ORGANISERS of a fundraising dinner were not expecting to shed tears when the international guest speaker, Christopher West, stopped his talk to embrace a young man who survived a fatal car crash.
Mr West was scheduled to give a one-hour talk on love, sexuality, marriage and the human person on October 24 at the annual fundraising dinner for Real Talk Australia, an organisation that gives presentations on relationships in schools across Australia.
The popular speaker had just explained how the sexual union between a man and a woman was a sacred embodiment of “a Eucharistic mystery” when a single, joyful response came from the crowd.
The laugh came from Tim Coonan, a 24-year-old man who was left with a severe brain injury from a car crash that killed three teenage boys and gravely injured two others in 2009.
He is also the brother-in-law of Real Talk Australia’s managing director Paul Ninnes, who asked Mr West in a private video to come to Brisbane during his Australian tour.
“That’s spontaneous joy right there,” Mr West said, pointing to Mr Coonan.
“Pay attention, listen up – that was the Holy Spirit, in this beautifully free man’s heart.”
Mr Coonan responded with another joyous laugh, prompting Mr West to move off the stage and walk to the wheelchair-bound young man.
“You are beautiful, my brother,” he said repeatedly to Mr Coonan.
“Christ is revealed through your body, through your sufferings.
“Christ is revealed to the world.
“Yes, you are beautiful my brother, you are beautiful.
“I see Jesus in you. I see Jesus in you – you’re beautiful.”
After a brief moment with Mr Coonan, Mr West told the guests that Jesus had appeared at their dinner.
“Jesus just showed up,” he said.
“Jesus is meant to show up like that every time husband and wife become one flesh.
“Do we know this about ourselves?”
Before finishing his talk, Mr West walked to Mr Coonan for a second time for a moving embrace in silence.
“This is what we witnessed over here, we witnessed your humanity shining with glory,” Mr West said.
“My brother, your humanity is shining with glory.
“You’re beautiful, and it’s Jesus. It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus.
“May this Jesus who is here among us, may this real Jesus who is in the flesh among us tonight, may he be praised now and ever and forever.”
Mr West did not know Mr Ninnes and his wife, a presenter with Real Talk Australia, were related to Mr Coonan until after his talk.
Real Talk managing director Paul Ninnes was emotional when he addressed the crowd nearly 20 minutes later to ask for financial and spiritual support.
He said his guest speaker’s teachings on Theology of the Body had touched his heart, his wife who is also a presenter for Real Talk, and Mr Coonan, his brother-in-law.
Mr Ninnes said Real Talk had shared a renewed vision of human sexuality and relationships based on St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to more than 20,000 students this year, an increase of 5000 students from last year.
Mr West returned to his home in the United States on October 25, the day after his talk in Brisbane.
He told The Catholic Leader before his talk that the Brisbane leg was not initially part of his Australian tour.
“You know why I’m in Brisbane?” Mr West said.
“Because Paul (Ninnes) sent me a video begging me to come.
“And I thought, you know what, in 20 years of doing this work, nobody has ever sent me a video begging me to come.
“I thought if somebody went to this amount of trouble maybe to come somewhere, maybe I should pay attention.
“It was compelling.”
Read the full story on Christopher West’s talk at the Real Talk Dinner in the October 30 edition of The Catholic Leader – available in parishes across Australia.
By Emilie Ng