As part of the summer break from seminary, we are requested to spend several weeks in an Irish parish. This allows us to gain insight into what it is like to live as a priest. We see all the different events that go on and how a priest can carry out his ministry.
One of the biggest parts of parish life is ministry in schools. In my parish, there are ten Catholic schools. I visited a number of them during my time here and each visit was a positive experience. The kids were inquisitive and naturally had all sorts of questions, ranging from ‘Where could you be a priest?’ to ‘How can God have always existed?’ (I was hugely impressed by that one, from a boy roughly eight years of age).
The last school I visited, on this occasion with one of the priests, was a special school. All the students had different disabilities, some of which were worse than others, but they were all happy kids. They were on break when we arrived, playing outside, smiling and clapping there hands, just looking to have fun in their own innocent ways. It was soon time to return to the classroom after break.
One of the kids, a little boy named Sean (not real name) came walking back into the room, aided by one of the special needs assistants (SNA). He couldn’t really walk in a straight line, he had more of a sideways style of walking, while being a little unbalanced. He would stop every few feet and put his little hands into the hands of the SNA, look up and lean his head right back, with his mouth open in a smile. It was easy to feel compassion for him, as well as being glad he was happy.
The SNA left him by his chair, which was where I was standing. So, I said ‘hello Sean’ and smiled at him. At this he took a short step towards me, a stranger, and reached out towards me. I offered him my hands and he took them, in the same style as with the SNA. He leant his head back again, so far back he was almost looking backwards, and smiled. I don’t know what he was doing, just playing, I suppose, but he was a lovely little boy, and his innocence really struck me with compassion.
Soon after, it was time for myself and the priest to leave. We waved goodbye to all the kids, who were still getting seated. In the car, he said something shocking to me, something which I don’t think I shall soon forget:
‘If they repeal the eighth amendment, eventually, schools like that will close down. The person in the womb will be screened and many who suffer from Down Syndrome and other things will be aborted.’
It was almost too difficult to let the gravity of that statement sink in. Imagine, so many kids like those happy children, smiling and laughing, never given a chance. So let us choose life over death and save the eighth amendment.