Being a student of many things Theology of the Body and Pope St. John Paul II, I have my favorite quotes that the second longest Pope in history shared in his addresses, homilies and writings.
“Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ!”
On the day of his installation as Pope in 1978 this was exclaimed from the balcony and repeated often over the next 27 years.
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Certainly, as I have read these bold statements repeatedly and pondered them in my heart, the Polish Pope was speaking to those in his audience, certainly the most holy, worthy people. The best I could do was to pray and reflect on these bold exclamations, wishing I were slightly deserving of this directive. It was beyond my expectations, even after working in Catholic ministry for over thirteen years, that I would come to believe a little differently. Perhaps Pope St. John Paul II was speaking Christ to all of us including me? Maybe these words were directed to all humanity, not just the present audience and the seemingly ultra-virtuous and pious, but every person, including sinful, imperfect me?
In August of 2019 I met a new friend at Ruah Woods Press’ Teacher Training. Milagres Pereira had traveled to Cincinnati all the way from Goa, India to be formed in TOB. In July of 2018, MIlagres met Ruah Woods Press staff member Steve Deiters at a Couple to Couple League’s Humanae Vitae Conference where Steve gave him Theology of the Body Rosary Meditations, written by friend and Ruah Woods Board member Debbie Staresinic. For a year, Milagres read and prayed with this book and it became his impetus to get back to Cincinnati for TOB Teacher Training. Through Debbie’s little book he was inspired to know more. Furthermore, he had been enlightened through the rosary and Theology of the Body, that Pope St. John Paul II had left us great wisdom on marriage, family, human dignity and The Church for the turbulent times we are living.
While MIlagres was attending TOB Teacher Training here, our friendship grew quickly over similar thoughts on our spiraling culture, pro-life work and having similarly aged children. Consequently,we discussed the worries that come with parenting and the culture of death bearing down on our world. We discovered that we had other mutual pro-life friends. Therefore, Milagres extended an invitation for me to travel to Goa, India in Advent for a conference and to share my prolife and TOB work experience with Catholics in his Diocese. As I gratefully accepted his invitation and expediently received a travel visa to India, MIlagres assisted in making additional travel plans to the burial site of my all-time hero, St. Teresa of Calcutta, AKA Mother Teresa.
My New Church Year began on December 1 for me by attending Mass at my home parish and then leaving that afternoon for my big adventure. Yes, I was afraid. Yes, I felt unworthy. Yes, I felt doors were opening wide and I was being asked to put out into the deep. Gulp! Maybe Pope St. John Paul II was speaking to me, and gave Christ’s words to all of us after all?
The next twelve days of my life were a whirlwind of new sights, sounds, prayers and friendships. Milagres’ twenty-three year old daughter Ethel met me in Bangalore (after 24 hours in the air) where our new yet deep friendship began by celebrating the Feast of St. Francis Xavier together. We then boarded yet another flight to Calcutta and The Motherhouse. While together we had full days of Masses, adoration, prayers and meetings in Calcutta. New friends were made with a group of like-minded missionaries and we shared bringing ROOTED: K-12 Theology of the Body Curriculum to life in Calcutta. Thanks to Mike Willig, Archdiocese of Cincinnati seminarian and former volunteer in Calcutta. Mike’s hand written notes to the Missionaries of Charity, were a golden ticket for admission into the Motherhouse.
Incidentally, Calcutta is everything you might imagine it to be, but MORE. While there, I had an overwhelming sense of people just “being”. Yet, the culture is so fast-paced, extremely diverse and very different from ours. It is of course so much more impoverished. As a “superfan” of Mother Teresa, especially through serving on the front lines of a pregnancy center for ten years, I truly grew in closeness to my favorite saint and staunch defender of life.
Moreover, Ethel and I had another adventure before we headed to Goa from Calcutta. We took a day trip to Sorberia, a remote village three hours outside of Calcutta where Father Ante Gambric SJ, Servant of God, had lived and worked for fifty years with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. He is now buried there. After an extremely precarious car ride that Indiana Jones would have been white-knuckled experiencing, we made it for the most calm and peace-filled day of prayer and visiting. Considering Ethel’s special devotion to this holy Croatian priest, it was her dream to meet those that worked with him and were impacted by His holy priesthood. The Mission is truly miraculous.
While at this Mission we also visited with the most beautiful Catholic School students who are learning our faith in the midst of a highly persecuted and not very Christian region. We heard these little students sing and recite new prayers in English as they looked bright eyed and holy in their tiny Catholic School uniforms. It was a gift to leave them ROOTED curriculum and Debbie Staresinic’s On a Mission to Love. Talk about wide doors and deep nets! This little school halfway around the world could become a TOB Campus!
After our adventures in Bengal, we made it back to Ethel and Milagres’ home in Goa where I met Milagres’ wife Violet and his other four children and his three grandchildren. The Diocese of Goa is on the west coast of India and a tropical tourist destination. It is filled with powder beaches, Russian tourists, fruit stands, roadside sugar cane drinks, pythons, cows, dogs, monkeys, rice fields, ninety degree days, no air conditioning, palm trees, 450 year old churches and beautiful Catholic families devoted to promoting a culture of life. Finally, it is here I was able to give a full schedule of talks over five days in seven different locations. My story always begins with Mother Teresa connecting my heart to India. She was my childhood hero and I truly believe through her inspiration, as well as Our Lady of Fatima, led me to pro-life work and Theology of the Body.
Through my presentations, I was able to share with the audience that each human person bears the image of God from the moment of conception, male or female. That God has a divine plan for each and every one of us and by truly understanding our vocation to love, the fruits of the spirit will be born and transform the world. Therefore, aspire to celebrate every pregnancy, planned or unplanned and take care of mothers, fathers and babies in need. Theology of the Body is the gift that God has given the universe through Pope St. John Paul II, to transform our culture and reclaim the dignity of the human person. It is these elaborated, but not so new, teachings rooted in the Gospel that will answer the confusion that currently exists in every nation under the sun. These are messages of truth from scripture and a great saint. They unite us all, nation to nation, person to person. I experienced this unifying hunger and longing thousands of miles from home.
After full work days in Goa, we subsequently took time to travel to Old Goa and the tombs of St. Francis Xavier and St. Joseph Vaz. We then took day flights to Chennai to visit the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle. All the great Indian saints and Mary were prayed to and asked to intercede to Our Lord in reclaiming the culture of life in India and around the world.
Here we are beginning a new decade, while also still in the 40th year of Pope St. John Paul II’s first Theology of the Body Wednesday audiences. All signs of the evil in the world spilling out in every facet, also point to great defenders around the world taking back our culture and our Church. I was blessed to see and share this first hand in a time zone with a twelve hour difference and a completely different state of cultural being. Take heart, we are not alone in this fight and we need each other around the world to bear witness to Christ.
“Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Romans 5:20
Every one of us is being asked to participate in these efforts for Christ. Our Lord calls each and every one of us to stand strong and defend the human person, male and female, body and soul, created in the image and likeness of God, unique and unrepeatable with a plan and a purpose. We are all asked to speak and teach these Gospel truths as we enter into this new decade. God will give us the grace and courage to speak THE truth with love and mercy.
Ruah Woods Press has spent seven years developing a world-class curriculum that will assist in bringing about a cultural transformation. Everyone is invited to participate in reclaiming the dignity of the human person by teaching ROOTED. The staff at Ruah Woods is thrilled and privileged to help make this happen.
“We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity. In the terrible battle between the forces of good and evil, revealed to our eyes by our modern world, may your suffering in union with the Cross of Christ be victorious!”
Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us! St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
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