By Megan Marley
“Every single person here today is a unique gift.”
Adrienne Doring, founder of the Respect Life Office of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 2006, told 7th and 8th graders this at the 20th Annual Respect Life Education Day, held this year on March 31 at Our Lady of the Presentation School and parish. Over 130 students from Catholic schools in the area came to learn from speakers and exhibits from local ministries dedicated to respecting life.
In addition to affirming their human dignity, Doring told the youths that in the coming years the culture will push a self-serving lifestyle on them, but that life leads to more of what society has a lot of: anxiety, depression, despair.
“True joy is found in here—look at the cross—self-giving love. Not using other people. It’s about serving others, living out holiness and virtue,” she said.
So how are we to treat other human beings? Doring stated that our job is to love and protect and honor them, and to never harm them. This includes persons from the moment of conception to natural death: the unborn, the sick, those with disabilities and terminal illness.
Doring also explained it is a twisted sense of compassion to say ‘we can end their misery’ by ending their life.
“Our Catholic faith teaches that there is a mysterious value in suffering. We all suffer, we all carry crosses in our own ways; every one of you has a way you are suffering right now,” she said. “We can unite that suffering with Jesus on the cross.”
What can 7th and 8th graders do now to support the dignity of all human life? Doring said that they can help by prayer, volunteering, educating themselves, and eventually by voting. She also said that simply being willing to be known as pro-life sends a message.
“Someone is going to come to you in the coming years and they are going to be needing your help. Be willing to be known as pro-life,” she said.
After Doring’s talk, the students split into four groups to rotate among displays set up in the gym and to listen to three speakers:
Robert Zornes, director of Mother’s Refuge, a shelter for homeless, pregnant and parenting young women and their children;
Sister Andrea Kantner, member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist in Independence, who helps organize shipping containers of medical supplies for the missions in Brazil and other areas in need; and Kathy Dean, president of Uplift, a mission to feed and serve the needs of the homeless right on the street.
Organizations with displays set up in the gym included Alexandra’s House, Birthright, Bishop Sullivan Center, Catholic Charities, Catholic Charities TurnAround Program, Harvesters, Hope House, Lee’s Summit Social Services, Light House, Little Sisters of the Poor, Mother’s Refuge, O’Hara Options, Our Lady of the Presentation Pro-Life Group, Rachel House, the diocesan Human Rights Office, the diocesan Respect Life Office, Missouri Right to Life, Sisters in Jesus the Lord, World Apostolate of Fatima, and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
After the presentations, students reconvened in the church for a talk on the history of eugenics and of the pro-life movement by Fr. Gabe Lickteig of St. John Francis Regis parish and Archbishop O’Hara High School.
The day gave students something to think about.
“I found it interesting how many people are suffering in our world and we don’t do anything about it. There are few people who take that initial step and help, and I don’t think enough people do that,” said Faustina Jackson, a 7th grader at Nativity of Mary School. She also said that volunteering and serving others is important to her family and school.
Clara Stribling, 7th grader at Our Lady of the Presentation School, thought the Russian mission of the Sisters in Jesus the Lord to serve the needs of parishes and pro-life efforts quite interesting.
“I really would like to join the sisters—it’s so amazing what they do! I just want to drop school and go over there,” she said.
Finding their passion for life is exactly what the teachers wanted students to explore.
“Every quarter, we at St. John LaLande bring up one of these (pro-life) issues and we do a service project. So, we go to Harvesters, or we make “love-bags” or we do something. They’re supposed to bring their passion and do what really spoke to them,” said Jennie Gaffney, teacher at St. John LaLande School.
“We try to teach them to live it; to make it a part of their life, and be aware of what’s going on,” said Sandie Morgan, teacher at Nativity of Mary School. “So when they see a person living under a bridge, how can they help be a part of making someone else’s life better as well?”