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Referencing Pope Francis’ call to “build a civilization of love,” we asked students to explain what they think the pope means by that phrase, how they have seen people building a civilization of love during these extraordinary times and how they will do so going forward. We received 2,743 essays from students competing in two divisions (grades 6-8 and grades 9-12). Following are the winning essays.

Deacon Kevin McCarthy gives Danielle Carradorini, a seventh-grader at Saint Albert the Great School in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania, the first-place Bishop Francis X. Ford Award for Division I of the Maryknoll Student Essay Contest.

Deacon Kevin McCarthy gives Danielle Carradorini, a seventh-grader at Saint Albert the Great School in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania, the first-place Bishop Francis X. Ford Award for Division I of the Maryknoll Student Essay Contest.


A Civilization of Love Includes Everyone

The coronavirus has affected many aspects of our lives, not only in America, but throughout the world. As Catholics, we are called to respond to these stressful and dividing times with Christian love. In Pope Francis’ address on Sept. 9, 2020, he talks about how we all need to contribute to building a “civilization of love.” The pope believes that the pandemic is giving us an opportunity to create a more “healthy, inclusive, just and peaceful society.”
According to Pope Francis, a “civilization of love” is one in which everyone is included. The love that we need to have for relationships to flourish starts in the home with the family. Pope Francis calls us to share that love and let it spread into social, cultural, economic and political relationships. As a “civilization of love,” we cannot overlook the vulnerable or do something just because there is a benefit in it for us. Relating to the coronavirus pandemic, businesses shouldn’t be developing vaccines as a money-making venture, but rather out of love for the people who need them. We must show “the best in our human nature and not the worst.”
Also, in association with the election, we shouldn’t try to divide people, worsen the conflict, or seek benefits for ourselves when voting. According to the LiCAS.news website, the pope said that “…love must be unconditional and must be expressed even toward perceived enemies.” The same website also reports the pope saying, “… inclusive love can generate social structures that encourage us to share rather than to compete.” Instead of competing to be the first to develop a vaccine, keeping it for ourselves, and not sharing it with other countries, we can share the medicine for the good of all people and not have such an egotistical mindset. The just society, that Pope Francis speaks of is one that includes all people, doesn’t overlook individuals, and encourages sharing instead of competition or self-centeredness.
We can see, especially during these times, a number of people who are helping to build a society of love. One way people have done this is by making an effort to support small businesses that are struggling because of the pandemic. Supporting them both economically by buying from them and emotionally by sending them letters and kind words is helping to spread love to them. Another way people are helping to build a “civilization of love” is by feeding the hungry. Many people are giving food to and volunteering at food banks. This is showing the part of the pope’s vision which is sharing and not being selfish. The volunteers do not get paid for the work they do, and the givers of the food are sharing their goods with others who need it. Also, at the beginning of the pandemic, people were giving cards and gifts to the residents of nursing homes to make sure that they knew they were not forgotten. This shows that the usually overlooked and vulnerable people in nursing homes are being cared for and noticed by lots of people. When good people work together, the “civilization of love” grows.
Since every person is included in the “civilization of love,” it is important that we all contribute to the making of it. Going forward, I can help to build it by abiding by all the precautions put into place for both my school life and life at home. Even if I don’t want to, or I am not at risk, I will do it to protect everyone around me. I can also help my mom make dinners for healthcare workers who are working so hard on the front lines dealing with COVID-19 patients. Another thing I can do to build a society of love is to pray for the dying. I can pray to Saint Joseph, who is the patron saint of a happy death, because many of the people dying of the coronavirus are dying alone because family and friends are not allowed to visit them.
To conclude, as Christians, we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. We have to respond with love to these unusual and divisive times. If we do, we can emerge from this pandemic, as the pope believes, a better and more loving civilization.

Flanked by his parents, Chris and Kimberly, Conner Cruise, a 12th-grader at Cedar Rapids Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, wins the first-place Bishop Patrick J. Byrne Award for Division II of the Maryknoll Student Essay Contest.

Flanked by his parents, Chris and Kimberly, Conner Cruise, a 12th-grader at Cedar Rapids Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, wins the first-place Bishop Patrick J. Byrne Award for Division II of the Maryknoll Student Essay Contest.


Neighbors Help Neighbors Build a Civilization of Love

In a world separated by political ideology, culture and now an invisible six-foot social distancing bubble, finding a “civilization of love” seems like a far-fetched goal. Together, however, we can begin the road towards love, hope and a community-wide family. We need a civilization not built on personal gain and greed, but one designed on the principles of kindness and compassion. We yearn for a society built not on arrogance and ignorance, but one shared upon knowledge and faith. We live in a civilization whose roots stem far into dishonesty and cruelty. Pope Francis calls us to amend that, and shower the roots with hope and love so that our community may grow stronger and taller. The pope’s message is directed towards finding a way where neighbors can love neighbors, and people learn to respect and appreciate the values of others who have different viewpoints, even though you do not always agree with them.
I have witnessed, firsthand, a community of hope and love. On the afternoon of Monday, August 10, a severe weather complex known as a “derecho” sent intense winds and thunderstorms over a 700-mile stretch of the Midwest. My hometown of Cedar Rapids was severely impacted, with more than 800 buildings suffering at least partial collapse. Nearly every home and business was damaged, and roads were impassable due to trees, debris and downed power lines. An estimated 500,000 people throughout Iowa were without power for many days. In the aftermath of the storm, Cedar Rapids was in desperate need of repair and clean-up. It started within each individual neighborhood, as families rallied together to get the streets and yards clear of debris. People loaned battery-powered generators and power saws to those in need. My high school mobilized volunteers to help within the greater community. A group of high school friends and I went from home to home helping cut down and remove trees and rubble from yards. We took ice, water and other necessary supplies to people in need. It was an incredibly powerful experience watching neighbors and members of the community rally together to help those who were severely impacted. We heard stories that broke our hearts while at the same time, inspiring and strengthening our resolve and determination. When Pope Francis speaks of a “civilization of love,” I recall this powerful experience. Our civilization, one like many others, came together, not for personal satisfaction or gain, but to love and serve others in our community. This experience has shown me the true love that a community can have for each other. Pope Francis calls us to spread this love to all civilization. We are all a unified people under God.
Love, like nerve networks in our brain, weaves itself into billions of different short pathways in the community, usually only reaching as far as extended family. The pope calls for us to fill in the gaps in the pathways and build a connected blanket of love that stretches as far as there are living things. I, personally, am only one out of seven and a half billion people.
However, as one individual I can impact and love others in my community and abroad. God calls us to love one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Everyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ is called to walk in love. We are called to love wholeheartedly and sacrificially, as God loves us. It is my fervent desire to give the very best of myself, as Jesus did for me. Each and every day I plan to look for new opportunities to show God’s love for all of mankind and help build a worldwide civilization of love.

Essays of all 2020 winners will be published on MaryknollSociety.org/winners and discoveryourneighbor.org. For future news of the Maryknoll Student Essay Contest, stay tuned to MaryknollSociety.org/essay. To learn about the Maryknoll sisters who,  with other volunteers, read the essay entries, see The Power of Youth.


Amy Potts
Grade 7

Morgantown House School
Morgantown, West Virginia

Amy Potts, Grade 7, Morgantown House School, Morgantown, West Virginia

Citing examples of people in her community helping others this year, Amy says, “We need to combat this pandemic with the virus of love.” But, she acknowledges, love needs to start at home. She plans to build a civilization of love beginning with small things. “I can wash the dishes, clean my room or look after my little brothers,” she says.

Emily Artman
Grade 12

Green Mountain High School
Lakewood, Colorado

Emily Artman, Grade 12, Green Mountain High School, Lakewood, Colorado

To illustrate that building a civilization of love often consists of small moments of kindness, Emily shares the story of her 8-year-old cousin comforting a lost child. “I saw Jesus working through her that day,” Emily says of her cousin, “and it serves as a reminder to me that through compassion and love even the darkest moments can be broken with light.”


Delaney Buckel
Grade 8

Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral School
Phoenix, Arizona

Delaney Buckel, Grade 8, Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral School, Phoenix, Arizona

For Delaney, building a civilization of love means putting our own needs aside to help others. Among the many who have done that during this pandemic, she mentions health care workers and people buying groceries for elderly neighbors. She too wants to share her gifts with those in need. “We all take part in making our world a better place,” she says.

Adam Durr
Grade 11

Lansing Catholic High School
Lansing, Michigan

Adam Durr, Grade 11, Lansing Catholic High School, Lansing, Michigan

In a civilization of love, says Adam, all are welcome. This year, he points out, society has been forced to consider the pain of those who have been excluded. “All around the world we see people coming together, striving to help, passionately calling for justice,” he says. He promises to join those efforts to build a world where all are loved.


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