Who am I? What was I created for? Why is there evil in the world and what does authentic love look like?
These are some of the many questions that stir in every human heart; the same questions that Michael Villanueva, coordinator of the John Paul II Center for Theology of the Body at the Diocese of Phoenix, has a deep passion for.
“Every man and woman, especially teens and especially in our culture today, has burning questions,” said Villanueva. “Questions that can feel overwhelming and intimidating to parents and formators. But the truth is that these questions are good.”
Not only are they good, proposes Villanueva, but they are to be welcomed and engaged.
“When we create a space for young people to gather and ask these longing questions, the fire of the Holy Spirit is stirred. When teens begin to ponder these deepest questions, they come to find the most compelling answer to their questions in the divine love of Jesus himself.”
Hundreds of teens have encountered the teachings of this divine love through the Catholic Academy for Life Leadership (CALL), one of several impactful initiatives run through the John Paul II Center.
“Our office exists to ignite the hearts of men and women with the good news of love, sex, marriage, and the body,” said Villanueva, who shares a passion with the great Pope Saint John Paul II for walking alongside individuals, especially teens, as they find their deepest purpose in life.
“CALL is a place where we dive into topics such as authentic relationships, the beauty of human sexuality, combatting the culture of death with a life of virtue, bioethics and Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.”
This three-year program for high school students, established in 2010, emphasizes formation, service, and leadership. CALL students attend bi-annual seminars to hear engaging speakers present content from field experts. CALL students also form community through service projects and grow in their spiritual life through retreats.
Villanueva has directly seen the impact of this program in the hearts and lives of former CALL students. Many graduates have felt well-equipped to have informed conversations on topics such as abortion and other life issues, others were moved to seek out purposeful careers as they discovered they have a particular call in life, and several CALL graduates have come back to serve the program as mentors and board members.
But the most impactful story involves the saving of a life.
When Chloe Barrett, a 2020 CALL graduate, began attending CALL seminars, she found the speakers to be very personable and the content to be very engaging. She was particularly moved by the dignity of the human person and biology in the womb. While Barrett was still in the CALL program, a friend became pregnant, and she felt her only option was an abortion.
“I asked if she wanted to go for a ride and I decided just to listen,” said Barrett. “CALL had a huge impact on how I approached my friend. I knew this child was a human being with great purpose, and I tried to help my friend see the beauty of the situation. I was also able to gently inform her about how invasive the abortion procedure was that she was scheduled for, and she had no idea.”
Through Barrett’s encouragement and accompaniment, her friend bravely decided to give birth and her son was adopted into a loving home.
“A program like CALL is necessary in a world that wants to erase God as the artist of human life and dismiss the value He has given each human being,” said Natasha Roegiers, Barrett’s mother who saw firsthand the impact of this program. “As in the case of our daughter Chloe, it took one encounter combined with courage to change a generation.”
Do you know a teen who would be interested in this engaging and formative leadership program?
Villanueva extends a warm welcome to all teens and their parents to join for this year’s CALL Kick-off event on August 17 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center from 7-9 p.m. Register here for this free event where Villanueva will answer these burning questions that have the potential to change this generation.