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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 11, 2015

Encouraging an Actively Pro-Life Generation of High School Students

This year marks twenty years since the release of St. Pope John Paul II’s watershed encyclical Evangelium Vitae: On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life. The recent undercover videos exposing heinous acts against human life by Planned Parenthood have resulted in many Catholic bishops writing pieces both condemning these acts and calling for greater societal reflection on pro-life matters as a whole, as we see in the statements of such prelates as Cardinal Seán O’Malley  (Archbishop of Boston and Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities) and Archbishop Charles Chaput (Archbishop of Philadelphia). In a similar purview, we are called to meditate on the significance of all human life from the perspective of addressing numerous social polemics, as we have seen reinforced by bishops such as Archbishop Blaise Cupich (Archbishop of Chicago).

As the Catholic Church continues to proclaim the sanctity of every human life (as it has done for nearly two-thousand years), from the point of conception through the eventual occasion of natural death, there are numerous opportunities for Catholic educational institutions to play a key role in reinforcing a “Culture of Life” throughout both the United States and the world. As a prominent example among many, the annual March for Life takes place each January 22 (or the Monday thereafter) in Washington, DC, in order to raise awareness of the dignity and sanctity of all human life. This is, of course, in the wake of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973. A reliable presence at the March for Life is the multitude of Catholic schools (both K-12 and higher educational institutions) that stand up for the recognition of the shared humanity of all unborn life.

High school students in particular are in a position to take their support of pro-life principles seriously, given their preparation to enter into the international dialogue on this critical issue following their graduation, advancement to university studies, and subsequent participation in broader society. Below are various ways that teachers in Catholic high schools, particularly (but not exclusively) theology teachers, can encourage their students to become engaged in the pro-life movement, along with methods of leading students to better learn and understand the vital theological basis by which we celebrate human life in all its multi-faceted stages.

  1. Have students read through Evangelium Vitae, at least in excerpted form. Lead them through a discussion of the monumental points of the text, and offer certain questions that give them the opportunity to reflect profoundly on why all human life, especially including babies as the most innocent, is so special and sacred.
  1. Along with Evangelium Vitae, have students read through other papal encyclicals that underscore the value of human life and God’s plan for human sexuality. A few examples (of numerous) include Blessed Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae: On the Regulation of Birth and Pope [Emeritus] Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate: On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth (especially paragraphs #28 and #75). In more recent times, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home has invited us to consider how humanity is the pinnacle of all of God’s creation (such as through drawing us to realize that protecting all human life specifically is a necessary element of respecting God’s creation broadly [as we read in paragraph #120 in particular]).
  1. Organize a pro-life prayer service, perhaps led by students from your school’s pro-life club. Offer reflective intentions that call on humanity to show ultimate respect for all human life, including the unborn, the elderly, the seriously infirm and terminally ill, and even the inmate facing capital punishment, as well as others.
  1. Have students see if your school will allow them to complete their periodic service hours by volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center or other pro-life organization.
  1. Have students write to their local political officials in order to encourage them to enact pro-life legislation and other civil measures for the broader good of society.
  1. Encourage your students to learn more about how they can delve deeper into knowledge of, and commitment to, pro-life issues, such as by visiting the website for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, or various local [arch]diocesan committees, such as the Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Life Issues.
  1. Inform students about the availability of different free resources offered by the Catholic Church, as well as other Christian groups, such as Project Rachel Ministry, that help bring women and men to spiritual healing in the aftermath of having undergone an abortion. On this latter point, make sure to emphasize to students that, in the midst of such a violation of the dignity of human life, God offers mercy to those who are truly repentant, as Pope Francis reminded us when talking about this sensitive topic within the context of his recent Letter of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (December 8, 2015 through November 20, 2016).
  1. Pray for all of your students to appreciate the gift all human life, which God has given to us so abundantly (cf. John 10:10). Likewise, pray for them to make wise and prudent decisions, in order to foster a more charitable and peaceful world for the Lord’s greater glory.

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