analysis and proposals suggested at the 4th Church Meeting in Verona: affective relations; experience of fragility; commitment for citizenship; study/work dynamic — celebration; relations with other generations. The first year was oriented to the national meeting in Loreto, which follows on the Verona Meeting, which gave decisive impulse (motivations and contents) to what remains to be done.

The theme “As I Have Loved You,” connects the Church’s becoming encounter with young people to the mystery of God becoming an encounter for humanity in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Truth guides our listening, revealing the presence of Christ in the midst of our young people and leading the Church to “discern what is ‘true’ present in the guise of what is ‘new.'”

Year 2

The pastoral year 2007-2008, will be devoted to the interpersonal dimension of evangelization. The objective is to continue the extrovert dynamic of year one, at the level of witness in daily life and with special initiatives of mission. The central event of year two is World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney: an opportunity for young people to deepen their sense of the mission mandate for their Christian life, in an extremely stimulating cultural and social context. Physical or “virtual,” participation at the event in Sydney is therefore an important passage for those involved in the three year journey.

The theme, “You Will Be My Witnesses,” shows that mission is part of the Christian identity of individuals and communities called to narrate the joyous experience of the encounter with the risen Lord. Mission is lived not as “proselytizing, which wants to ‘capture’ young people, but as a joyous communication of the beauty of a discovery which one feels compelled to share.”

Year 3

The third pastoral year 2008-2009 will be devoted to the cultural and social dimension of evangelization. The objective is to pursue the extrovert dynamic treating the questions of Christian witness (personal, but above all as a community) exercised on frontiers of major cultural and social issues. The itinerary will conclude with an event lived simultaneously in every diocese in Italy, in the squares or diocesan shrines or some of the “new shrines” of our times such as, for example, shopping malls, railway stations, cinemas, sports grounds and places of marginalization.

The theme “To the Ends of the Earth,” underlines the necessity for the Gospel to be proclaimed in the languages and cultures of young people today often very distant from those of the previous generations.

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First Lap: Loreto, Sept. 1- 2

“Loreto 2007” will be the first of three great gatherings in the three-year path of the “Agora of Young Italians.” On Sept. 1 – 2, thousands of young people from all over Italy and delegations from European and Mediterranean countries will meet at the Marian Shrine for a great festival with the participation of Benedict XVI.

The appointment in September is a key moment for year one with the theme “As I Have Loved You,” which includes the post-Verona journey and gives decisive impulse (motivation and content) to what remains to be done.

The Loreto event involves not only the organizers and participants but also the local Catholics: In the days preceding the event (Aug. 29-31) the young guests will stay with families in 32 dioceses in the regions of Marche, Umbria, Emilia Romagna and Abruzzo and take part in days of reflection and sharing, bringing the voice of the world of youth to the local Catholic communities and the civil realities.

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Loreto Program:

— Hosting days (Aug. 29-31). In the 32 dioceses of Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Abruzzo the young people will meet to discuss and share their journey. The days will be characterized by consolidated dynamics (hosting families, festive events, and getting to know the local people and the territory …), as well as initiatives connected with the theme of year one of the Agora of young Italians.

— National meeting (Sept. 1-2). Saturday, Sept. 1, pilgrimage to Loreto: Groups will make their way on foot to Montorso Plain. The pilgrimage will be animated as a path of faith. Then there will be the embrace with Benedict XVI, reflection, celebration … Sunday, Sept. 2, a day of prayer and the culminating celebration of the Eucharist at the end of which the Pope will entrust the young people with the Mission Mandate.

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The voices of some 800 delegates to Loreto

About 800 young delegates representing 50 countries of Europe and the Mediterranean will join their Italian peers for the meeting with Benedict XVI in Loreto from Sept. 1 to 2.

In the Montorso Valley, which will host the event, will fly the flags of England, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lebanon, Moldavia, Holland, Austria, Switzerland. The most numerous delegations will include: 100 young people from Poland (including 50 from Krakow) 50 each from France and Spain, and 25 each from Croatia, Hungary, Greece, Russian, Portugal, Slovenia.

Although less numerous but just as enthusiastic, smaller groups of young people will be coming from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Syria, Palestinian Territories, Israel and Turkey. Ukraine will send representatives of Latin and Greek Catholic rite and the Libyan delegation will comprise three Iraqis, two Filipinos and one Egyptian. There will be young people from Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Cyprus and Malta who will be guests of the diocese San Marino-Montefeltro. The diocese of Ancona-Osimo will be twinned with Romania, Montenegro and Krakow, and that of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia with Croatia and Albania. The diocese of Foligno with Belgium, Imola with Scotland, Teramo-Atri with Australia, which will offer hospitality on the occasion of the 23rd Word Youth Day in Sydney2008.

“The presence of foreign delegations,” the organizers explain, “is a call to share experiences and an opportunity to build relationships to last after Loreto.” And this is the spirit of the young delegates.

“For me to participate in this event,” said Dalia from Lithuania, “means celebrating, sharing with young Italians the joy of belonging to the same family of believers, expressing the youthful enthusiasm of being Christians, drawing courage to continue to be His apostles among my peers.”

Armantos from Cyprus says the same: “I will carry to the young people of Cyprus the message that there are many like us, different in color and nationality, but similar in way of life and thought, and with an extraordinary spirituality for our times.”

“In Greece,” said Maria, “as a minority, young Catholics have little occasion for sharing and expression and the ecumenical path is still long, but I hope this great event will fill everyone with the desire to be true witnesses in deed and in faith.”

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Photo Exhibition — John Paul II and Benedict XVI

The inauguration of the Photograph Exhibition “John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Young People, Creation, Marian devotion” at the Church of Santo Stefano at Carisolo, marked the beginning of the “5th Youth Pilgrimage to the Cross of Adamello.” In view of “Loreto 2007,” in memory of John Paul II, the young people made a pilgrimage to the spot where, during the Jubilee Year 2000, a cross was planted dedicated to the late Holy Father, where young people go on regular pilgrimages.

“The initiative,” the organizers explained, “calls attention to the permanent educational and spiritual value of the mountains and looks towards the appointments in Loreto (September 2007) and Sydney (July 2008), where Pope Benedict XVI expects to see the boys and girls of Italy, Europe, the world.”

This year the project promoted in collaboration with the autonomous province of Trent, assumes special importance with the participation of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who will meet young Agora participants and young people of the region of Trent. The pilgrimage represents the highlight of three days of formation, which completes training for volunteer group leaders who will offer their services at Loreto. Reflection will focus in the organization of major events and the importance of voluntary work on these occasions, but also on Creation and the figure of John Paul II.

On July 5, the exhibition was opened by Archbishop Giuseppe Betori, the Italian bishops’ conference secretary-general, Archbishop Luigi Bressan of Trent, Dr. Vincenzo Grienti of the bishops’ conference national office for communications, Professor Tiziano Salvaterra, assessor for education and youth policies of the autonomous province of Trent, and Proffesor Giovanni Morello, who organized the exhibition.

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Sydney 2008

The meeting in Loreto anticipates that of World Youth Day in Sydney Australia 2008. “And now, as the living presence of the risen Christ in our midst nourishes our faith and hope,” Benedict XVI said before leading the recitation of the Angelus with one million young people at Marienfeld in Cologne on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2005, “I am pleased to announce that the next World Youth Day will take place in Sydney, Australia, in 2008. We entrust to the maternal guidance of Mary Most Holy, the future course of the young people of the whole world. Let us now recite the Angelus.”

Sydney will host from July 15 – 20, 2008, thousands of young people from all over the world including young Italians for whom Sidney 2008 will be the second lap of the pastoral journey of the Youth Agora.

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Events 2009

The pastoral year 2008-2009 is dedicated to the cultural and social dimension of evangelization and the theme “To the Ends of the Earth” stresses the necessity to proclaim the Gospel in the languages and cultures of the young people of today, often very distant from those of previous generations.

The objective is to continue the extrovert dynamism proposed in the first two years, treating especially the question of Christian witness (personal, but above all community) exercised on the frontiers of great cultural and social issues.

The itinerary of the Agora will conclude with an event lived simultaneously in every Italian diocese in the squares or diocesan shrines or some “new shrine” of our times such as, for example, shopping malls, railway stations, cinemas, sports grounds and places of marginalization.
monsignor, giulieti, head, national, service, pastoral

Interview With Kevin Burke of Rachel’s Vineyard

KING of PRUSSIA, Pennsylvania, AUG. 29, 2007 ( One man’s sharing gives other men permission to examine their own role in abortion and the impact it has had on their lives, said counselor Kevin Burke.

Burke, the associate director of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, and pastoral associate at Priests For Life, has co-edited a new book, “Redeeming a Father’s Heart,” along with David Wemhoff and Marvin Stockwell, about healing the wounds of post-abortive men.

In this interview with ZENIT, Burke discusses the type of wounds men experience when they have been involved in an abortion, avenues for healing, and how to help the women they love also find healing after an abortion.

Q: Your new book, “Redeeming a Father’s Heart,” addresses the suffering men experience from abortion. Why do you think this issue has gotten so little attention until now?

Burke: We have all heard the exhausted phrase repeated over the years that “abortion is a private personal decision between a woman, her health care provider and her God.”

Men were seen to be peripheral figures in the process, detached and unaffected by the woman’s “choice.”

The reality is that men are involved in 95% of all abortion decisions, and they are profoundly impacted by their participation in the abortion of their child.

In our work as counseling professionals, my wife Theresa and I have worked with many individuals and couples who came to us for healing after abortion.

In the last eight years we have seen a steady increase in men who attended our Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats seeking healing.

Many came with their wives or after their partner had attended. As they shared their experiences of abortion we quickly recognized the devastating impact it had on their lives.

Similar to women, when men experience deep healing of post abortion pain, they are freed from the shame and guilt that feeds silence and isolation.

There is a willingness to share their experience with others because they finally recognize that their feelings are normal, they are not alone.

Abortion hurts, and it impacts relationships in the home and workplace.

When one man shares his experience with close friends and family, it gives other men permission to examine their own role in abortion and the impact it has had on their lives and come forward to find healing.

Q: Aside from the absence of the physical suffering caused by the actual abortion, how does the psychological pain and healing process in post-abortive men differ from the experience of women?

Burke: The majority of men encourage, manipulate and even force their girlfriends, partners or wives to abort.

Many other men physically and/or emotionally abandon the mother of their child when they learn she is pregnant.

She is left alone to carry the full burden of the decision and the physical and emotional aftermath of the abortion.

Often the man may rationalize that abortion is in the best interest of the mother and deny her post-abortion grief.

An important part of healing for many men begins with an agonizing repentance of their role in the abortion procedure and the failure to protect mother and baby from harm.

This act of humility opens the door for them to acknowledge that they have also lost a son or a daughter.

This recognition gives them permission to examine how this loss has impacted their lives, how it has injured their father’s heart, and encourages them to reach out for reconciliation with God and their child on the journey to healing, peace and restoration in Christ.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those men who have an instinctive desire to prevent the mother of their child from having an abortion. They do everything they can to offer support to care for both mother and baby.

If they are powerless to prevent the death of their son or daughter, they typically experience serious depression, rage and grief following an unwanted abortion that can be turned inward in self destruction or acted out in numerous unhealthy ways including the abuse of drugs/alcohol/gambling addictions, anger management issues, pornography, etc.

Such men need immediate counseling and an effective emotional and spiritual healing process like the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat.

Keep in mind that men who participate in and support the abortion decision will also experience post abortion symptoms such as shame, guilt, complicated grief, anxiety, depression and relational problems.

Other men suffer from sexual dysfunctions, addictions to pornography and related problems.

The place of the wound is typically where symptoms emerge — and those symptoms then are likely to occur in future relational difficulties or obsessions and compulsions surrounding sexuality.

Jonathan Flora’s story in Redeeming A Father’s Heart reveals that symptoms can be hidden beneath a very successful businessman who is emotionally detached and involved in transitional physical relationships for many years … yet whose heart is wounded, closed off from deeper intimacy and love that we all hunger for.

Men often do not connect these symptoms with an abortion loss unless they are guided to explore this with a counselor, clergy, friend, through a post-abortion Web site, or a book like “Redeeming a Father’s Heart.”

Q: One of the chapters, “I Married A Post Abortive Woman,” looks at a man who married a woman who had an abortion before they met. The woman, knowing her husband was not involved in the abortion, was reluctant to share with him her suffering. In what ways can men who find themselves in this situation help the women they love?

Burke: This is a powerful account of a husband growing in his marital promise to love his wife as Christ loves the Church.

However, you can see how tenuous the relationship is in the early stages of their marriage as she struggles with depression, feeling unworthy to embrace motherhood and thoughts of cutting herself — a commonly diagnosed symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder which is not uncommon among those traumatized by abortion.

The wife exhibits another symptom of post-abortion trauma: marital infidelity. This symptom is rooted in the common experience after abortion of struggling to fully trust and bond with one’s spouse.

She feels unworthy of her spouse’s love and she is fearful of embracing motherhood. Sadly, she acts out by having an extramarital affair. Many other relationships would have ended by this point.

Fortunately, the couple attended a marriage encounter weekend and later a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, which led this couple to embrace the healing journey together.

What a blessing this was for their marriage! You see in this couple the redemption of their marriage as they grow to fully live the moral teachings of the Church, which are experienced not as a legalistic burden, but as a gift that offers healing, liberation and freedom.

This husband learned to grow in his role as Christ to his spouse. It is a beautiful example for all men.

It is important to note that this couple would likely have come to healing sooner if they had been gently introduced to a healing program like Rachel’s Vineyard and had received information on how abortion might impact their relationship.

So many couples and families are wounded by misuse of the gift of sexuality and abortion loss.

They desperately need the healing found in the Church, and the gift of the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life and the good news of abortion healing.

Q: In your book, most of the relationships involving abortions end in divorce, or breaking up. Is this common, and if so, how can couples who have had abortions save their relationships?

Burke: Yes, this is the most common outcome.

Tragically, a person will abort with the hope of salvaging their relationship, but the toxic aftereffects of abortion are like a radioactive seed planted in the heart of the relationship that will, at varying speeds, kill the relationship.

Keep in mind that the relational pain, the damage to trust and intimacy will continue to be present in future relationships and lead to further dysfunction and divorce.

That is why a trauma-sensitive healing process like Rachel’s Vineyard is so important to treat the complicated grief, shame, guilt of abortion, so an individual is healed and free to fully trust and embrace the love of another.

Q: What resources are available to help men deal with post-abortion pain both at Project Rachel and elsewhere?

Burke: I am the co-founder with my wife Theresa of Rachel’s Vineyard, an international post abortion healing ministry of Priests For Life.

We are blessed to be partnered with Father Frank Pavone, who serves as the pastoral director of Rachel’s Vineyard, as we work together to build a culture of life. Over 500 healing retreats were offered around the world in the last year alone.

Men and couples do beautifully on the retreats and provide a special blessing to all participants. It is a special gift for many women to see a man grieving his role in an abortion decision, and the loss of his child.

It’s also a great joy to see a man embrace his child with love as the weekend progresses.

Project Rachel, or other diocesan ministries, such as family life offices, sponsor about one-third of our weekend retreats in the United States.

We provide training and treatment models and work cooperatively with Project Rachel, parish-based ministries, retreat houses and all the other groups who reach out with the compassion and mercy of Christ to those suffering after abortion.

Another resource for post-abortive men is The Fatherhood Forever Foundation, founded by Jason Baier, also a contributing author to “Redeeming a Father’s Heart.”