When asked what Respect Life means to her, director of religious education at Holy Family Catholic Church in Port St. Lucie Mary Acevedo answered, “Life begins at the moment of conception and ends with natural death. Each person is created by God, created in the image and likeness of God and is unique."
Acevedo’s convictions of protecting the unborn led her to create a new Respect Life program at Holy Family Parish. The program, which ran from June 24 through June 28, was geared towards the education of children ages seven to eleven about the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. The program was structured around the concepts of personal dignity, life as a gift and showing respect for the disabled and elderly.
“I wanted to teach the children about the importance of life but could find very little in standard textbooks. That’s when I decided to design my own program,” Acevedo explained.
Jim Thoma, CCD teacher and leader of Holy Family Parish Respect Life Ministry, and Lynn Kiefer, a fellow CCD teacher, volunteered as catechists for the summer program. “We wanted the children to get an appreciation for life in the womb so that, if ever later in life they had to make that choice, they would choose life,” said Thoma.
“Every morning we began with the children praying a decade of the rosary and finished with the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s prayer for the unborn: ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn baby that I have spiritually adopted and whose life is in danger,’” said Acevedo. The children also reflected on Scripture readings from Genesis chapters one and two to hear the story of Creation: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gn.1: 27).
Acevedo explained that it was vital for children to have an understanding of a fetus’s biological presence in conjunction with the spiritual component of life as a gift. The catechists presented images and models of the fetus in different stages of development, which successfully illustrated the idea of a fetus being more than a baby in a mother’s womb—a growing person with a future and a specific calling from God.
In addition, students received a coloring book titled Children for Life by FACE Life, Inc. Each page outlined the progressing months of pregnancy and included a Bible verse that supported the development of life. On the last page of the coloring book, there is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a caption underneath stating, “Patron Saint of the Unborn.” Many of the students recognized this image from the large screen in the church, upon which Our Lady of Guadalupe is projected. Acevedo explained the image’s connection to the Respect Life program, which the students now recognize as a role the Blessed Mother plays in protecting the unborn.
Acevedo reiterated that a respect for life carries through all its stages, which the program’s catechist team emphasized through lessons centered on the disabled and elderly. One lesson required that students operate a wheelchair as a way to gain new perspective on the life of disabled individuals. They also watched a Respect Life video featuring individuals who lived to be 100 years old, emphasizing the dignity of life at any age. They also made greeting cards for the elderly at nursing homes in the community, which were delivered by one of Holy Family Parish’s extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
Lastly, each student received a model of a fetus to represent the spiritual adoption of a child. A prayer card with the statement “Each Life Matters” accompanied the model, and students were encouraged to pray every day for the unborn.
The Respect Life summer program is open to all students attending both public and Catholic schools and will be held again Summer of 2020. For more information contact Mary Acevedo, director of religious education at Holy Family Catholic Church, at DRECCD.HolyFamilyCC@outlook.com.
By Aleen Stanton, Florida Catholic correspondent