Saint John Paul II was shot in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday 13 May 1981. The gunshot that struck the Pope four times, also injured two women bystanders.
Amidst the crowd of people who witnessed the shooting was Fr Thomas Loya, a seminarian studying in Rome at the time.
“I was there every Wednesday for two years, listening to Pope John Paul II’s catechesis, revealing what we now know as his Theology of the Body,” Fr Thomas said.
Now an internationally recognised speaker from the US, Theology of the Body expert and Retreat Master, the frightening experience is etched in Fr Thomas’ mind and recounted in his talks and retreats.
“When he was shot, it’s as if time stood still. The whole world went into a suspended state. Everybody froze,” he said. “People started screaming and then the military came in from every place. They came in with guns loaded and in their full uniforms. They sealed off the whole place and no one could leave.”
The shooter, Mehmet Ali Agca, was seized at the scene as he struggled to flee the Square.
The attempted assassination led to a profound act of mercy four days later when the Pope made a public statement, forgiving Agca and asking the world to pray for his attacker.
“Theology of the Body is all about that face of mercy. It’s all about the beauty of God – the beauty of love and the beauty of mercy,” Fr Thomas explained.
“Everything must be taught through the lens of the Theology of the Body. Saint John Paul II knew that if you could get the view of the human person right, you could get everything right. He understood the dignity and worth of a person and the power of forgiveness.
“If you get the human person wrong, everything goes wrong. Everything. That is what is happening in Western civilisation. We have lost how to see these disciplines – how to approach marriage, family, men, women, sexuality, education, government, global politics and the environment.”
This vision is especially essential when discerning vocation.
“Vocation is making a sincere and full gift of self. One of the great gems of the Theology of the Body is the explanation of how celibacy and marriage are absolutely interdependent,” Fr Thomas explained.
“Our biggest mistake is in defining celibacy in terms of what we can’t have and marriage in terms of everything we want. The complete opposite is true. They are both two sides of the same coin. They are both ways of being married. It’s just that one is being married in the mystical way and one is being married in a sacramental way.
“The greatest compliment and affirmation that you can give a married couple is to look at them and say, ‘He would have made a great priest’ or ‘She would have made a great nun’. That would be the most convincing testimony to the sacramentality and holiness of their marriage.
“The stamp of affirmation for a vowed celibate would be for someone to say to them, ‘He would have made a great husband and father’ or ‘She would have made a great wife and mother’. That would be the ultimate affirmation of their celibacy.”
Using his background in art, counselling, and Eastern Catholic spirituality, Fr Thomas brings the principles of The Theology of the Body deep into the lived experience and will be leading participants in a retreat over a weekend at Mt Schoenstatt Retreat Centre in Mulgoa from Friday 9 September to Sunday 11 September.
“I hope to facilitate a total openness to God and to the Holy Spirit, to hopefully communicate to participants this beautiful vision of life in the Theology of the Body,” Fr Thomas said.
“Being Catholic is not about religion. It’s not about rules. It’s not even about teachings. It’s seeing a way of life that is beautiful.
“I’m very honoured to be asked to visit the Diocese of Parramatta. I am dependent on the prayers. As I will pray for everyone, I ask for your prayers.”