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Celebration of Life message is one of forgiveness and mercy

 

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St. John the Baptist of Whiting and St. Mary of Griffith students place crosses - each representing one of the 4,000 lives lost each day in the U.S. through abortion - on the lawn of Franciscan Health Dyer during the Celebration of Life event Oct. 5.  (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

by MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

       DYER – In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the 23rd annual Celebration of Life to commemorate Respect Life Month took on the theme “Moved By Mercy,” with Bishop Emeritus Dale J. Melczek acclaiming the sanctity, preciousness and value of life that should never be denied.

       Hosted Oct. 5 by Franciscan Health on the north lawn of Franciscan Health Dyer, the prayer service was opened by Gene Diamond, vice president and chief operating officer of inpatient services for Franciscan Alliance, who welcomed Diocese of Gary representatives, health care professionals and approximately 1,150 students from 13 area parochial schools.

       “It is a gift to be alive. . .each one of us is a gift of God’s love. If God didn’t love us, we wouldn’t be here,” said Bishop Melczek in his homily. “How beautiful that we are able to live, to know God, to know the destiny he has for us. . .and that we could hand on (this life we’ve been granted) just a little more beautiful (than it was before).

       “None of us is perfect, we all sin from time to time, but God forgives us, God never stops loving us. He wants us to welcome, to forgive, and to share that mercy with others,” added the bishop. “To the many in our country, in our world, who have not respected life, have committed the sin of abortion, snuffed out life, God still reaches out in mercy. Pray for them, ask them to open up their hearts and rejoice in his love.”

       Also addressing the need for mercy was guest speaker Nicole Varela, who recalled that “being formally labeled as dyslexic” as a fourth-grader led to suggestions that her future would be limited, and couldn’t include college.

       Instead, the Merrillville High School alumna earned Purdue University Calumet Honors College academic honors and is currently working towards a master’s in Social Work at Erikson Institute in Chicago, refusing “to be defined by what I could and couldn’t do.”

       Recalling that her grandfather repeatedly told her to “Be somebody” when he dropped her off at school, Varela said, “I do my best to be aware of the biases and preconceived notions I bring into the classroom,” whether it be her work with children in Nicaragua, where many do not have running water, or in Chicago, where she works to empower parents who have children with problems eating or sleeping. “I try to ‘Be somebody’ with compassion, with kindness, not just for those like us, (but) for the least of our people. Mercy spreads wherever it is planted.”

       Bishop Melczek appreciated her message. “Nicole taught us to give thanks for others, those who are gifted in other ways than ourselves, who come from different cultures, other nationalities,” he said. “Jesus would tell us to love, forgive and respect those who have hurt us.”

       Stacia Bolakowski, campus ministry director at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, also saw the call for mercy in Varela’s speech. “I think the speaker was right on point,” she said. “Respect Life is about abortions, euthanasia, the death penalty, but also about the daily struggles we face; helping each other and then helping ourselves.”

       Another highlight of the program was the music shared by the BNI Choir directed by David Herr, who added an uplifting message of praise and mercy with “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” “With You By My Side,” “Awesome God” and “Go Make A Difference.”

       The music and the message of Varela most impressed seventh-grader Mary Dravet from Aquinas School.     “We are here to see the importance of life, and how people should not kill their babies,” she said.

       Selected students from BNI; Andrean High School and Aquinas School, both in Merrillville; Our Lady of Grace School in Highland; St. Casimir and St. John Bosco schools, both in Hammond; St. John the Baptist School in Whiting; St. John the Evangelist School in St. John; St. Mary School in Crown Point; St. Mary School in Griffith; St. Michael the Archangel School in Schererville; St. Thomas More School in Munster; and St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago, placed white crosses in a grassy field to represent the thousands of abortions performed daily in the U.S.

       “My Mom told me that today is important and I should pay attention,” said seventh-grader Chris Peterson from Our Lady of Grace about the message he brought with him. “She said abortion is bad, because it is taking away a life.”

       Andrean freshman Isabella Azcona, who has attended Respect Life programs since fifth grade, said Respect Life Month means that no child should have their chance to live taken away. “Every child should be able to have a life,” she said.

 

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On the grounds of Franciscan Health Dyer on Oct. 5, Bishop emeritus Dale J. Melczek looks on as Celebration of Life guest speaker Nicole Varela told the gathering of area Catholic school youth how she overcame a learning disability. Her presentation at the annual event echoed the theme of repsecting all human life, from the unborn, to the disabled, to the elderly. 

(Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

Life celebration 5

Walter Cook (foreground) and fellow sixth-grade St. Mary Catholic Community School of Crown Point students sing along to the Celebration of Life program, a prayerful annual gathering promoting pro-life values, on the grounds of Franciscan Health Dyer on Oct. 5. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

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