Youths, adult honored at annual diocesan Pro-Life Mass

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — Four diocesan youth and one parishioner were all recently honored at the annual Pro-Life Mass celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth.

The yearly celebration, organized by the Pro-Life Apostolate of the Fall River Diocese, is a unique opportunity to recognize those who dedicate their lives to advancing the Pro-Life cause and promoting the Culture of Life.

“Our faith and our principles tell us that a person in the womb has the same right as a person outside the womb — geographical location does not make or take away the rights of a person — it’s not geography that determines it, it’s who we are, as people of God,” Bishop da Cunha said in his homily. “Everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — whether born or unborn.”

Despite the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that has since allowed abortions in the United States, Bishop da Cunha likened this “mistake” to the 1857 Dred Scott vs. Sanford ruling which claimed that African-Americans, whether free or enslaved, could not be considered U.S. citizens and, therefore, had no rights.

“Would anyone accept today that a black person would have any less dignity, any less value?” Bishop da Cunha said. “So we could say that the Supreme Court made a big mistake in 1857 when they declared that Dred Scott had no rights. They made a mistake in 1857 and they made a mistake in 1973.”

“We stand here today with the confident hope that one day, not too far from now, we may look back and say: ‘Is it possible that in 1973 the Supreme Court declared that a person in the womb had no dignity and no rights?’ I hope this day will come,” the bishop added. “But it will come because we are standing here and saying ‘yes’ to life. If we can’t change the law, we can change minds and hearts, and we can change our culture from a culture of death to a Culture of Life.”

Among those attempting to “change minds and hearts” were the four Catholic school students who won the top honors in this year’s Pro-Life essay contest (see winning entries below).

“Our essay contest, which is held every year, is based on the Respect Life kit which comes out of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” explained Marian Desrosiers, director of the diocesan Pro-Life office. “Our department orders enough for every school and every parish and this year the theme of the Respect Life kit is ‘Every life is worth living.’”

The second-place winner in the junior high category was Lydia Fitton-Alves, a seventh-grader at St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School in Hyannis and a parishioner at Christ the King Parish in Mashpee.

Fitton-Alves noted how her birth mother had a life-threatening disease and doctors had advised her to have an abortion, but she refused.

“I am an honor roll student at St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School, but this is not what makes me special,” she wrote. “My hopes, my dreams, my talents, my love for people: all of these make me special. I plan to be an elementary school teacher when I grow up. If my birth mother had not understood that ‘every life is worth living,’ and had chosen abortion, these dreams would be lost.”

Junior Sarah Therese Hamel of Bishop Stang High School was the second-place essay winner in the high school category.

Hamel wrote about the experience of losing her little sister, Therese Elizabeth Hamel, who died just 16 days after being born on May 20, 1998.

“What did she accomplish? Not much,” Hamel read from her essay. “She never ran a marathon. She did not sway the hearts of millions. She never even spoke a word. Why is she important? She was and is my sister.”

Hamel noted that “every life is a freely-given gift from God” and “every life is worth living because every life has infinite value given to us by our loving God and Father.”

For Hamel, “Every life tells a story. Some are long, some are short, but each is valuable.”

In the junior high school category, eighth-grader Gabriella Joaquim of Holy Name School in Fall River took the first-place prize for her essay.

Joaquim found inspiration in Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States.

“One of the most lasting images to me was how Pope Francis’ love for life emerged, whether he was greeting a small child, an immigrant, an elderly person, a head of state, or a homeless man,” Joaquim wrote. “His actions in every meeting solidified to me very clearly that every life is worth living and is important. Pope Francis reminds us that we should value all people and to never forget the people who are easily forgotten in today’s world.”

Juliana DeSimone, a junior at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro and parishioner at St. Mary’s Parish in Mansfield, earned top honors for her essay in the high school category.

DeSimone recalled how her parents always encouraged her to “stand up (and) stand out.”

“I always interpreted this as embracing both my gifts and my flaws that make me who I am, and not letting anyone depreciate the value of these,” she wrote. “Now I realize that ‘standing up’ and ‘standing out’ requires more than appreciating the blessings of my own life. It means valuing every aspect of life, and sharing the gift of life with others. It means defending the defenseless and giving voice to the voiceless.”

“I’m so happy and proud of our young people here today, representing so many of our Catholic schools in the diocese, who have participated in this essay contest,” Bishop da Cunha said. “It is because of their participation — that we will change the culture.”

Announcing the 2016 recipients of the John Cardinal O’Connor Pro-Life Awards, Desrosiers explained how diocesan parishes and schools are invited to nominate an individual every year who “strongly through their life represent the message of the gift of life to our culture today.”

This year’s youth recipient was also one of the essay contest winners: Sarah Therese Hamel, a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet.

Nominated by Amanda Tarantelli, campus minister at Bishop Stang High School, Hamel was lauded for her involvement with the Bishop Stang Pro-Life Club, for attending the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and for her participation the diocesan Pro-Life Boot Camp.

“When you say that someone has a heart for the Pro-Life movement, Sarah is just that person,” Desrosiers said. “While she is not ashamed to stand up for her beliefs, she always has an approach that is compassionate and merciful.”

Although she previously knew about her second-place essay win, Hamel was caught off-guard with the announcement of the John Cardinal O’Connor Award.

“I’m honestly blown away,” Hamel told The Anchor. “It’s nothing that I did, it’s all through Mary, it’s all through Jesus. I’m so ineloquent, I just can’t even express what to say. Getting this award was a complete surprise to me.”

The 2016 Adult John Cardinal O’Connor Pro-Life Award went to Ellen Dovidio of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Orleans.

Nominated by fellow parishioner Doris Toohill and pastor Father John Kelleher, Dovidio was honored for her work as co-chairman of the parish’s Respect Life Committee, for her work with A Woman’s Concern pregnancy resource center, and for numerous other contributions to the Pro-Life cause.

“Ellen is tireless in her work for the unborn and for life at all stages,” Desrosiers said. “I quote her pastor’s submission: ‘Ellen deserves the award because she is the essence of what a true Pro-Life person should be: prayerful, gentle, consistent, and unwavering in her belief that life begins at conception and ends at natural death.’”

Dovidio said she was “deeply humbled” to be honored alongside the young essay contest winners.

“These youngsters are just like stars and I’m glad they’re getting a head start,” Dovidio told The Anchor. “When I was their age, it wasn’t happening in the culture. I’m in good company with them and I feel very humble because their presentations were so beautiful.”

She wanted to thank the fellow members of her Respect Life Committee — in particular, Doris Toohill for mentoring her — and her mother, “who has been a Pro-Lifer long before I was so she has set the path for me,” she said.


2016 Pro-Life Essay Winners
‘Every life is worth living’ 


First Place High School

Every single person, from the moment of his or her conception, is an unrepeatable and irreplaceable gift from God. What a truly simple statement: “You are a gift from God.” Many Christians have probably heard this numerous times in their life, to the point that they are likely desensitized to the fullness and the truth that it reveals. You are a gift from God. God, Who is so mighty, so powerful and so beyond human understanding, lovingly chose to create each and every one of us. Every quirk, every gift, every entity that makes each person who they are, is deliberate. Every difficulty in our lives makes us stronger, and every seeming imperfection makes us perfect. We must not falsely mistake the things which constitute our lives as anything but extraordinary. Rather, we should view life as it truly is — a gift.

In the monotony of the day-to-day, it is easy to overlook or even to forget the beautiful gift that is the gift of life. Every person we meet, every sound we hear, every feeling we feel is a blessing. When someone chooses to share his or her own life with someone, he or she gifts unto them yet another blessing. What better way is there to define life than as a series of blessings? This is why the best gift you can give someone is truly the gift of yourself. Humans were created out of love, making it an integral part of our nature to love. Thus, it is our duty and our privilege to love one another. There is beauty in sharing our gift of life with someone and having someone share their gift of life with us. In doing this, we truly manifest God’s love for us on earth.

When I was younger, my parents always told me to “Stand Up, Stand Out.” I always interpreted this as embracing both my gifts and my flaws that make me who I am, and not letting anyone depreciate the value of these. Now I have grown older, and I am able to more fully comprehend the difficulty in doing this, but also the immeasurable importance of it. Now I realize that “standing up” and “standing out” requires more than appreciating the blessings of my own life. It means valuing every aspect of life, and sharing the gift of life with others. It means defending the defenseless and giving voice to the voiceless. It means championing the value of all lives, no matter what stage. All children of God, from the unborn to the elderly, from the weak to the broken, and everyone in between, deserve to exercise their humanity and to enjoy the precious gift of life given to them. What a seemingly complex thing, yet what a simple thing. Sharing life, enjoying life, living life. Life is deliberate, life is a gift, and every life is worth living.

Juliana DeSimone
Bishop Feehan High School, Attleboro, Grade 11
St. Mary’s Parish, Mansfield


First Place Junior High School

During the Holy Father’s recent visit to the United States, one of the most lasting images to me was how Pope Francis’s love for life emerged, whether he was greeting a small child, an immigrant, an elderly person, a head of state, or a homeless man. His actions in every meeting solidified to me very clearly that every life is worth living and is important. Pope Francis reminds us that we should value all people and to never forget the people who are easily forgotten in today’s world.

“In many places, quality of life is related primarily to economic means, to ‘well-being,’ to the beauty and enjoyment of the physical, forgetting other more profound dimensions of existence — interpersonal, Spiritual and religious. In fact, in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always Sacred and always ‘of quality.’ There is no human life that is more Sacred than another — every human life is Sacred,” stated Pope Francis in an address on Nov. 15, 2014.

Such a wonderful, profound, and yet basic message is that every life is worth living, from the very beginning of life until the very end of life; we are all very special creations of God. Everyone is created  in God’s image and His likeness, for this reason, every single life should be cherished and protected. The unborn child is a precious gift from God that we should all strive to protect and honor. We should also pray to stop all forms of opposing life, from murder, genocide, euthanasia, self-destruction, and, of course, abortion.   

God is always with all of His creations every single moment of our lives. We have God’s graces with us at all times, which inspire us to not only live our life, but to embrace it. We should honor and respect life by caring for ourselves, which we can do by living a moral, healthy, and drug-free life. We should also remember the sick, the weak, the mentally challenged, the disabled, and the elderly and assist them when we can. We can care for them, help them, visit them, call them, and keep them in our thoughts and prayers. We can also just help them whenever possible by reminding them that their lives are worth living and that they are never alone. We should also remember to pray for the important caregivers of the world and support them in their endeavors.    

Pope Francis also reminds us in this year of Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy to “Feel mercy — this word changes everything.”  The Holy Year is traditionally a year of forgiveness and the importance of Sacrament of Reconciliation. Pope Francis is letting us know that even when we stray from our path, God will always forgive us. What a wonderful example of God’s love at work and a truly wonderful gift from God. 

In today’s world, we are sometimes forced to face obstacles, challenges, and set-backs and stray off of our path with God. We are often too busy getting through our daily lives that we forget what is truly important, God and His love. As a young person in today’s hectic world, it was so important for me to see Pope Francis demonstrate his love for life and to remind us that every single life is worth living. It is also equally as important for me to know that God is forgiving and full of mercy.  These are wonderful examples of God’s love at work that will help guide me through my path in life. Over the next several years, I will be faced with many choices and decisions. I am more confident than ever that having God’s mercy, kindness, humility, and especially love with me, will keep me on my path with God. 

Gabriella Joaquim
Holy Name School/Parish, Fall River
Grade Eight


Second Place High School

Each life tells a story. Some are long, some are short, but each is valuable. You determine your own story, but you also influence others’ on their journey. You are the main character, the supporting character, and the strange acquaintance. And every story you are in would never be the same without you.

Every life tells a story. Some span the length of a century; others last less than a year. Some stories cannot be told on earth. Others are spread freely and often. No matter the story, each is worth telling and each is worth living. Every life is valuable; it is given to us by God for a purpose. We were not meant to wander aimlessly on the earth, but to perform a certain mission, the path of which is already known by God.

Every story is worth telling because every life has value. We all know many stories, but we tend to appreciate those that are glorious and heroic. This is good, but not everyone can be like St. Joan of Arc or Martin Luther King Jr. With people such as this, the value of their lives is clearly seen, for they changed the world. But, is life only precious when it is well-known or accomplished much? No. Life cannot be valuable for what it does, it is valuable for what it is. 

Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa spent her life among the poor, serving them as Christ and loving them individually. In her every action, she sought to comfort the heart of Christ, to satiate the longing of His heart by loving Him in the form of Calcutta’s poor. She experienced extreme Spiritual desolation for years. Yet, she still loved every soul as if they were Christ and cared for each person she encountered. Mother Teresa’s life is clearly important and astounding, though she was hardly a celebrity. But Mother Teresa’s story tells more than just about the value of her life; it also describes and highlights the value of the life in every human being, even the sick, unborn, and dying. They are worth caring for, giving up our life for, and she did just that. One does not dedicate their entire life to something useless or valueless.

St. Therese of the Little Flower is also well-known for her deep love of Christ. She was not known for grand actions, but for her little way. She said, “Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” A life lived to the fullest, then, is a life spent loving our Lord with a burning heart, longing to be ever close to Him and loving Him in others. St. Therese was known by very few at her death, but her writing filled with simple love is why she is a saint today and millions look to her for guidance. 

One of my favorite stories was very short. Therese Elizabeth Hamel was born on May 20, 1998. She died 16 days later. What did she accomplish? Not much. She never ran a marathon. She did not sway the hearts of millions. She never even spoke a word. Why is she important? She was and is my sister. 

Our world is not the end all, be all. We exist body and soul. My sister is in Heaven. She is not here, but she never left me. I hold her name and she is my saint. I pray to her when I need help. Sometimes I just talk to her. She watches over me and my family and she protects us. I miss her. I miss her a lot, but she will always be there for me. 

Her life lasted less than a month, barely two weeks. But she still left her mark on this earth. If life is only valuable for doing great things, then she is among the many useless bodies, but if life is an invaluable gift from God, then she is among the celebrated multitude who lived. We live. If we are alive, then we exist for a purpose. Some simply fulfill theirs sooner than others. Then God calls us home, and we run to Him, He Who stands with open arms waiting to welcome us into His Kingdom and the wedding feast. Our loving God longs for us; He gives our life value, for we are created in His image and likeness. He considers us infinitely valuable, so who is anyone to detract from that? The intrinsic value of a life cannot be diminished, cannot be detracted, cannot be destroyed. The Almighty, ever living, omnipotent God Who loves us with a heart that burns for us, Who suffers when we do not ask for His mercy and love, Who died so that we may live with Him forever, this God has given us dignity and a human life. Who can say that any life has no value, has no meaning, or has no purpose? That was never ours to determine! God does not make mistakes; there are no accidents. Everyone was created for a reason that He knows, and to love Him. This is why the Pro-Life movement exists, because every life is valuable and worth protecting from conception until natural death.

Every life is a freely given gift from God. He created us, cares for us, and holds us in creation by His infinite love for us. He sent His only Son to suffer unimaginable and incredible pain, to die for us, so that we may have life and have life abundantly. He did not suffer and die for some or a few, but for all, whether their lives lasted an instant or a century. We have been redeemed by a God Who longs for us and wants nothing more than to have us love Him back. We do not choose whether or not our life means anything, for that is not up to us to decide but for the One Who created it. And so every life is worth living because every life has infinite value given to us by our loving God and Father. We were made in His image and likeness; we were made to be like Him. He has a plan for every one of us, and so our lives are each great stories that are worth being lived out to their glorious conclusion, their final battle, and into eternal life.

Sarah Therese Hamel
Bishop Stang High School, North Dartmouth
Grade 11
St. Francis Xavier Parish, Acushnet


Second Place Junior High School

The children in my family are fortunate. Each of our birth mothers was poor, young and uneducated. Each was scared to find herself unexpectedly pregnant. So why are we fortunate? Because each of our mothers understood that “every life is worth living.” Our birth mothers understood that every life matters and that everyone has a contribution to make.

Even small contributions can have a huge impact. You do not have to discover a cure for cancer to make a difference in this world. My brother, Nick, graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in flute performance. He has played at Carnegie Hall. This is not what makes him special. What makes him special is all the good things he does with his gift of music. When he was in high school, he was asked to play his flute in the convent for a dying nun. The look on her face was more satisfying than the applause of thousands. Last spring, when there were riots in Baltimore, he played a concert for peace with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. If his birth mother had not understood that “every life is worth living,” and had chosen abortion, these contributions would have been lost.

My brother, Tim, is an accountant with State Street Bank. This is not what makes him special. He and his wife, Aimee, have a special love for children and would like a houseful. They are very excited to be expecting their first child in July. If Tim’s birth mother had not understood that “every life is worth living,” and had chosen abortion, this child would have been lost.

My own birth mother has a life-threatening disease. When doctors advised her to have an abortion, she immediately refused. She talked with social workers and made a plan for me to live with my forever family. I am an honor roll student at St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School, but this is not what makes me special. My hopes, my dreams, my talents, my love for people: all of these make me special. I plan to be an elementary school teacher when I grow up. If my birth mother had not understood that “every life is worth living,” and had chosen abortion, these dreams would be lost.

We have different gifts but they all come from the Holy Spirit. Finding our gifts and sharing them means that “every life is worth living.”

Lydia Litton-Alves
St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School, Hyannis
Grade Seven
Christ the King Parish, Mashpee


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