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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

April 1999

The following Links for Learners resource is offered to those who would like to use St. Anthony Messenger in an educational setting or for further study at home. This resource is prepared with high school students in mind, but can be adapted for other age groups. We will feature one article for further study each month. Back issues, beginning in May 1997, contain this resource. Up until December 1998 it was called a teacher's guide or classroom resource. Teachers with access to computer labs should encourage students to access the article directly online. Students have our permission to print out a copy of the article for classroom use. We encourage you to subscribe to the print edition of St. Anthony Messenger, where you will see all of the graphics, and more articles that you might find useful on a variety of topics. Please let us know how we can improve this service by sending feedback to

Please see our links disclaimer located at the end of this document.

Links for Learning

1. Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

    • Religion — Christian life-styles; evangelization; the dignity of life; social justice.
    • History — The role of the United States as a moral leader in world politics; American history and the Civil-rights movement.
    1. Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs such as:

Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.

Parents will also find some of this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table or at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners.

Catholic social teaching




Death penalty


Gospel message

Social justice


Humane society

National Conference of Catholic Bishops





Dignity of life

Rome of the West


The Evangelizing Missions of Pope John Paul II

For the duration of his term as pope and leader to the world’s Catholics, Pope John Paul II has made numerous journeys to various countries to preach the gospel message. The United States has been privileged to receive John Paul II on seven different occasions, the most recent being his visit to St. Louis in January of this year. The 30-hour visit was a plea to the people of America to cherish life. "Protecting the dignity of life is America’s deepest calling," the pope said.

For biographical data and background on Pope John Paul II’s other journeys, see the Vatican Web site as well as the Catholic Online site detailing the pope’s travels and his writings. You can also see A&E’s video biography of John Paul II at the A&E Web site. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has produced a video called "A Light to the Nations." It offers a further insight into the man who leads our Church.

The Pope Reminds America of its Foundations

Pope John Paul II reminded us Americans that the foundation of our country is rooted in the protection of the individual in a free society. In your class or discussion group, you may wish to research this foundation in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. The Library of Congress has the text of these documents and related primary documents and historical materials, such as text of pamphlets and printed matter from that time period.

Next, see the Web site of the Archdiocese of St. Louis for the text of the pope’s speeches while he was in St. Louis. You’ll also find descriptions of the events surrounding his speeches.

The United States should affirm a culture of life, says the pope. With your group, brainstorm briefly for a list of occurrences and practices that contradict a culture of life. Your brainstorming results should include topics such as abortion, euthanasia, racism, the death penalty, assisted suicide, social injustice, poverty and the degradation of women and children.

If Christians are to be unconditionally pro-life, as John Paul II exhorts, how can we fight against the practices that deny life? Or, do we believe such practices to really be against life? Discuss how we may believe strongly in abolishing the death penalty, for example, but also believe in the value of assisted suicide or mercy killing. Are we consistently affirming a culture of life? How is it possible we do not see how some practices are not in keeping with a pro-life attitude?

Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, has worked to abolish the death penalty and has served as spiritual adviser to a number of inmates on death row. Her book was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.

The Pope’s Message to Youth

In St. Louis, as in other visits to Denver and Paris, France, the pope gathered thousands of youth to celebrate and pray together. He spoke to the assembled youth about preparing to be strong Christians, likening it to sports conditioning. You are in spiritual training, he said, learning to live as mature Christians. He challenged youth directly by calling them to "…live in the light and truth of Jesus Christ."

Discuss in your group, or even around the dinner table at home, how young people actually train to be better Christians. Who are the coaches for our youth? Who are the models for Christian behavior? What specific practices condition us to be stronger in our faith?

The article quotes a St. Louis priest as saying the Church is about belonging. When youth, or anyone for that matter, experience a key moment of belonging, they bond; they become more a part of the community.

Discuss: What are examples of key experiences for youth? Where can youth become more a part of the Christian community? The weekly celebration of the liturgy, for example, can be a key experience for teens and their families. Some parishes have a special youth liturgy, where Confirmation candidates and other youth participate as lectors, ushers, servers and choir singers. The youth are often coached by adults in the parish. The overall result can be a shared experience where adults introduce teens to a more active role in parish prayer. If your parish does not offer this kind of opportunity, can you bring together a small group willing to initiate such activities to further promote a sense of belonging?

You can access diocesan Web sites throughout the United States to gather information on how various parishes sponsor programs to foster a sense of belonging.

Where else can we encourage belonging? Can we make new students feel more welcome in school? Can we reach out to assist a fellow student who struggles with studies? Can we do some informal coaching with the fellow team member who isn’t as good as we are at soccer or softball or basketball or cheerleading?

In our family life, we can affirm life by creating an atmosphere of love and support for one another. The sacrament of marriage strengthens parents in their mission to be models of Christian behavior for their children. Discuss how parents nurture their children. And discuss how many parents also bear the responsibility to care for their own parents as they age. Here is another opportunity for parents to model a pro-life attitude toward the elderly and infirm.

It was clear from the television reports at St. Louis that John Paul II is now a physically frail man. It should also have been obvious that he is no less alert and humane than he has been throughout his papacy. Discuss with your group how the pope, a man with a disability (a degenerative nervous system disorder), does not hesitate to continue his worldwide travels or vigorous speaking engagements. In a world that often pushes aside the weak and disabled, John Paul II stands as a model of a man who continually contributes to society.

How Can Young People Affirm Life?–Ideas for discussion in groups or families

To start a discussion, suggest to your students or group participants that they find several of the following:

  • Historic or contemporary photos depicting situations which make affirming life difficult or impossible. Photos can highlight poverty, racism or social injustice. Look for Edward Steichen’s Family of Man as an example of dramatic photos that each tell a story about subjects such as poverty and aging. Alfred Stieglitz’s photography will also offer you some good discussion starters. Or search the newspaper archives online for any local or national paper. See the American Journalism Review for access to thousands of newspapers, magazines and broadcasts.
  • Articles and documents describing anti-life situations. The recent dragging death in Texas is one current example. A historical example would be John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, describing the poverty of the 1930’s in America’s Dust Bowl. Look for a few descriptive paragraphs to read and discuss in your group. Try, also, Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin.
  • Video clips from news footage or a dramatic film. Your local video rental store will have a section on "Special Interest" or "Documentary." Look for footage of the American civil-rights movement during the 1960’s. Or view a scene from the movie version of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

With each of these discussion starters, encourage your group to talk about what they see and feel after viewing an image or listening to a narrative. What do they sense from the details of the picture? How would they feel if they were part of the narrative? Where is the life-denying element?

With some open discussion, your group should be able to experience something of what some people go through in life-denying situations. Pope John Paul II urges us Americans to affirm life. Move your group to a discussion of how a change in attitude can turn a situation from life-denying to life-affirming. Refer to the pope’s direct and bold request to Missouri’s governor to spare the life of a convicted criminal who was about to be executed. The pope decries capital punishment, a custom approved by many American states and, according to polls, supported by a majority of Catholics. Discuss how teens may influence the practice of capital punishment in light of Pope John Paul II’s message. Begin by identifying the number of, or which states in the United States carry out the death penalty.

Are there other situations in our immediate lives that cry out for life? Can we identify some of these situations? What can we do to bring Christ’s life and light to others?

Print Resources

Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II


Further Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site's archives. - The New York Times - The Los Angeles Times - Time magazine - CNN - MSNBC - This site will take you to a number of online publications. - The Associated Press - The Chicago Tribune - People magazine The Washington Post The History Channel - The Miami Herald - The Close Up Foundation - ABC News - Channel One's online resource

Links Disclaimer:

The links contained within this resource guide are functional at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links may become ineffective.

These links are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do so at your own risk.

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