Story by Tess Wahlmeier
LINCOLN (SNR) - This year’s annual pro-life banquet and conference Oct. 30-31 remind all that the cause for life reaches far beyond the issue of abortion.
Pro-lifers advocate human dignity in every respect – without limitations on the past, present, or future state of a person. All people, born or unborn, enabled or disabled, imprisoned or free, are created by God with an inherent dignity for which pro-life activists fight.
This year, the annual banquet and conference sponsored by the Bishop’s Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln will feature topics on many different areas of life where a person’s dignity and right to life are being compromised, beginning with a tribute to Dr. Jérôme Lejeune (1926-1994).
Dr. Lejeune was a French geneticist and devout Catholic who discovered the cause of Down syndrome (Trisomy 21) in 1958.
Greg Schleppenbach, executive director for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said Dr. Lejeune, “recognized that this discovery might likely lead to a lot of Down syndrome unborn babies being aborted, so he became outspoken in opposing abortion, advocating the dignity of human life, especially for Down syndrome children.”
Schleppenbach said Dr. Lejeune also spoke out about the proof that science had on the beginning of life, and because of this, was ostracized by others in the scientific community. Dr. Lejeune understood faith and reason to be compatible, calling them “two wings of the same bird.” His cause for canonization is currently being investigated.
“His story is one that’s important and inspiring at this time in history,” said Schleppenbach, “that somebody was willing to put his credentials, his very livelihood on the line for the truth.”
The tribute will be given on Friday night at the banquet by Dr. Pilar Calva, a geneticist from Mexico who studied under Dr. Lejeune, and will include her personal witness as to how Dr. Lejeune impacted her life and taught her how to live her faith in her profession.
Winners of the annual diocesan pro-life essay contest will be announced and awarded at the banquet, and former executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference Jim Cunningham will be honored with the “Gospel of Life” award for his 40 years of dedication to pro-life work.
Saturday’s schedule begins with Holy Mass in St. Mary Church at 14th and K streets, followed by sessions at the Cornhusker on doctor-prescribed suicide, the death penalty, the beginnings of human life, and the Supreme Court ruling on marriage, all relevant and timely topics, said Schleppenbach.
“With all of these challenging and difficult issues that we have in our culture, it’s so easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed, and take oneself out of the battle,” Schleppenbach said. “For example, with the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex ‘marriage,’ a lot of people think, ‘it’s a settled issue now, that’s the law of the land and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ Well, there was the same sort of sentiment communicated after Roe v. Wade... now, 42 years later, with a very vibrant pro-life community, especially amongst young people, it’s clearly not over.”
“Our culture didn’t get here, to this place of confusion on marriage and sexuality, overnight,” Schleppenbach said.
“Advocates for the homosexual lifestyle, same-sex marriage, and sex outside of marriage, have worked to promote the acceptance of these lifestyles in our culture in little ways over many, many years,” Schleppenbach said. “In the same way, converting our culture to understand God’s design for marriage, sexuality, and love won’t happen overnight.”
Schleppenbach also commented on the hashtag, “#lovewins,” that supporters of same-sex marriage began using after the Supreme Court ruling.
“Something that really needs to be done is communicating what real love means,” he said. “The misuse or misunderstanding of the gift of love is a characteristic of pretty much every attack against human life.”
The final session of the conference, titled, “Take Courage, I have Overcome the World,” focuses on the truth of the matter: love has already won.
“It’s so important for us to always remember the assurance of our faith, that Our Lord has already achieved victory over death, once and for all,” Schleppenbach said. “It’s not up to us to save the world. It’s not up to us to save the culture. It’s not up to us to defeat death,” he said. “Our task is to stay in the battle, to proclaim the truth, and to oppose evil, which still runs around the world, prowling for victims... we should always have that joy and that confidence and encouragement at the foundation of all the work that we do, and never become discouraged.”
Jesus said: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world, you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
To register for the pro-life banquet, conference, or both, go to www.necatholic.org, or call (402) 477-7517. More information is on page 10.