Archbishop praises parents, students at 34th annual Respect Life Essay Contest Award ceremony

By Valerie Schmalz

 “I can help a Down syndrome child by sitting with them at lunch,” wrote one young winner of the 34th annual Archdiocesan Respect Life Essay Contest, one of dozens honored at a special ceremony with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.

The theme was “Life is a Blessing—Servant of God Dr. Jerome Lejeune” and the April 30 Mass and ceremony that followed illustrated that! The cathedral’s St. Francis Room was bursting with students, parents, siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles who came for the event.

In 1958, French pediatrician and researcher Dr. Lejeune discovered that an extra chromosome, a third Trisomy 21 chromosome, creates Down syndrome and then was appalled at the response. He spent the rest of his life working to save the lives of those conceived with the condition.

“I thought it was critically important to get to know a future saint in the process of canonization who worked tirelessly to support those with Down syndrome and helped many families in the process,” Archdiocesan Respect Life Coordinator Maria Martinez-Mont said. “His story is inspiring and enriching to those that learn about him and it’s a great witness of the faith. His work continues to have a ripple effect in helping those with Down syndrome and their families.”

The students’ entries responded to contest prompts about Down syndrome and life as a blessing given by God.  Eighth grader Samantha Ariyoshi wrote: “Being a truly good doctor requires a kind of innate compassion. An inner kindness that enables them to care for another living, breathing, conscious being. An important being and creation of God that matters to the world.” (See more examples of the students’ work by clicking here for a short slide show.)

In his remarks at the beginning of the ceremony in the Cathedral Event Center, Archbishop Cordileone thanked the students and praised the parents of the children gathered to receive awards and honorable mention certificates.

Archbishop Cordileone addresses the group. (Photo by Dennis Callahan)

“You are the ones that are forming them in the faith, forming their values, forming how they are going to see life, what their priorities will be, what they will desire to do with their lives, how they will want to live their life,” Archbishop Cordileone told the parents, “Helping them to understand to respect the dignity of human life is essential to all of that.”

“We know that the dignity of human life is under attack in all kinds of very severe ways, especially at the very beginning of life. It is worrying some of us how hostile the culture is getting to basic, fundamental values of respect for life,” he said, noting Pope Francis’ famous phrase about the “throwaway culture.” 

“So, your children are our hope that growing up with these values, strong courageous and willing to suffer what it takes will eventually win people to realize life is to be loved, affirmed, and people cared for, and not just disposed of,” Archbishop Cordileone said.

Archbishop Cordileone with children who received honorable mention certificates. (Photo by Dennis Callahan

The contest awards one grand prize and one prize for each of the three counties in each grade, K-8. In addition, a number of honorable mentions are awarded.

Lejeune, who is on the path of official recognition by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint, hoped his discovery would help children born with the intellectual and physical challenges of the condition – but instead the discovery quickly led to the use of prenatal testing to eliminate most Down syndrome babies.  Current statistics indicate that from 80 to more than 90 % of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

This was an evil that Servant of God Dr. Lejeune decried: “Again and again, we see this absolute misconception of trying to defeat a disease by eliminating the patient! It’s ridiculous to stand beside a patient and solemnly say, ‘Who is this upstart who refuses to be cured? How dare he resist our art? Let’s get rid of him!’ Medicine becomes mad science when it attacks the patient instead of fighting the disease. We must always be on the patient’s side, always.”

Fifth grader Oriana Raynor summarized the French geneticist’s thoughts and our beliefs in her winning entry: “Dr. Lejeune knew life is sacred, and as Catholics it is our responsibility to treat every life with equality, respect and kindness as Jesus did.”

To learn the award winners, go here.

To learn more about the contest and Servant of God Dr. Jerome Lejeune, go here.

Schmalz is the director of the Office of Human Life & Dignity, which includes the Respect Life Ministry.

Archbishop Cordileone with the award winners. (Photo by Dennis Callahan)
Archbishop Cordileone with Grand Prize winner George Arriola. (Photo by Francisco Valdez)

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