A new face of hope

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Opinion - Kathryn Lopez Colum­nist Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at­large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@na­tion­al­re­view.com.

ROME » I left the coun­try the other day, and the talk on Face­book ever since I logged on across the pond seems to be the new al­go­rithms that limit the num­ber of peo­ple you see on your news­feed. But, in all due re­spect to all the peo­ple I am miss­ing, I can han­dle what I’ve been see­ing most: non­stop im­ages, videos and com­men­taries on the new Ger­ber baby, Lu­cas War­ren. He has Down syn­drome, and with his smil­ing face, he says more about life and love and hope than any words ever put to­gether.

Lu­cas, from Ge­or­gia, was one of 140,000 en­tries in a con­test the pany. ven­er­a­ble to His be­come mother, baby the Cort­ney, new food face com- told of “To­day”: “He’s very out­go­ing and never meets a stranger ... He loves to play, loves to laugh and loves to make other peo­ple laugh.”

Lu­cas’ smile seems in­stan­ta­neous and con­ta­gious. It’s hard not to look at him and think of all the pain that the world might see in store for him, and how his in­no­cent love is only what he has to of­fer you. It’s as if his mes­sage to the world is: “Lighten up and love al­ready! That’s my ap­proach! I’m en­joy­ing it! You should try it.” He has no idea how the world looks on him or that there are coun­tries that would have had him elim­i­nated be­fore hav­ing the chance to live.

A few weeks ago, I talked to Pa­tri­cia Heaton, star of the prime-time sit­com “The Mid- dle,” who has been an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for the rights of peo­ple with Down syn­drome. Speak­ing in re­sponse to a news story about Ice­land “elim­i­nat­ing” Down syn­drome, she told me in an in­ter­view for An­gelus mag­a­zine: “They are not elim­i­nat­ing Down syn­drome; you would have to have some kind of ge­netic ma­neu­ver in or­der to elim­i­nate Down syn­drome. What they are do­ing is elim­i­nat­ing peo­ple who hap­pen to have Down syn­drome. It’s a very dif­fer­ent prospect ... We have to start telling the truth about what is hap­pen­ing, and not try to use se­man­tics to de­ceive or sug­ar­coat what’s hap­pen­ing.” Heaton told me about the first when time a pre­na­tal she was blood preg­nant, test showed her first­born might have Down syn­drome. As she faced a wave of emo­tions, she says that she started think­ing about Down syn­drome on a spec­trum: “(W)hen God looks down on all of us, we all fall short of per­fec­tion.” Heaton is quick to say we can­not “sug­ar­coat” the chal­lenges of dis­abil­i­ties, but that we have to start look­ing at peo­ple as peo­ple, as crea­tures of in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­ity, not li­a­bil­i­ties. As Heaton said to me: “I feel that along with stand­ing up for the right of dis­abled peo­ple to be born, we have to fo­cus also on sup­port for fam­i­lies who have fam­ily mem­bers with dis­abil­i­ties -- whether they’re funded by state or fed­eral pro­grams, or whether it’s char­i­ta­ble pro­grams, or the com­mu­nity does it ... We need to have more pro­grams ... to in­te­grate peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties into the com­mu­nity, and to make sure ... fam­i­lies get the sup­port that they need, be­cause it is more dif­fi­cult for some fam­i­lies, de­pend­ing on the level of dis­abil­ity, and the in­ten­sity of the dis­abil­ity ... If we are go­ing to be cham­pi­ons of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, we also need to be cham­pi­ons of the sup­port sys­tems that need to be around them and their fam­i­lies.”

While the Ger­ber spokes­baby is a cor­po­rate mas­cot on the sur­face, the po­si­tion can mean so much more this year. Look­ing in the eyes of Lu­cas, we might see a bet­ter way to live. A way free of some of the anx­i­eties that hold us back from freely liv­ing and rad­i­cally lov­ing. I’m not far from Pope Fran­cis here in Rome, and am re­minded that he of­ten talks about the need for a “rev­o­lu­tion of ten­der­ness.” If this isn’t what such a rev­o­lu­tion looks like, I don’t know its face.

It’s as if his mes­sage to the­world is: “Lighten up and love al­ready! That’s my ap­proach! I’m en­joy­ing it! You should try it.

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