ST. FRANCIS — Christopher West, a well-known Catholic speaker, and Mike Mangione, a Cedarburg resident and nationally touring musician, will present two talks in southeastern Wisconsin in late February on St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

Mike Mangione, a member of St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, is pictured with Bishop Donald J. Hying in this undated photo. Mangione, a musician, along with Christopher West, will give two presentations in the archdiocese later this month. (Submitted photo courtesy Mike Mangione)

Mangione, a Marquette University alumnus, met West in 2001, when he attended a theological talk. Describing the talk as challenging, Mangione said he began delving deep into his faith while in college. But it was a song that West sang that touched Mangione and started his own route into spiritual ministry.

“He was speaking on a theological level that was unapproachable for me,” Mangione said. “The song was an act of vulnerability for him. Anytime you perform, you are vulnerable. It just became a bridge.”

That bridge between music and theology also became the bridge that brought West and Mangione together in 2004 in Philadelphia. They met for five days creating a U2 cover band that focused on the spirituality of the music. That unique conception, however, lasted for one concert, but as Mangione said, “it was the formation of our friendship.”[su_pullquote align=”right”]If you go
Thursday, Feb. 23
God, Sex & the Meaning of Life
St. Francis Borgia Church
1425 Covered Bridge Road Cedarburg
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 25
Cor Seminar – Live Holy Family Church
Sacred Heart site 200 S. Peters Ave.
Fond du Lac
8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. [/su_pullquote]

The first official event the two worked together was World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia in 2008, and they have been touring nationally and globally ever since.

West, founder of The Cor Project, discovered St. John Paul’s II “Theology of the Body” in 1993, after transitioning in his faith journey from a “starvation diet Gospel” of repressing any desires to a “fast food Gospel” of immediate gratification and finally to John Paul II’s teachings which inspired his future ministry.[su_pullquote align=”left”]Quick facts
Christopher West
Hometown: Lancaster, Pennyslvania
Age: 48
Profession: Theologian, teacher, author
Favorite song: “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
Favorite Bible passage: Ephesians 5:31-32
Favorite book: John Paul II’s Theology of the Body
Favorite food: I’m a sucker for pasta.
Favorite hobby: Skiing
Favorite memory from childhood: Meeting Harrison Ford in 1984 when Paramount Pictures was filming “Witness” in my hometown.
Greatest role model: St. John Paul II Favorite memory from adulthood: Proposing to my wife.
A hidden talent or unique thing about you: I haven’t been to the barber since I was 16 (I cut my own hair).
Mike Mangione
Hometown: Glenview, Illinois, now Cedarburg
Age: 37
Profession: Musician
Favorite song: Depends on the day
Favorite book: This Wheel’s on Fire – Levon Helm Autobiography.
Favorite food: Lou Malnati’s Pizza.
Favorite hobby: Getting lost in a show with my wife.
Favorite memory from childhood: Time spent in the north woods of Wisconsin. Greatest role model: Mary.
Favorite memory from adulthood: The birth of my last child.
Hidden talent or unique thing about you: I’m pretty good at chugging liquids. [/su_pullquote]

“I learned from (St. John Paul II) that Christianity is not a starvation diet,” West said. “It’s an invitation to an infinite satisfaction of our hunger in what Scripture calls ‘the wedding feast of the Lamb.’ I knew then I’d spend the rest of my life studying John Paul II’s teaching and sharing it with others.”

Describing his job as the best in the world, he said he relishes the opportunity to lead more people to understanding and satisfaction in Christ’s words and teachings. Continuing with his parable of hunger, West said, “I get to lead hungry people to a glorious delicious banquet.”

The message of “true hope and liberation, true healing, true redemption,” is what makes him so passionate about his work.

“We want to show men and women how beautiful they truly are. Our bodies, our humanity, tells a story, a love story, an absolutely stunning, world-rocking love story,” he said.

Mangione, who grew up playing drums and singing in acapella groups, uses his musical talents to further the message of the “Theology of the Body.”

It wasn’t always religious singers that led the Chicagoland native into Christian ministry, he noted. For example, folk and rock artists such as Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Peter Gabriel provided inspiration, because they expanded his mind and drew him into reverence and bewilderment – which is exactly how Mangione entered his faith, he said.

He preaches a more expansive form of praise and worship music. “It doesn’t need to be pushing an answer in your face,” he said. “Art needs to draw you into the mystery.”

That helps to explain why many of Mangione’s songs cross the boundary of Christian music. He described his music as neither Christian or secular because “everything is sacred in this world.”

This spiritual connection between theology and music drew Mangione into the “Theology of the Body” and made for a perfect pairing with West.

“The nature of singing and performing music, using their body and voice and mind to create music, write music and sing, using physical bodies and minds to somehow reach through to God,” Mangione said is how his work relates to the central teachings of the “Theology of the Body.”

The music allows for deeper understanding of John Paul II’s message, he added.

“Art, and maybe even music especially, is the language of the heart. Music doesn’t let you stay in the head. It compels us to journey into the deeper realms of our humanity,” West said. “The teaching influences the music and the music influences the teaching.”

West and Mangione will give two talks in southeastern Wisconsin, one on Feb. 23 at St. Francis Borgia in Cedarburg and one on Feb. 25 at Holy Family Parish in Fond Du Lac.

Even though Mangione has traveled all over the world performing his music, this event will be the first time he will perform at his home parish.

Fr. Patrick Burns, associate pastor at St. Francis Borgia, said, “Christopher West’s presentation can offer a path to spiritual healing and renewal. I have been blessed to see the generosity and initiative of many parishioners of St. Francis Borgia, and so my hope is to offer them something beautiful and thought-provoking in return.”

Sabina Carter, director of Christian formation at Holy Family, said that as the largest parish in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Holy Family hopes to reach as many people as possible to share in West and Mangione’s message.

Mangione recently released a brand-new extended play recording with four new songs on iTunes and his website. He also has a full length record created with members of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Along with his music, Mangione does a podcast looking into the motivation and inspiration behind what people do. He has interviewed everyone from Catholic comedian Jim Gaffigan to Bishop of Gary, Donald J. Hying.

Christopher West will speak at two archdiocesan parishes, St. Francis Borgia, Cedarburg on Feb. 23 and Holy Family, Fond du Lac on Feb. 25. (Submitted photo courtesy Christopher West)

“My goal with Christopher is to keep on dreaming of new things to create and ways to reflect the truth through lecture and art. I just want to keep expanding and changing up the parable,” said Mangione.

West has reached out more to Protestant congregations with the hope to share John Paull II’s teaching with a more widespread Christian community, calling it “an excellent way to build bridges across denominational lines.”

He also has ideas for more books on John Paul II’s teachings. “God willing, I’ll give my dying proclaiming the ‘Theology of the Body,’” he said.

Though West says he was starving himself in his struggles with faith, the “Theology of the Body” brought him the understanding and inspiration to share Christ’s message and John Paul II’s teaching across the world.

“We live in a world of total chaos regarding the meaning of the body, sex, gender, marriage and the family,” he said. “But there is hope for our world, hope for our families, hope for our relationships, hope for children, hope for ourselves, hope for our church. Scripture says the people perish for lack of a vision. This “Theology of the Body” provides the vision that saves us from perishing, that saves us from the lies that are assailing us from all sides today. For such a time as this we have been given John Paul II’s teaching.”