Address at the Civitan International Convention

Oslo, Norway | July 20, 1986

We are called upon to prove by our actions that we believe in the infinite value of all human beings no matter how maimed they may be...May we together prove by our work that nothing transcends that concept and that value -- the value of a single human being made in God's image, destined to live forever with Him!

I have come to Oslo and to Norway tonight to salute "Civitan" as an organization, and to congratulate every "Civitan" member who gives time, talent, and energy to fulfill Civitan's ideals and objectives.

It's a long trip from Washington to Boston to London to Oslo just to make a brief talk. It also costs a lot of money: But, from my point-of-view it's worth both the time and the money.

Let me tell you why.

The last time I came to Norway I came on a U.S. battleship to fight Nazi naval vessels and submarines. I came to protect the sea routes by which the Allies carried supplies through the Arctic Ocean north of Spitzbergen and on into Murmansk in Soviet Russia. I was a man trained in violence, trained to destroy the enemy, trained in death.

How lucky I am tonight, to return here, not in violence, but in peace, not to maim or kill, but to sustain and let live!

That's what "Civitan" does. It propagates and inculcates the principle of service to human beings. It lifts the lowly -heals the wounded -- inspires the able to deploy their talents to help the weak.

Nothing could be further from the philosophy and ethos of the Nazis. They specialized in killing the weak. 

They believed in "the master race" as they called it. The Aryans were born to rule the world, they believed, -- so they exterminated Gypsies and Jews, the mentally defective and the physically handicapped. But "Civitan" acts with a different spirit. Your own literature and pamphlets explain that you do not need a secret creed or motive. You do not indulge in partisan politics. You are not a pressure group. You do not seek members for their money, fame, or influence. Instead, "Civitan" seeks only to serve at the grassroots. Why? To make the world a better place to live in. Better? What does "Civitan" mean by "better"? It means better for people, ordinary people, handicapped people as well as beautiful people, poor people as well as rich people, old people as well as young people. 

"Civitan" really is special, isn't it? No other service organization is quite the same as yours. You turn problems into opportunities. You supplant fear with hope. You never say "no". Yours is a society of "Yes" men and women. "Yes, we can do it," "Civitan" says. "Yes, we can help one another." "Yes, we can make life better for the retarded"... "Yes, we can get joy out of doing good"...

What an inspiring philosophy and purpose you have!

No wonder I consider myself lucky to be here...No wonder that such a special organization as yours should be linked with "Special Olympics".

"Special Olympics" agrees with your philosophy. Not just intellectually, but psychologically, too, -- deep down!! Like a true husband or true wife, words often are not necessary between partners.

"Special Olympics" and "Civitan" enjoy a community of purpose and ideals. We're going in the same direction. We appeal to the same people. We rejoice in the same triumphs. We are depressed in the same way by arrogance, selfishness, and pride. We long for the same brotherhood and sisterhood, -the same humanity, the same unity, under God, with all of humankind.

Next summer, we shall have a great chance to take a giant step towards those, goals. We shall have a chance to present our beliefs, dramatically, to the world when the International Summer Special Olympics Games open in 1987! ...Just close your eyes for a minute, and think ahead to July 31st, 1987.

At seven p.m. on that day, in the stadium and on the playing fields of Notre Dame University, made famous by thousands of athletes, coaches, and even movie stars, there will take place the largest athletic event ever staged on a college campus in American history.

Let me say that again, but in a different way - The International Summer Special Olympics Games, at Notre Dame next year will bring together the largest number of athletic competitors, coaches, and sports officials ever assembled on a college campus. 5,000 participants, in twenty official and demonstration sports, coming from 65 nations, will begin their march into Notre Dame's stadium at 7:00 p.m. sharp, with every seat filled, with ABC-TV broadcasting the event, live, on prime time; with the President of the United States probably in attendance, and with the eyes of TV viewers on all continents watching. Every one of those athletes will be fully equipped, fully coached, fully prepared, and everyone of them will be mentally retarded.

Only sports could achieve that incredible reality. Only "Civitan" would be the premier sponsor of such an unbelievable event!

Forty years ago -- even twenty years ago -- not one of those athletes would have been playing any sport. No one, not even their parents, would have seen them competing in any contest.

Most of them were locked up in institutions, or hidden away in private homes, -- an embarrassment to their parents, an economic drain on society, another inexplicable burden visited on suffering humanity by an inscrutable God.

Who was at fault? Why did these people exist? What good could they possibly be?
 "Why was my son, my daughter, so afflicted?" asked millions of parents. "Was it I, or my wife, or our parents, who did something wrong?
 Why, Oh God! Why, Oh God! have you cursed me?"

At Notre Dame and at St. Mary's next year, instead of cursing, parents will be cheering! Instead of hiding, they will be bragging. 10,000 of them will be wearing T-shirts with their identities emblazoned on their chests. They will be sitting in special reserved seats, attending special parties, appearing on TV themselves. They, and thousands and thousands of all races, nationalities, ages, creeds, and political parties, will be filled with joy. This time it will not be "a shot heard 'round the world" from Lexington and Concord, but "a smile sent 'round the world'" from every face of every person in that huge throng.

Nor will those smiles be shallow, momentary, pasted-on smiles flashed for public consumption by professionals. For not one of the coaches, athletic directors, politicians, foreign
dignitaries, athletes, officials, ticket takers, hot dog and hamburger people, not the Coca-Cola- dispensers, or musicians, or composers, or policemen, or medical doctors, or nurses, will have been given an extra dime for their services. They, and the athletes, all will be amateurs, pure amateurs, brought together by love of sports, love of competition, love of life, and love for one another. They will be there, in substantial part, because of you, the men and women of "Civitan", and because of sports. Only sports, could bring together at Notre Dame, Communists and Capitalists, Jews and Arabs, Whites and Blacks and Orientals, old and young, rich and poor,' the learned and the retarded. That's what sports and "Civitan" can do for the world.

That's why I'm thank you and applaud you and tell you that you and we at Special Olympics are pulling off one of the miracles of modern times!

Faced with terrorism and violence everywhere – confronted by boycotts and barriers of every kind -- "defenses" under the sea, "defenses" on land, in the air, in outer space, -we shall be opening up new avenues of communications and new friendships, transcending all the politics, races, economics, and antipathies of modern times. We will be uniting the world by uniting men and women everywhere in the service of the weakest and most helpless of all human beings, the mentally retarded.

Without "Civitan", and without thousands of volunteers around the world, little or none of this would be possible.

People like Brian Connelly, Bill Haehnel and Frank Bulgarella have been helping almost from the beginning. Without them, without the 1,000 "Civitan" members who will be giving out awards, acting as huggers, and hosting celebrities at the 1987 Games, Special Olympics could not offer such hospitality. "Civitan" members around the world who are selling fruit cakes now, making candy boxes, and "going for the gold" -- are all joining Special Olympics to make the 1987 International, Summer Special Olympics Games a spectacular success.

Puzzling questions, however remain.

Why is Special Olympics the fastest growing sports program in the world? Why is it welcomed in Cuba, China, Poland, Ethiopia, in Yugoslavia, Taiwan, Korea, in Latin-America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Jordan, Israel, Bolivia, and by the northern and southern Irish together!

It's not easy to answer all the questions in a few sentences. But we have learned through Special Olympics that the mentally retarded:-

  1. Can not only run 400 yards but even the mile and 2 mile races;
  2. Can not only swim 50 meters...they can swim 400 and 800 meters and participate in relay races;
  3. Can not only play floor hockey six to a side, but play football, basketball, and softball, with full teams;
  4. They can not only run, swim, and jump, but they can perform gymnastic routines, ski down hill, figure skate, jump dance, give speeches, and take on full-time jobs in parks and recreation facilities where-they now teach sports to normal children;
  5. And we found out that old age is no barrier for them...women and men in their 50's, 60's, and 70's showed us they, too, can run 400 yard races, swim, and enjoy themselves in sports.

Most of all, we found that they are pure amateurs: There's no money under the table in Special Olympics. There's no proselytizing, and no drugs: In fact, Special Olympics may be the only supra-national, drug-free, non-political, non-nationalistic, non-violent, sports program in the world!

All this is only a little bit of what we have learned from the mentally retarded and from "Special Olympics".

I could go on and on telling you about Special Olympics, but you've heard enough. In the People's Republic of China, in Kenya, in the Seychelles Islands of the Indian Ocean, in France, Belgium, Portugal, Chile, Panama, yes, even in El Salvador.

You share our dream. You believe, as we do, that sports, especially pure amateur sports, can unite the world. In sports we can all play, compete, and earn respect, together. Our Special Olympics oath expresses that philosophy in the best possible way because it expresses, faultlessly, the spirit of true sportsmanship...

..."Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt..."

Athletes who compete with that philosophy will achieve our dream for all the millions of our participants - our dream that they will display genuine skill in their sport, that they will demonstrate courage in the competition, that they will share their good fortune with their competitors as well as their friends, and as a result, that they will experience the full joy, given by God, to all those who do the best they can with the gifts he has given them.

Isn't that the spirit of "Civitan"? To do the best with what God has given us for the benefit of human beings?

We say, don't we?, that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. That's what the Bible tells us, -Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims -- more than 2 billion of the world's inhabitants who follow Biblical teachings! We are told, all of us, by the Bible, that we are made in the image of God! The mentally retarded as well as the geniuses...

We are called upon to prove by our actions that we believe in the infinite value of all human beings no matter how maimed they may be.

"Civitan" believes in that fundamental concept.

"Special Olympics" believes in that concept.

May we together prove by our work that nothing transcends that concept and that value -- the value of a single human being made in God's image, destined to live forever with Him, -- worth more than all the rice in China, all the gold in Africa, all the money on Wall Street, all the bombs poised for death in Siberia or Utah!

Nothing, and no one, my dear friends, is more important than one Special Olympian -- or one member of "Civitan", who, quietly, dedicates himself or herself to the service of humanity.

God bless you and thank you all ... each and every one of you. You are among the greatest in God's Kingdom!!!