Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Special Olympians

Only the concrete-hearted could attend and not feel touched.

The Special Olympics have that effect on everyone: athletes, coaches, referees, spectators.

The heart demonstrated by the performers, the unity of spirit among everyone, the devotion of staff and families to the olympians: it's all there.

Fr. De Souza describes this special movement for Catholic Education Resource Center:
The national Special Olympics are underway in Brandon, Manitoba and it’s a safe bet that the athletes’ village at Brandon U. might just be the happiest place in Canada this week. The joy of the Special Olympics is infectious; everyone who volunteers knows that it is a privilege to be part of such a great celebration of exuberant life.

The Special Olympics have never been bigger, expanding all over the world. But the future of the “special” children it was founded to serve may not be so bright.

Ten days ago, President George W. Bush held a gala dinner at the White House to honour the founder of the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, on her 85th birthday. In 1953, Eunice married Sargent Shriver, future founder of the Peace Corps and Democratic candidate for Vice President. Eunice and Sargent actually lived out the image carefully crafted for her more famous brothers — the happy clan devoted to faith, family and honourable public service.

Mrs. Shriver will forever be the sister of JFK, RFK and Teddy, and latterly the mother-in-law of Arnold, gubernator of California, but it was her older sister who most influenced the course of her life. Suffering from mild mental disability or mental illness, a 23-year-old Rosemary underwent a lobotomy that reduced her to an institutionalized state for her entire life (she died last year at age 86). Mrs. Shriver, horrified at the condition in which the mentally disabled lived, founded the Special Olympics to give such children what all children want — the opportunity to play, to strive, to compete and to be recognized. The first Special Olympics in 1968 took place in an empty Soldier Field in Chicago; today it has captured the hearts of millions worldwide.

I'm one of those captured hearts, as you can tell.

My younger brother has participated in the Special Olympics many times. His volleyball teams won the state Special Olympics one year. His track team won the County title. Every time I've gone, I've experienced the gospel in action. Everyone tends their neighbors. Everyone looks out for the athletes. Not every athlete wins, but every person that participates wins.

Our society risks embracing the creeping utilitarianism that Machiavellies everyone and everything. Down Syndrome babies survive their gestation less and less. People with disabilities again become seen as obstacles to other people's enjoyment of life. The perverse rationalization that they're "better off dead" may serve the chestless ones with rubber consciences.

But never anyone that's truly encountered the Special Olympians.

When we face Christ the Judge at the Parousia or our particular judgement, he may well ask us how we treated the "handicapped" in our midst. How will we answer?

I don't know much, but I know this: if you've served the special olympians, you've served him.

Labels: ,