I was saddened but not surprised to read in the Huffington Post about the “Dear Future Mom” video that has been banned on French television.
I viewed the video, and was moved by the wonderful expressions of life and love by young adults with Down Syndrome, who spoke of the gifts that God has given to them and who ended their comments with hugs from their moms.
This is a “must see” piece that effectively counters many of the old and misguided stereotypes about people with Down Syndrome that continue to live in the imagination of so many.
Recently I gave my final address as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and shared a story with the bishops. In June of last year, I was part of a whirlwind five day tour of the war torn and economically ravaged Ukraine. We met with church and civic leaders, the United States ambassador, and many others.
But the event that sticks in my mind was a visit with a refugee family.
I met a mother with three children, one of whom was a young child of eight who was born with Down Syndrome. Well – I entered that small home, and to my surprise when I bent down to shake the hand of the little boy with Down Syndrome, he instinctively jumped into my arms, gave me a big smile, and said in a language that my heart understood: “I love you.”
I know that parents facing a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome are frightened, and I can’t take away the fear and concern. But I can share with you my own experience of my brother, George, who was born with Down Syndrome.
My engagement with my brother Georgie was not distant. When our mother died in 1989, I became his legal guardian, and at the age of 48, he came to live with me in the parish rectory in Pennsylvania and later moved with me when I was appointed Bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee.
I remember well how George contributed to the life of the parish I was serving. He was a community builder par excellence. Two weeks had not gone by before he had given each person on the rectory staff a nickname.
In the Old Testament, God gave Abram a new name to claim him as his own, and so Georgie quickly claimed us as part of his family.
At the rectory, Georgie contributed in countless ways. Through a playful “boo,” an occasional hug, and a pat on the back, Georgie brought to the rectory an ease that became infectious. He became a valued co-worker and was greatly missed whenever he would take a vacation.
He was a friend in the evening, and I learned the television schedules for most evenings after 9:30 p.m. His gentle presence forced me to take the time to stop, pause, and enjoy.
I quickly learned how much he was giving to me and to all he encountered. He comforted me after a tough day, responded to my grief at the death of our mother, and helped me to keep things in perspective.
Giving and receiving are intertwined, and we never do one exclusively. In the case of my relating to my brother, it is not a cliché to say I received much more than I ever gave. The gift of my brother overflowed with a cornucopia of concrete acts of love and because of him, I am a better person.
There is no question about the sacrifice that was involved in my relationship with Georgie, but love always calls us to concrete actions and choices and to sacrifice. My brother died in 2001, and I miss him every day.
Tragically across the globe, it is estimated that up to 90 percent of pregnancies with a Down Syndrome diagnosis end in abortion. I encourage all families who have received this diagnosis for their unborn child to view this video.
My hope is that it will help you to better understand the wonderful gifts and potential of individuals born with Down Syndrome and to stand up for life.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville is the former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.