CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN
Helen Alvaré (at left), a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University in Arlington, speaks during a panel discussion titled “Lives Worthy of Respect" held Oct. 2 at Georgetown University in Washington. The panel, which was held to kick off Respect Life Month, also included panelists Congressman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio; Sister Mary Louise Wessell, a Sister of St. Joseph who is the founder and program manager for the Catholic Charities Tenants Empowerment Network; and Tony Lauinger, the vice president of National Right to Life.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Helen Alvaré (at left), a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University in Arlington, speaks during a panel discussion titled “Lives Worthy of Respect" held Oct. 2 at Georgetown University in Washington. The panel, which was held to kick off Respect Life Month, also included panelists Congressman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio; Sister Mary Louise Wessell, a Sister of St. Joseph who is the founder and program manager for the Catholic Charities Tenants Empowerment Network; and Tony Lauinger, the vice president of National Right to Life.

To kick off October as Respect Life Month, Georgetown University in Washington held a panel discussion titled “Lives Worthy of Respect” on Oct. 2. Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl gave the keynote address to begin the event, in which he spoke about the importance of being stewards of God’s gift of life.

Before beginning his remarks, the cardinal led the crowd in a moment of silent prayer for all of the lives lost and the people injured in the mass shooting in Las Vegas that had taken place the night before.

Cardinal Wuerl recalled several experiences from his own life that taught him about the dignity of life, such as visiting a mother who had just given birth to sextuplets. As he blessed the six newly born children, he said the mother told him “with pride in her voice and joy in her eyes” about each infant’s personality and characteristics.

“How precious were each of those infants, as all babies are, not simply at their birth, but beginning from their conception in the womb, made in the image and likeness of God,” said the cardinal.

Cardinal Wuerl noted that those who accept the thesis that it is acceptable to kill human life before it is born, also accept two other premises – first, that human beings have the “ultimate say over all life and who gets to live” and second, that “such a decision is ultimately arbitrary.”

Under these assumptions, “the determination about the worth, value and quality of life is made according to criteria established as politically correct and acceptable to the majority of voters,” said the cardinal.

The other way of looking at life and death decisions is to consider life as a gift from God, he added.

“It is not our life. It is a life we received,” said the cardinal. “It is not something we created. We are stewards of His gift.”

The cardinal recalled a second story about visiting a hospital in Peru, where he had the opportunity to hold a day-old infant. He said this experience taught him how strong the grasp of an infant can be.

This child grasping onto his finger became a parable to him representing the “countless unborn children reaching out to hold onto you and me, reaching out with all their strength.”

“In their struggle to find a place, a home, a life in this world, the most vulnerable among us depend on us to work for a culture of life,” the cardinal continued. “This is why we can’t be silent. This is why this is so important.”

Each of the panelists also had their own stories about why they believed all lives have dignity and are worthy of respect.

Helen Alvaré, a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University in Arlington, discovered her passion for standing up for the dignity of life as a child when she saw the way people treated her severely disabled sister. During that time, she said she found refuge in the Catholic Church and its “message of radical equality of human beings.”

Later in her life, she became a strong advocate for pro-life feminism, and believes that abortion and contraception are not the path to women’s freedom and happiness.

“Freedom is not choosing anything you want,” Alvaré said. “Freedom is acting in accordance to who you are built to be,” and everyone is made to be in relationships, she added.

Instead of abortion and contraception, Alvaré suggested that the path to women’s empowerment includes a flexible work schedule, paid leave, and other flexible family policies that would benefit both men and women.

Congressman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who was a combat surgeon in Iraq and recently introduced bipartisan legislation opposing physician assisted suicide, said he learned about the dignity of life from several people, including an AIDS patient he cared for during his residency and his sister who had leukemia and has lived more than 20 years past her prognosis.

But his most recent reminder of the dignity of life came from his 12-year-old nephew, who in religion class at school wrote that the part of his life that reminds him most of God’s presence is his sister who was born with a neurological condition that means she will never walk or talk.

“When I look at my sister Katie, I see the face of Jesus looking back at me. In some ways, in just a little grin or nod, she gives me reassurance and support,” Wenstrup’s nephew wrote, adding, “…God’s largest presence in my life comes in what most would call sad or discouraging, but it is the greatest blessing I will ever receive in this lifetime.”

Sister Mary Louise Wessell, a Sister of St. Joseph who is the founder and program manager for the Tenants Empowerment Network of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington, said she sees the dignity of life in the “resilience, the strength, the courage, and the hard work of homeless families” that she works with.

“You would have no doubt that each homeless child and parent in this city has a God-given life worthy of respect if you could spend a day with them, witness their dignity in the face of adversity and their determination to make lives better for their families,” said Sister Wessell.

Tony Lauinger, the vice president of National Right to Life, said the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision made him feel like he “had been hit in the face by a two by four,” because it came just months after his first child had been born, and he remembered his wife telling him how their baby would move or kick during her pregnancy.

He also spoke about his brother who was killed at age 24 in the war in Vietnam, and compared that war’s death toll of about 58,000 to the death toll of babies aborted since Roe v. Wade, which is more than 58 million.

“This is not a victimless act,” he said. “It is not a matter of private morality, it is a matter of public morality.”

In addition to students from Georgetown University, students from The Heights School in Potomac, DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, and Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington all attended the event.

For Georgetown Visitation senior Marion Boyd, the panel was a powerful reminder that you can find God in vulnerable people.

“In popular culture it seems they don’t matter, that [their life is] a burden, but it’s so much more than that,” she said. “…It is important for people to remember that these are people, the have lives, they matter, and everyone is equal.”