In October, we reflect upon ways to promote our commitment to the pro-life cause. Last week's Gospel message encouraged us to be good stewards of the Vineyard that is entrusted to us. Perhaps metaphorically we are reminded of our brothers and sisters who enter this world with mental retardation or other kinds of handicaps (cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, etc.). In some cases, these children are aborted after a genetic screening detects their condition. The church rightly stands against this, of course, but when we encourage the birth of all infants do we also take into account our responsibility of supporting these children throughout their lives? And, of course, their families? Does the Church speak out as much as is needed on this responsibility?
Four decades ago Geraldo Rivera made an unannounced visit to the Willowbrook Developmental Center on Staten Island, New York. He discovered New York citizens—those with mental retardation—living in conditions of incredible filth, neglect and abuse. A visiting congressman is quoted in the film saying "I've been in the worst jails and penal institutions in this country, and the worst brigs in the military, and I've never seen anything as horrible." Rivera did a follow-up ten years later (1981) on ABC's 20/20 and found many improvements, but there were still many more things needing to be done. These two television shows prompted outrage but even more—meaningful changes and oversight within institutions and programs for the developmentally disabled.
Recently I discussed Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace with students in my class at Marist College. Thinking aloud to myself, I wondered if there were things going on now in the world—circumstances regarding people with developmental disabilities—that, in future decades, would cause concern or even outrage among others when they look back at these decades of the early 20th century with historical hindsight. One of my students sent to me a recently clip from the Today Show where Ann Curry reports on the still-degrading conditions present where the developmentally disabled are cared for in Serbia. The horror might even surpass what Rivera found in the USA four decades ago.
Just as every year Christians celebrate the tremendous leap from death to resurrection, another recent story brings joy to us amidst the sorrow from Kosovo and other as-yet unknown places. In the October 4, 2011 National Review Online, Kathryn Lopez celebrates a young woman with Down syndrome who has been named Homecoming Queen at her high school. Wouldn't it be great if every parish found a way to celebrate citizens who have been born with different genetics than the rest of us? Lopez cites the blogger who discovered this story:
One downside to going to an all-girls high school was that we didn't really have the true experience of homecoming: The pep rally, the football game, the dance, the homecoming court, etc. I never really thought much of having missed out, but now that my own daughters are attending a public high school -- and one boyfriend is a contender for Homecoming King -- I can see that it is really something to experience. [Here is a young lady]known around the school for being a real sweetheart, and a true blue fan of her high school football team. She and her parents were simply thrilled that she made the top four. Watch as Mariah Slick -- who just so happens to have Down syndrome -- is announced Homecoming Queen with her dad by her side.
William Van Ornum