October 7, 2010
A month ago, you received my first e-mail as part of the new archdiocesan communications effort. That communication introduced the pastoral letter, Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision, and I invited you to become a part of the New Evangelization. Today, I want to reflect with you on two important matters — Catholic education and stem cell research.
Since the last letter, I was at Saint John the Baptist School in Silver Spring, which was awarded the Blue Ribbon by the United States Department of Education as a tribute to the school’s excellence — something we already knew. But it was nice to see this official seal of approval. There are more than 28,000 young people under instruction in our Catholic elementary and secondary schools across the archdiocese. Visiting our schools is always a joy. The other day I celebrated Mass at Saint Elizabeth School in Rockville with 500 energetic, smiling youngsters. When I asked what makes their school so special, the resounding response was, “Here we get to learn about God.”
All of us can be proud of our Catholic schools and of Catholic education in all of its forms across this archdiocese. In whatever expression, religious education has as its primary task the communication of the person and message of Christ to adults, youth and children. This unfolds through a wide range of efforts but the goal is always the same. In our Catholic elementary and secondary schools, parish religious education programs, adult faith formation, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, sacramental formation programs and the many forms of youth ministry, campus ministry and evangelizing outreach, the threads of the encounter with Christ and his life-giving message are woven into the fabric of our human experience. For more information you might want to revisit my pastoral letter, Catholic Education: Looking to the Future With Confidence.
But not all of our young people can look to the future with confidence. It is not because they don’t have dreams and aspirations for the future or because they are unwilling to make the effort. It is because, for them, education is a great uphill climb. They don’t have a level playing field.
That’s why the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has been so important to them. It tried to level the field. When Congress decided to end the highly successful program, which gave a relatively small number of needy young people an alternative to failing schools, the level playing field was gone. As a result of Congress’ action, many low-income parents will now see schools that successfully serve their children threatened. Last winter our archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office shared information on the awful consequences of Congress’ action.
Last spring, as I left one of our inner-city elementary schools, one of the students, aware that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was being debated, stopped me in the corridor and said, “Please, Archbishop, don’t let them let us down!” And then he added, again, “Please!”
The kids of this city and, indeed our entire region, deserve a level playing field and I think it is important for you to know that the archdiocese is doing everything it can, working with families, parishes and school communities, to do our part.
This year alone, families all across the archdiocese are receiving $5 million from the Archdiocesan Tuition Assistance Fund. An additional $1 million is going to provide further tuition assistance and other support for D.C. Catholic schools that serve lower-income families. We will continue to do everything we can to provide educational opportunities and a level playing field, but we can’t do it alone.
Another item in the news lately is embryonic stem cell research. At the heart of the discussion are two very important points. 1) The Church supports and encourages medical developments that are achievable through adult stem cell research. This is distinct from embryonic stem cell research that necessitates the destruction of a human embryo. 2) The medical science available today indicates that the usable and concrete medical advances are all coming from adult stem cell research. This reality alone is a reason to question the insistence by some to use taxpayer dollars for less productive and morally unacceptable embryonic research.
In weighing the moral and ethical consequences of creating and then destroying a human embryo for medical purposes, what goes into the scale will determine which way the balance tips. Some time ago I did an article in the Catholic Standard entitled “Ethical Reflections on Embryonic Stem Cell Research,” which I hope you might find helpful.
On a happier note, I had an opportunity to have dinner recently with our eight newly ordained priests, all of whom should make all of us very proud. Listening to them talk with such enthusiasm about their ministry was a joy.
It is also a source of great satisfaction to know that we open this academic year with 67 seminarians studying in five seminaries here and in Rome in preparation for what will be, one day, God willing, their own ordination day. Please keep them and me in your prayers.
With every personal good wish, I am
Faithfully in Christ,
Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington