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A Week of Reflection on Human Dignity by Kevin O’Brien, S.J.

This week, Mission and Ministry supports two sets of campus events that go to the heart of who we are as a Catholic university.

First, we support our student-led “Life Week (new window),” an annual event that demonstrates in dynamic fashion the conviction shared by the Catholic Church and other faith communities that all life is sacred. “Life Week” follows two related events from the last couple of weeks: a conversation with Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty, hosted by The Francis Project: Hoyas for Human Dignity and Life; and a panel discussion about Pope Francis and the “throw-away culture,” organized by The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. Such events are particularly welcome this year after a January blizzard forced the cancellation of the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, the largest student-run pro-life conference in the country, which the University proudly supports and looks forward to next year.

While events such as these are organized every year, the student-run Lecture Fund’s invitation to Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, to speak on campus this week lends them certain urgency. Planned Parenthood provides abortion services, a practice that contravenes Catholic moral teaching.  Views espoused and enacted by Planned Parenthood are profoundly at odds with the Catholic understanding of the human person. Rooted in the Catholic tradition, Georgetown affirms the dignity of each human person, from conception to natural death. The events around Life Week underscore that commitment.

Second, Mission and Ministry is proud to support a host of programs stemming from the University’s year-long reflection on our history of slaveholding. The Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation has organized a week-long series around the annual commemoration of Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia. The Working Group’s programs focus not only on memorializing the history of slaveholding but on understanding how we can best come to terms with it today as a community.  “Life Week” provides a lens to view the sin of racism as a violation of human dignity and devaluation of human life.   

As events this year, on campus and off, have taught us, conversations about race and abortion can be divisive. They are difficult conversations, yet, when respectfully engaged, they can also yield greater awareness and understanding of truth claims, outcomes particularly suited to a Catholic university committed both to the free exchange of ideas and the relentless pursuit of truth. Our hope is that in supporting Life Week-related programs and Emancipation Day events, we provide insights from the Christian tradition that deepen these conversations and inspire greater reverence for the human person, especially the most vulnerable.

Written by Rev. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., Vice President for Mission and Ministry

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