By Georgiana Francisco, Christina Leslie, Rose O’Connor, Lois Rogers and Carly York | Correspondents
The theme of this year’s diocesan Respect Life Contest was “Be Not Afraid.”
It seems that Skylar Cary took the message to heart.
The Holy Cross School sixth-grader and her family, who live in Rumson near the Shrewsbury River, didn’t let water-clogged roadways keep them from attending the March 4 Monmouth County Mass and ceremony, where Cary would be honored for her winning poster.
Though their local roads proved impassible due to the weekend’s nor’easter, the Cary family took a small motorboat from their house to another section of Rumson, where they met an Uber that took them to St. Mary Church, Middletown, the site of the celebratory Mass.
When Cary received her award from Rachel Hendricks, diocesan respect life coordinator, she said, understatedly, “You have no idea how much this means to me!”
The Monmouth County Mass was one of four throughout the Diocese of Trenton that honored the 2018 Respect Life Poster, Meme and Essay Contest winners. Open to all Catholic school and religious education students in grades kindergarten through eight, the contest opened a forum for young Catholics to express their love for life using the “Be Not Afraid” theme. Winners from all four counties of the Diocese were feted at Masses in Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church, Hainesport; St. George Church, Titusville, and St. John Church, Lakehurst, in addition to the Middletown parish’s celebration.
Six diocesan winners were chosen – one from each grade category – as well as runners up in each grade group by county. Hendricks helped facilitate the voting for the contest with 89 respect life parish representatives from across the Diocese, as well as nearly 80 Chancery employees.
“The children do such a wonderful job on their entries, and are very creative and thoughtful,” she noted.
Michael Liddy, an eighth-grader in St. Catharine School, Spring Lake, was the Monmouth County winner in this year’s newly created category of “memes.”
“I wanted to help spread the Catholic faith and share my knowledge about the respect life movement,” Liddy said.
Father Richard Osborn, parochial vicar in the host parish and principal celebrant of the Mass, explained that the computer-generated picture and message shared across the internet on social media were “a great way to use humor to convey a deeper message.”
Protecting Life’s Stages
Father Jarlath Quinn, parochial vicar in St. George Parish, presided over the Mercer County Mass where students from Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton; St. Paul School, Princeton, and St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton, garnered their awards.
“It gives us great joy to see the children’s work and to see the pro-life message being shared,” Father Quinn noted. “We need to proclaim the goodness of life and that this goodness is present at all stages of life.”
That was, in fact, the message presented by Gabriella Vizzoni, a sixth-grader in St. Paul School, whose poster entitled “From Womb to Tomb” garnered her first place. “I did some research and looked things up online,” Vizzoni explained. “I also looked the Bible verses up online, too.”
TCA Lower Academy director Anne Reap was on hand to congratulate seven of her students for their winning submissions.
“The contest has always been special to us at TCA, because the respect life messages truly encompass who we are as Catholic Christians,” Reap said. “This message is not something only discussed in religious classes, but throughout all of the curriculum and in our daily interactions with one another.”
TCA third-grader Javier Moreno-Corrales, who won for best poster in his grade level, focused on the contest theme, remembering how the darkness at bedtime used to frighten him. “I thought back to when I was a little kid and how I was afraid to go to sleep,” he said. “So I drew that and thought about how I don’t need to be afraid because God is with me.”
Some 800 parishioners, friends and guests in St. John Church, Lakehurst, signaled their approval with hearty applause as Father James F. O’Neill, Ocean County’s respect life chaplain and parish administrator, called up Summer Bruce and Emma Mullins and presented them with certificates as runners up in the poster and essay categories.
The poster from Mullins, a third-grader from St. Peter School and Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, was a large and sheltering tree with “Be Not Afraid” in its branches. Beneath it were her family and a manger scene depicting the Holy Family.
“It’s the tree of life,” her mother, Jennifer, explained with a smile.
The Bruces noted that their daughter, a fifth-grader in St. Peter School, enjoys writing and has entered and placed in the contest three times.
“She loves it,” her father said. “The contest fosters connectivity to the Church; it’s another way Summer connects with her faith.”
Looking on, Father O’Neill said the fact the event is held in each county rather than in one location makes it more accessible. “This is wonderful,” he said.
God in Today’s World
Father Joe Noche, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, presided over the Mass where winners garnered their prizes. Christian Caminotti and Owen Donohue, both eighth-grade students in Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, were ranked as first runners up in the essay and meme categories, respectively.
Caminotti said that by writing an essay he could make more people aware of how necessary it is to respect life in today’s world.
“I also hoped that I could help send a message to my generation and future generations that would encourage them not only to respect all life, but also not to be afraid to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.
Donohue recalled how after learning about the contest, he heard it was going to snow.
“I began to think about ways I could take photos of the snow that would show how not to be afraid and depict how to respect life,” he said. “So I decided to take a picture of two sets of footprints in the snow to show that God is always with us that that he is there to help us respect all of his creation.”