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The Holy Father's Address to Participants in Symposium on Down's Syndrome

The person who is "special" is still a human person

On Tuesday, May 23 1989, in the Clementine Hall the Holy Father received in audience the participants in an international symposium on Down's syndrome. The Pope addressed the group in English and Italian as follows:


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends:

1. I salute each one of you, organizers and participants in this International Symposium on Trisomy 21.

On this occasion, I am happy to meet the distinguished scientists who have presented the results of their research at this meeting. Your work aims at a deeper understanding of the pathogenesis of Down's syndrome, as well as the development of an effective treatment of those affected by it. At a time when the allocation of funds for this sort of research tends to be reduced, your continuing involvement in this work reflects a generosity and commitment for which we are all grateful.

I also wish to greet the healthcare workers among you. As people devoted to caring for those afflicted by Down's syndrome, you offer your own experience, together with your research on the clinical, psychological and social levels, in order to improve their living conditions. By your efforts, you enable these patients to develop their native gifts and abilities in a way that allows them, in various degrees, to overcome the limitations brought on by their illness. My greeting also goes to the families who give such love and self-sacrifice to these children. You, more than anyone, know that, despite their handicaps, these children are worthy of loving care, and readily give so much affection in return.

2. Reaching out to the suffering and less fortunate is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The image of the Good Samaritan which Christ himself so fully embodied reappears time and again even though we often fail to realize it in the scientist at work in his laboratory, where he works in hope of preventing or curing illness through the discovery of its causes. The figure of the Good Samaritan also appears in the health-care and social workers who care for the sick and help them to live a truly human life in everyday society, And it appears in all its greatness in those parents who, despite their own limitations and a frequent sense of frustration at not receiving the support they would expect, nevertheless strive to ensure for their children a truly loving upbringing. Each one of you, in his or her own way, is a reminder of that beautiful image from the Gospel. The gratitude which I express to you is the same gratitude which Christ himself felt when he said: "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me" (cf. Mt 25:40).

3. Your presence here offers me an opportunity to refer to an important development in present-day society. More and more, the word "special" is being used to describe people whose physical or psychological make-up or behavior appears to diverge in some way from what is considered "normal". Whatever meaning we may wish to give to the term, one thing is certain: the person who is "special" is still a human person possessing the same inalienable dignity and deserving exactly the same respect as any other person.

This truth makes us realize how necessary it is to reaffirm the universal nature of the transcendent values connected with human life. It urges us to insist that these values should be recognized in each and every person, and that they should be promoted with genuine love. It demands that society make every effort to ensure that sufficient numbers of health-care personnel and adequate facilities be made available for the care of the sick. Where necessary, existing structures should be adapted to suit new needs, thus providing an environment conducive to more humane living. Scientific skill and professional experience are necessary and indeed indispensable in the delicate work you have undertaken. But it is to be hoped that these qualifications will always be accompanied by a spirit of sincere dedication and by concern for the patient as a person, not only as someone requiring therapeutic treatment, but also as one who needs comforting and moral support.

The Church calls for a profound commitment to the promotion of Christian values within our social and health-care institutions. As a case in point, the increasing use of selective abortion as a means of preventing the birth of handicapped children requires a firm response from Christians. In our search for genuine social progress, we can never ignore the law or God. The right answers to the problems our society is facing will always be marked by justice, respect for human dignity and the defense of the innocent lives of the vulnerable and the unborn. The Gospel affirms that every individual is a creature whom God chose to fashion in his own image, and both Christian revelation and reason affirm the a existence of a moral order which transcends man himself. These truths and values require of you a generous commitment to scholarship, a scholarship enlightened both by rigorous scientific investigation and by objective ethical and moral principles.

4. The protection and defense of the human person, every person and the whole person, especially those who are vulnerable and most helpless: this is a task which the Catholic Church, in the name of Christ, cannot and will not forsake. We are all heartened when we see science, medicine, society and the family cooperating in the effort to meet, in a genuinely humane way, the particular problems of the person who is special in your case, the person with Down's syndrome.

In paying tribute to the progress made in the past thirty years, from the time when the causal connection between a clearly defined chromosomal anomaly and Down's syndrome first became apparent. I express the hope that science and medicine will soon be in a position to overcome the developmental difficulties experienced by individuals with this condition. All of you, including the families concerned, have my appreciation and support. God bless you and your efforts, May his protection be with those you treat and care for.

5. 1 would now like to address a greeting … expressing my pleasure to all those who dedicate themselves to the problems concerning Down's syndrome and Alzheimer's disease, and in particular to the members of the Agostino Gemelli Institute of Human Genetics of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, who organized this symposium.

To the families present and to all the families I say that their suffering in expectation of a better future for their Down's syndrome children is also our expectation, the expectation of Christ's Church; however I want to assure them that their courageous confidence, which sees them already greatly involved in promoting the most attentive and just recognition of the Down's syndrome person as a part or society, has my heartfelt appreciation and all my support.

With these wishes I impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends:

1. I salute each one of you, organizers and participants in this International Symposium on Trisomy 21.

On this occasion, I am happy to meet the distinguished scientists who have presented the results of their research at this meeting. Your work aims at a deeper understanding of the pathogenesis of Down's syndrome, as well as the development of an effective treatment of those affected by it. At a time when the allocation of funds for this sort of research tends to be reduced, your continuing involvement in this work reflects a generosity and commitment for which we are all grateful.

I also wish to greet the healthcare workers among you. As people devoted to caring for those afflicted by Down's syndrome, you offer your own experience, together with your research on the clinical, psychological and social levels, in order to improve their living conditions. By your efforts, you enable these patients to develop their native gifts and abilities in a way that allows them, in various degrees, to overcome the limitations brought on by their illness. My greeting also goes to the families who give such love and self-sacrifice to these children. You, more than anyone, know that, despite their handicaps, these children are worthy of loving care, and readily give so much affection in return.

2. Reaching out to the suffering and less fortunate is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The image of the Good Samaritan which Christ himself so fully embodied reappears time and again even though we often fail to realize it in the scientist at work in his laboratory, where he works in hope of preventing or curing illness through the discovery of its causes. The figure of the Good Samaritan also appears in the health-care and social workers who care for the sick and help them to live a truly human life in everyday society, And it appears in all its greatness in those parents who, despite their own limitations and a frequent sense of frustration at not receiving the support they would expect, nevertheless strive to ensure for their children a truly loving upbringing. Each one of you, in his or her own way, is a reminder of that beautiful image from the Gospel. The gratitude which I express to you is the same gratitude which Christ himself felt when he said: "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me" (cf. Mt 25:40).

3. Your presence here offers me an opportunity to refer to an important development in present-day society. More and more, the word "special" is being used to describe people whose physical or psychological make-up or behavior appears to diverge in some way from what is considered "normal". Whatever meaning we may wish to give to the term, one thing is certain: the person who is "special" is still a human person possessing the same inalienable dignity and deserving exactly the same respect as any other person.

This truth makes us realize how necessary it is to reaffirm the universal nature of the transcendent values connected with human life. It urges us to insist that these values should be recognized in each and every person, and that they should be promoted with genuine love. It demands that society make every effort to ensure that sufficient numbers of health-care personnel and adequate facilities be made available for the care of the sick. Where necessary, existing structures should be adapted to suit new needs, thus providing an environment conducive to more humane living. Scientific skill and professional experience are necessary and indeed indispensable in the delicate work you have undertaken. But it is to be hoped that these qualifications will always be accompanied by a spirit of sincere dedication and by concern for the patient as a person, not only as someone requiring therapeutic treatment, but also as one who needs comforting and moral support.

The Church calls for a profound commitment to the promotion of Christian values within our social and health-care institutions. As a case in point, the increasing use of selective abortion as a means of preventing the birth of handicapped children requires a firm response from Christians. In our search for genuine social progress, we can never ignore the law or God. The right answers to the problems our society is facing will always be marked by justice, respect for human dignity and the defense of the innocent lives of the vulnerable and the unborn. The Gospel affirms that every individual is a creature whom God chose to fashion in his own image, and both Christian revelation and reason affirm the a existence of a moral order which transcends man himself. These truths and values require of you a generous commitment to scholarship, a scholarship enlightened both by rigorous scientific investigation and by objective ethical and moral principles.

4. The protection and defense of the human person, every person and the whole person, especially those who are vulnerable and most helpless: this is a task which the Catholic Church, in the name of Christ, cannot and will not forsake. We are all heartened when we see science, medicine, society and the family cooperating in the effort to meet, in a genuinely humane way, the particular problems of the person who is special in your case, the person with Down's syndrome.

In paying tribute to the progress made in the past thirty years, from the time when the causal connection between a clearly defined chromosomal anomaly and Down's syndrome first became apparent. I express the hope that science and medicine will soon be in a position to overcome the developmental difficulties experienced by individuals with this condition. All of you, including the families concerned, have my appreciation and support. God bless you and your efforts, May his protection be with those you treat and care for.

5. 1 would now like to address a greeting … expressing my pleasure to all those who dedicate themselves to the problems concerning Down's syndrome and Alzheimer's disease, and in particular to the members of the Agostino Gemelli Institute of Human Genetics of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, who organized this symposium.

To the families present and to all the families I say that their suffering in expectation of a better future for their Down's syndrome children is also our expectation, the expectation of Christ's Church; however I want to assure them that their courageous confidence, which sees them already greatly involved in promoting the most attentive and just recognition of the Down's syndrome person as a part or society, has my heartfelt appreciation and all my support.

With these wishes I impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

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