David Suzuki tells us that the Pope’s “pronouncement on birth control means the destruction of the planet.” (letter, October 17, 1990)
It is said with all the arrogant finality of the secular humanist who denies the existence of God and instead confines his understanding of the world and its problems to what can be calculated.
Suzuki is not alone in his narrow view. In May 1989, visiting Madagascar as part of his three nation tour of East Africa, Pope john Paul II spoke out against “contraceptive imperialism” in the Third World.
Immediately, letters to the editor appeared exhibiting that same kind of arrogant tone adopted by David Suzuki – a tone reserved for people held in contempt. One letter writer even wanted to know what the Pope thought of “starving babies.”
Media personality tom Harpur also wrote an indignant column at the time (May 21, 1989). He first attacked the Pontiff for going on “expensive” trips, then for beatifying a female saint, whose virtues included remaining faithful to an abusive husband. After that he pummeled the Pontiff for his anti contraception remarks.
In a rhetorical question which implies its own answer, Harpur demanded to know: “Is it truly moral to take such a position and to use what some might call ‘ecclesiastical imperialism’ in one of the most impoverished nations of the world?”
Mr. Harpur did not explain who these “some” were who might accuse the Pope of “ecclesiastical imperialism”. Nor did he reveal the name of what he claimed further on in the article was “a top-ranking Ontario priest-theologian.” This nameless individual had thanked him on behalf of himself and “so many of my priest friends” for saying what needed to be said, but which supposedly, they could not say themselves for fear of, presumably, the same “ecclesiastical imperialism.”
As for pro-lifers, both Harpur and Suzuki have made it clear how deeply they despise them as, perhaps, do the unnamed “top Ontario priest-theologian” and his friends. Both Harpur and Suzuki are confirmed believers in a women’s right to kill her unborn baby.
World Food Council
Ironically, within two days of Mr. Harpur’s column, newspapers carried reports on the annual meeting of the World Food Council, a United Nations agency that deals with the political repercussions of food distribution. Council experts stated that “the world produces more food than it need but neglect, complacency and incompetence have left at least a billion people hungry.”
“Peace is a basic prerequisite” to ending starvation, the Council Chairman said. “Wars in Central America and Africa make their scarce resources go to arms rather than food programs.”
“Five years ago, the council noted that hunger….was largely a man-made phenomenon: human error or neglect created it, human complacency perpetrated it and human resolve could eradicate it. That is equally true today,” said U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said.
Another report a few days earlier had explained Quebec’s efforts to raise its birthrate by offering cash bonuses to couples. Both articles – each in its own way – graphically contradicted the Suzuki/Harpur thesis that the population must be cut down because the world is running out of food and space.
“In fact, economic indicators alone cannot convey the virtue of a people or the whole of its achievements.”
The Pope is constantly building up people’s self-image, consoling the sick and the poor, supporting all efforts for good, advising, wisely, while reminding all to place their hope in Him who is the maker of us all and of all creation.
David Suzuki, Tom Harpur and many like-minded colleagues are in no mood to listen. Pope-bashing continues unabated. One reason why it does is opposition to traditional Church teaching within the Church’s own ranks, especially from dissenting theologians who are their allies. Not only do they demand ordination of women, the abolition of celibacy for the clergy, and a new interpretation of the Bible, but they also reject the Church’s teaching on marriage and human life. Indeed, in most cases this is how their unhappiness with the Church began. Today, not a few of them have come to justify abortion after first accepting the legitimacy of contraception. The Catholic Church holds that all these apparently unrelated subjects are, in fact, connected to each other.
Attacks on celibacy, for example, arise from the same climate of opinion which disputes the Christian understanding of marriage as requiring sacrifice and selflessness.
A few months ago, in September 1990, Pope John Paul II again visited populous but poor African nations – this time Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. Once again the Pontiff spoke out against contraception as a way of controlling population growth, declaring that the sole Christian method of birth control is moral responsibility:
“Mastery over fertility must remain a profoundly human thing,” he declared.
Once more there was the usual crop of insulting of insulting letters with contemptuous rhetorical questions or accusations.
Rather than attempting to answer these, Insight would like to present the words of John Paul II in the light they should be seen.
What follows are extracts from a series of talks on diverse, yet related subjects. Its purpose is to show the Pope, not as Suzuki’s and Harpur’s ignorant power-seeking ogre, but as he really is: a Shepherd, consoling the sick and the poor, building up people’s self-image, supporting all efforts for good, advising wisely , all the while reminding suffering humanity to place their hope in Him who is the Maker of us all and of creation.
Pope John Paul II visited Tanzania in September of this year.
As he spoke to different groups of people, he touched upon aspects of particular concern for them.
Speaking to clergy and religious, he noted that their spiritual growth “…passes through certain fundamental virtues and “signs.” Your commitment to celibacy and chastity for the sake of the kingdom offers a powerful witness of undivided love for Christ and a readiness to serve Him in others without distinction of persons. By your availability to all, you will “assure that no one will feel a stranger in the Christian community.”
“The virtue of poverty, which religious practice by reason of a specific vow, is of great relevance to the life of all priests, for you are ambassadors of the Lord who lived poorly and had a love of preference for the poor. Your personalities will be immensely enriched through the interior liberation that comes from a detachment from material things and from a renunciation of the “power” that comes from their possession.
“Obedience rooted in the desire to imitate Christ, the obedient Son of the Father, is also a vital aspect of your condition as priests or as religious. Indeed, “obedience is the hallmark of the servant of Christ, who redeemed the human race by His obedience.” It is also a sign of humility and docility to God’s will as it is manifested especially through those chosen to succeed the Apostles as “overseers, to care for the Church of God which He obtained with the blood of His own Son” (Acts 20:28), and through those whom faith presents as God’s representatives.
“Then you will live in the truth, and the truth will expose the workings of evil and the underlying sources of evil.”
“The world produces more good than it needs…”
(The World Food Council, United Nations 1989)
To be witnesses
Moving on to another city, the Pope spoke to young people about to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
“Through confirmation, Christ is calling you to be like the Apostles: His witnesses before the community and before the world. What is necessary is that you love Him and keep His commandments (cf. Jn. 14:15). Then you will live in the truth, and the truth will expose the workings of evil and the underlying sources of evil.
Gradually, as you work together, you will succeed in transforming the world around you, making it more human, more fraternal, more of God!
The Holy Spirit will lead you to show forth the intrinsic truth of the Gospel message, a message which is never opposed to genuine human development, but rather is the message which enlightens and sustains the human family’s pilgrimage on earth.
Meaning of suffering
At the 820-bed hospital in Mwanza operated by the Tanzanian Bishops, he recalled for the patients the paradox of the Cross:
“It is clear that Jesus had a particular love for the sick. How many times do we read in the Gospel that He was moved with pity at the sight of the sick and those who suffered (cf. Mk. 1:41)! How many times did He reach out to touch them (cf. Mt. 20:34)! How many times did He heal their illnesses and restore them to new hope by the forgiveness of their sins (cf. Mk. 2:1-12)!
Jesus is still close to the sick! He is close to each of you in your sufferings. He is close to you when you are lonely and afraid and when you feel that no one understands your pain. And He is especially close to the dying and those afflicted by incurable illnesses. Jesus is with you because he too has experienced suffering. In the Garden of Gethsemane He knew fear and deep anxiety as He faced His supreme sacrifice (cf. Mt. 26:38-39). His hands and side still bear the marks of His suffering and death (cf. Jn. 20:20).
The son of God became man and dwelt among us so that by sharing fully in our life – becoming like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb. 4:15) – He might redeem us from sin and its wages of death (cf. Rom 6:23). Jesus did not flee from the mystery of human suffering. Rather, he embraced suffering, and in His Passion, Death and Resurrection He opened to us the way of hope and everlasting glory. The paradox of the Cross is that God’s saving power has been made manifest in human suffering; God’s mighty strength has been revealed in human weakness; God’s glory has been revealed in the broken body of His only son.
In an address to a mixed groups of leaders of other Christian churches and Muslims in Dar-es-Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, the Pope re-affirmed the Church’s commitment to “a dialogue of truth and love.”
Dialogue, he said, should lead to respect and promotion of common ideals. “This in itself would be no small achievement in a world that rightly looks to religion as an agent of harmony and peace, and is scandalized when religion is used to justify or promote divisions and hatred, or even violence.”
To Christian leaders the Pope said: “How much more effective would our witness to the Savior be if it were a fully united witness!”
The Pope told Muslims that dialogue between them and Christians is “increasingly important in today’s world” and is a “delicate question, since both religions are deeply committed to the spread of their respective faiths.”
“Mutual respect, he said, can be built on “the firm foundation” that “every person has a right and a solemn duty to follow his or her upright conscience.”
He insisted that dialogue does not “attempt to produce an artificial consensus,” but rather seeks to ensure that methods used to proclaim one’s faith “respect every person’s right to religious freedom.”
Evangelization and laity
Speaking to lay catechists, the Pope emphasized the mission of the laity to bring the Gospel to bear on everyday life, as well as to participate in catechism and the Church’s mission: “it is lay men and women who must play a direct role in transforming the world in which they live, bringing their faith to bear on the realities of everyday life so that families, societies and entire nations will advance in the spirit of the Beatitudes.”
As for the task of evangelization, “The part to be played by the laity is of essential importance, for it is a question of winning Africa to truths and values which, in order to be believed and accepted, must be experienced in the concrete daily existence of the Christian community.”
“The paradox of the Cross is that God’s saving power has been made manifest in human suffering; God’s mighty strength has been revealed in human weakness: God’s glory has been revealed in the broken body of His only Son.”
Marriage and family
Wherever the Pope travels, he speaks on marriage and the family.
Life is sacred
“At this Liturgy,” he said in Mwanza, “we celebrate in a special way the sacredness of human life. The gift of life comes from God and its sacredness is revealed in the holy institution of Marriage and in the family. It is most fitting, therefore, that at this Eucharist married couples and parents will renew their marriage vows and that young children will make their First Holy Communion. In this way the whole family is represented as the Church ‘tastes the goodness of the Lord’ and is strengthened in fidelity and love in the sight of God.”
Cradle of Love
“The Sacrament of Marriage is a fountain of grace which, together with the grace of your Baptism and Confirmation, and the strength which comes from the Eucharist, will enable you, day by day, to accept sacrifices for each other’s sake, to remain faithful in the face of every difficulty, trial and temptation, and in all ways to fulfill the demands of your calling as Christian married people!
“By its varying nature, Marriage also gives rise to the family, which is the cradle of love of human society. Marriage, family and society are interrelated parts of God’s plan for the world. As the basic unit of society, the family has been entrusted with the task of transmitting the gift of life, of carrying out the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it’ (Gen. 1:28), and of serving human growth and maturity.
“By defending the sacredness of marriage, and family life, the Church is not only being faithful to God’s will and plan, but it is also providing a needed benefit to society. Where marriage and family are respected and protected, all society becomes stronger and more humane, and the common good is better served.
“Married couples and families need support and encouragement as they carry out their sacred duties. The Church wishes to help married couples as they seek to do God’s will in their life together. She wishes to show them the treasures of wisdom and strength which God gives to those who pray and celebrate the sacraments. And by her teaching and the pastoral ministry of their priests and religious she wishes to help families to live according to God’s plan, in joyful communion and mutual help.
“The Church teaches that every man, woman and child, regardless of race, sex, religion or social condition, has been made in the image and likeness of god (cf. Gen. 1:26-27) and has an infinite value in God’s eyes. Hence the dignity of every human person, from the moment of conception until natural death, must be respected. This moral duty is especially urgent today, in the face of new dangers and threats to innocent human life and the sanctity of Marriage. Among such threats, I include the “unspeakable crime” of abortion and methods of birth control that are contrary to the “truth” of married love as a “gift” by which husband and wife becomes cooperators with God in giving life to a new human person.
In obedience to the Lord’s command – “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12) – you the Christians of the Lake Region, are challenged to think about the situation in your own country. Do the elderly, the widowed, the disabled and the lonely find among you the understanding and support they require? Is the human dignity of all individuals respected? Or is it threatened by practices such as uchawi or witchcraft, which lead those who are involved in it to forms of enslavement and false worship? Likewise, although there are many authentic and praiseworthy human values associated with traditional marriage customs such as mahari, do not excesses and abuses of these customs lead to attitudes which judge the dignity and worth of persons only on the basis of wealth and possessions?
In the Cathedral at Moshi, Pope John Paul emphasized the truth of the gospel, quoting Jesus himself:
During His Passion Jesus told Pilate, “Mine is not a kingdom of this world” (Jn. 18:36); and when questioned further, He said: “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (Jn. 18:37).
Christ, the Pope went on to say “teaches us that His kingdom – which is mysteriously present I the world, yet not of the world – is a kingdom of truth. For a century now, the truth about God and man – revealed I the ‘perfect man’ Jesus Christ –has been at work among you: in people’s hearts, minds and souls, in their daily lives and culture…
“Allow the truth of the Gospel to continue to purify and transform your way of life and your customs, so that they will become ever more perfectly Christian and thus enable you to become more effective witnesses to God’s kingdom of unity and truth. Unity in truth: this is an important sign of the Church’s credibility as the instrument of salvation for the human race.”
Solidarity is needed
As the Pope left Tanzania for his pastoral visit to Burundi, he made an appeal for solidarity, urging rich nations to begin a new era of international aid. He also called for solidarity within Tanzania:
“May the people of Tanzania always remain united to one another as true brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic origin or differences of culture and religion. The unity of which I speak is unity for the common good, for the full development of society, for the protection and promotion of the dignity and rights of every human person, from the greatest to the least. It is also a unity that looks beyond national borders in order to promote the welfare of all humanity.
“During my visit I have tried to emphasize the importance of the family for human solidarity. It is the Catholic Church’s conviction that the family is an irreplaceable school for social virtues such as respect, justice, dialogue and love, and the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 42-48). I urge you to protect and promote family life as the great source of strength and moral character for the life of your nation…”
Economic factors only?
In Burundi, Pope John Paul addressed diplomats and government officials, appealing to them not to “abandon the poor in their daily struggle.” “We are happy,” he noted, “to see a certain change in the manner of evaluating a country’s development. In fact, economic indicators alone cannot convey the virtue of a people of the whole of its achievements. The health of a people, their educational level and the quality of their daily life must also be taken into consideration. I can repeat what I said about peace, applying it to development which we must see, “as the fruit of true and honest relations in every aspect of the life of mankind on this earth: social, economic, cultural and moral.”
On a later occasion, Pope John Paul touched upon the population problem:
“In your country, many are worried about what is called the demographic problem, the very rapid growth in population. The responsibility of everyone is called into play here. It is a matter, first of all, of doing all we can so that the land of Burundi may feed her children: agriculture, your prime resource, must be developed so that the fields produce more and better without depleting or damaging the soil. The earth is a gift from God; it is up to the entire nation to offer her children the ‘fruits of the earth and the works of human hands,’ as we say in presenting the bread and wine in thanksgiving at Mass.
“As for the population problem, the primary responsibility falls naturally on the parents: it is up to them to live as responsible and generous parents, to be open to having children whom they desire to have and whom they feel they are able to raise. That presupposes the spouses’ great respect for one another, self-control in their life of intimacy, love which preserves a constant respect for the woman in her capacity for being a mother. That is why self-control regarding fertility must remain deeply human, as the Church insists and as she teaches the healthy requirements of morality. Spouses who attain the fullness of responsible parenthood are, as we know, truly happy.
Family Action, the foyer movements, constitute a valuable help to families in achieving a balance and facing up to their responsibilities not only regarding fatherhood and motherhood, but also with respect to education and finally regarding all their duties in society.”