By Genevieve Pollock

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, JULY 30, 2010 ( Five individuals and institutions were honored for their work to spread the teaching of Pope John Paul II in his theology of the body at the first national congress on this topic.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, said the opening prayer for the Thursday evening awards banquet at the National Theology of the Body Congress.

Cardinal Rigali affirmed to ZENIT that the theology of the body is "a great gift." In fact, the cardinal personally wrote a Jan. 21 letter of invitation to the congress, in which he stated, "I am convinced that John Paul II's theology of the body is a treasure for the Church and a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time."

The three-day congress, which was organized by the Philadelphia-based Theology of the Body Institute, ends today.

The institute awarded Valentine and Ann Coelho of Goa, India; Father Richard Hogan of Crystal, Minnesota; the Daughters of St. Paul of Boston, Massachusetts; the Theology of the Body International Alliance of San Antonio, Texas; and Ruah Woods of Cincinnati, Ohio.

A press release noted the "pioneering work" of these honorees in "the advancement of the teachings of Pope John Paul II on human sexuality."

David Savage, chairman of the institute's board, said at the banquet that "each of the recipients have been true trailblazers -- in ways unique to their individual and organizational missions -- in promoting and helping others understand the theology of the body."

Unique missions

Valentine and Ann Coelho were acknowledged for their work over the past decade in spreading the teachings of John Paul II in India, through seminars for clergy, religious, seminarians, doctors, youth and engaged and married couples.

Father Hogan, co-author of "Covenant of Love: Pope John Paul II on Sexuality, Marriage and Family in the Modern World," was honored for his vanguard work in disseminating the theology of the body through publications as early as 1981. His latest book, "Theology of the Body: What it Means, Why it Matters," continues his 29-year work of bringing John Paul II's teachings to a wider audience.

Sister Mary Mark Wickenhiser, publisher of Pauline Books and Media, accepted the award on behalf of the Daughters of St. Paul. The congregation, which works to communicate Christ through the media and modern technology, was awarded for its work to publish the general audience addresses of John Paul II, and then many subsequent books by various authors on the topic of the theology of the body.

Anastasia Northrop received the award for the Theology of the Body International Alliance, which was created in 2003 to provide resources for catechesis and ministry. The organization currently supports 500 members in 25 countries in their work with couples, teens, prolife causes, street evangelization, forums and national conferences.

Ruah Woods was honored for its ministry in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, as an education center specifically dedicated to teaching the theology of the body. Since it opened its doors last year, it has trained 400 students to bring John Paul II's teaching to their own parishes and communities.

Universal Church

At the banquet, Cardinal Rigali was accompanied by Bishop-elect John McIntyre, whose episcopal ordination will take place Aug. 6. Also present were Bishop Lawrence Brandt of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and Bishop Hugh Slattery, who retired this year from his position as bishop of Tzaneen, South Africa.

Before giving the closing prayer for the evening, Bishop Slattery addressed some words to the participants of the theology of the body congress, in which he emphasized the need for spreading this Church teaching about human sexuality, especially in the fight against AIDS. He noted that some 2 million South Africans have already died due to AIDS.

Later, in comments to ZENIT, Bishop Slattery affirmed that the Church in South Africa has had a great impact in the fight against AIDS, a work that he said was an "honor" to be a part of.

The congress focused four tracks on various aspects of the theology of the body: pastoral ministry, catechesis and evangelization, philosophy and theology, marriage and family.

Speakers included: Cardinal Rigali; Father Hogan; Helen Alvaré, law professor and advisor of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; Father Thomas Loya; Sister Helena Burns of the Daughters of St. Paul; Janet Smith; Lisa Hendey; Brian Gail; Katrina Zeno; Pia de Solenni; Anastasia Northrop; Father Roger Landry; Peter Colosi; Bill Donaghy; Damon Owens; Michael Waldstein; Monica Ashour; Gregory Popcak; Glen Stanton; Jake Samour; Bob Schuchts; and Philip Mango.

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