We have spoken on six previous occasions about the demands of respect for life. The teaching stands unchanged. We wish to speak once more, and with particular emphasis this time on the enduring love that should animate all efforts to assure that every human life will be respected and protected.
Respect for every human life is, without doubt, a crucial test of each persons’ own humanity. This is another way of expressing the Christian belief that God calls us to love others as we love ourselves. From conception to natural death, every effort must be made to safeguard and enhance life, and to promote everyone’s full human development. For this reason, we oppose abortion, the deliberate taking of an innocent and most vulnerable life.
We thank and encourage all those who are already doing so much to serve and safeguard human life from the moment of conception. We salute in particular those whose untiring efforts are marked by a combination of determination, tenderness and sensitivity. For, it is not by violent efforts that life can be saved from violence. Instead, as Pope John Paul II said in Vancouver, with reference to threats to the unborn or the aged or the peace and life of society: “There is a way for humanity to escape its own tyranny and avert the judgment of God in the face of these evils which threaten life in our day, it must again proclaim in practice the sacredness of human life as a precious gift of a loving Creator – a gift to be accepted, respected and protected.”
Our gratitude extends in a particular way to three broad categories of persons: Those who are giving personal support to families, women and children in distress; those who are dedicated to educating others in the value of human life; and those who are trying to improve social structures, including civil laws and social policies and programmes. Often the same persons are involved in all these efforts, and we mention some groups only to be more specific, and in the hope of encouraging others to do more to respect and protect life.
Every pregnant woman – and, indeed every family bringing new life into this troubled world – needs loving support. Every pregnancy is a challenge to the generosity and solidarity of parents, other family members, friends and neighbours. And, as well all know, pregnancy can sometimes pose difficulties for the woman and those around her. We have special words of gratitude and praise for all who come to the support of such a woman, who love her and accompany her, so that she may be able to sustain her child, until birth and also afterwards. All those who help others in these ways truly proclaim in practice God’s boundless love for each person.
It is important that the wonder and preciousness of human life also be communicated in formal ways. That is why we add words of thanks to those who have the particular mission to educate others to respect life, for example, in family-life classes or on informal occasions. We live in a society in which a dominant form of idolatry is love of self expressed in the pursuit of individual freedom. In the home, in schools, and in all situations where perceptions and judgments about right and wrong are formed, there must be patient, imaginative and untiring efforts to teach respect for others, which completes and perfects self respect. Only this kind of social love can satisfy God’s commandments and the human requirements of justice and peace. To lead each new generation and, indeed, all peoples to perceive, accept and live this kind of love is one of the noblest tasks that educators have.
In teaching respect for life, particular attention must be paid to male attitudes and behaviour. A man and a woman share responsibility in each pregnancy. In every case or distressful or unwanted pregnancy, the man must accept his responsibilities and not leave the woman alone to face the difficulties. Moreover, male attitudes and actions are at the heart of the problem in related forms of violence, such as battered women, incest, rape, prostitution and pornography. Those who teach respect for life cannot remain silent about these matters if our communities are to grow in respect for every human life.
Likewise, we thank and encourage all those who are working so hard to transform various public institutions to make society as a whole ever more hospitable to life. This difficult service to society is made more challenging by the fact that everywhere in the world we witness an increase in hunger, oppression, terrorism, war and other forms of violence, while at home unemployment, income disparities and inflation take their toll in human suffering. Those who work on these public issues, in the midst of disagreement and tension, may find themselves tempted to become impatient, frustrated and aggressive. We offer them for their encouragement the profound insight of the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod, that “in the present-day difficulties God wishes to teach us more deeply the value, the importance and the centrality of the Cross of Jesus Christ.” In the light of the Pascal Mystery, the difficult work for the integral salvation of the world goes forward, not under the sign of pessimism, despair or anger, but founded upon the realism of Christian hope. Thus, said the Extraordinary Synod, the Church, in all its members, “must prophetically denounce every form of poverty and oppression and everywhere defend and promote the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. This is above all the case where it is a question of defending human life from the time of its very beginning, of protecting it from aggressors in every circumstance and of effectively promoting it in every respect.”
Thus whether in supporting individuals in distress, or teaching about the marvel of human life, or transforming social structures, each of us is called to celebrate, protect and promote life. And we can do this fully confident in the teaching of Jesus that in serving the lives of others we serve the Lord (cf. Matt. 25:40).