Friday, April 11, 2008

Words of Welcome Essay Contest - the results

This was a really cool idea. The diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin set up a nation-wide essay contest to welcome Pope Benedict XVI, as well as inspire young people to investigate his writings and teachings.

Two of my Catholic Doctrine students entered the contest, but alas, they did not win. They only had to defeat 2,765 other applicants, representing 116 high schools in 37 states!!!! What amazing response to an essay contest on such short notice. Very impressive. Indeed, the diocese of Green Bay deserves to be applauded. What a great way to welcome the Holy Father and get young Catholics involved and invigorated about his historic visit. That's almost 3,000 more people who will be paying extra special attention to the pope's major messages on his visit.

Here's the Words of Welcome website; this link will send you directly to the winning essays. Give them a read.

Below are my students' essays; Not bad, especially for never having read any of Benedict's writing before my class!

Essay #1: The Influence of Catholic Education on American Culture

One of the biggest influences the Catholic Church has had on culture in the United States is in the realm of education. Exposure to the Catholic faith via parochial schools has had a positive influence in the quality of education, faithfulness, and leadership in this country. It has also helped immigrants become integrated in American society and eventually to be accepted and successful. Attending a Catholic high school, as opposed to other institutions, has been shown to have positive, life-long consequences.

The first Catholic schools were founded in the United States in the1840s. Irish immigrants suffering from famine immigrated to U.S. cities on the east coast. They were followed by immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. Many of these new Americans did not speak English and they lived in ghettos. At that time in America, public schools were openly prejudiced against Catholic immigrants, and so the Church started building schools for their families. In 1886, a council of American bishops decided to require parishes to set up schools and offer free or inexpensive tuition.[1] Soon, schools filled up and parishes became the center of life in these Catholic neighborhoods.

According to Resources for Christian Living, today there are 233 Catholic colleges and universities, 1,378 Catholic high schools, and 6,376 Catholic elementary schools. There are approximately 174,000 Catholic teachers educating 3,289,000 students. In this century, Catholic schools are now trying to help students become more faithful to the Church, respect the value of authentic diversity, live the Gospel message, and work for peace and justice.

Catholic schools have benefited students with more than a quality education, faith formation, and success in life. According to The National Catholic Reporter, attending a Catholic high school or university leads to both higher pursuit of education and higher household income. A Catholic education also helps students to become more devout Christians; those who attend a Catholic school are half as likely to convert to another religion.[2]

Attending a Catholic secondary institution also has a positive impact on a student's college application process. 44% of Catholics who have attended a Catholic high school have gone on to college. Students who have studied at a Catholic high school are 10% more likely to say that faith is among the most important things in their life. Catholics who have attended a Catholic high school are also 14% more likely to pray at least once a day after graduation than those who did not attend a Catholic institution.

Before I transferred to a Catholic school in sixth grade, I went to a public school for three years. I discovered a much more demanding curriculum; two of the areas I struggled with were writing and reading comprehension. The devotion and interaction of the teachers along with the numerous writing assignments helped me to improve in those areas. The other pupils were also far more well behaved, making school more enjoyable.

The role that Catholic schools play in American culture will most likely have a lasting impact into the future. Today the children of Catholic immigrants from countries like Mexico are streaming into the Church's schools because of the quality of a Catholic, Christian education. It is interesting to see how Catholic education has come full circle from its early days of teaching Irish immigrant students.

In conclusion, the positive influences of Catholic schools on American culture are multiform. The students who attend the Church's institutions are more likely to pray daily, be better students, uphold a higher standard of living, and have a higher household income. Catholic schools are creating, and have created for almost two centuries, highly dedicated citizens who will shape the future of the United States by teaching, sharing, and living their Catholic faith.

Welcome to Pope Benedict XVI

In 1979, my mother and her Catholic friends made a three-hour pilgrimage from their college to attend a mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in a farm field outside of Des Moines, Iowa. It was the first visit to the United States by Pope John Paul II. Now, almost 30 years later, it is my honor to welcome Your Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, on your first visit to the United States. Just like my mother, I am the product of Catholic education. Catholic education has done much to change the culture in the United States. Your Holiness, I hope you will continue to teach the lay people and clergy about the Church's doctrines and dogma during your visit.

[1] Dwyer, Jim. "Catholic Schools Finds Its Status Diminished". The New York Times. February 13, 2005.

[2] Resources for Christian Living.


Essay #2: The Essential Writings of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict's major written works: The Catechism, Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi, and Dominus Iesus are central to the pope's ideas and the advancement of the Catholic Church in the 21st century; they also act as an anchor for the Catholic Church to her Apostolic traditions. These four documents illustrate the theme of love, hope, and faith and how they revolve around the dogmas and doctrines of the Church.

Benedict is well known for his work on The Catechism, in which he played a large part by editing it. This document holds much information on the theology of the Catholic faith and on its many dogmas and doctrines. The Catechism was built on the four pillars of our faith: the Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. It educates the faithful on the truths of the Catholic faith: what we believe in and why we believe in it. One of the most basic truths is that there is a God who loves and watches over us. The reason we believe in our faith is not based entirely on physical means. There are the miracles, but aside from that it goes deeper into something called faith. The very definition of the word faith reveals this: the belief that something is out there even if you cannot prove it.

Deus Caritas Est, Latin for "God is Love", is the first letter written by Pope Benedict. This document says that eros, or sexual human love, without God's agape, or self-sacrificial love, is depraved and can lead to sin and destruction. It says that eros and agape are not separate things, but instead that they are two distinct halves of love: one cannot occur with the other unless the act is sinful.

Spe Salvi rendered in English is…"Saved in Hope". That is a very powerful statement backed up by the way in which the pope presents it; with hope, Christians can know that when they die, they will go to a better place where God is in his kingdom. It also states that we believe in Salvation not because it is not a sure thing, but because it is possible; the fact stands that if Salvation was a sure thing, then no one would worry about sinning since Salvation would be guaranteed.

My final choice is Dominus Iesus, which means "Jesus is the Lord". Despite all of the controversy surrounding this document, the main point is that all other churches do not have the fullness of Truth in them because God was not the one who instituted them. It is a hard thing to grasp, but the people who started the other churches were mortal, with "original sin"; in other words they make mistakes. On the other hand, God was fully human and divine, which made him lack original sin. God instituted the Catholic Church through the Apostles, allowing us to use "Apostolic Succession" to trace the Church's bishops all the way back to the Twelve.

Throughout the documents discussed, much has been said about hope, love, and faith. The Pope presents these truths in an order that makes sense; he showed how they are all tied together. If one does not love and have faith in God, what is there to hope for that is true; and if there is no hope, why would anyone believe in God if it was impossible to hope for greater things?

Only the Holy Spirit knows exactly why Pope Benedict is the "right man for the job", and only history can judge how he performs. From my perspective, I believe Benedict will be remembered as a great pope because he is a firm defender and believer in the Christian faith. He has demonstrated this virtue again and again in the various ecclesiastical offices he has held. In the years after Cardinal Ratzinger's elevation to the Successor of Peter, he has protected the faith by publishing many official and authoritative documents on the teaching and implementation of the Catholic faith. He believes in the patrimony of the faith, which is why he is such a gifted writer and evangelist.

A Message of Welcome to Pope Benedict XVI

Welcome to the United States, Pope Benedict! I have studied several of your writings, and recently I was in your presence at a private audience in Rome where you blessed me and my tour group. I believe your works Deus Caritas Est, The Catechism, Spe Salvi, and Dominus Iesus all address our confusing times quite appropriately and accurately. With much confusion among even Christians in this age, your writings are needed to evangelize the world. Thank you for coming to my country with the Gospel message, and for leading the Church as such a wise teacher.

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