On February 5, 1989, Pope John Paul II held a brief reflection from which we present the following extract.
….We must recall that today, through the initiative of the Italian Episcopal Conference, all the dioceses are observing the “Day for Life” which has as its theme this year, ‘Solidly in support of life for the future of mankind’.
“This future is threatened in some nations by the fall in the birthrate, by demographic aging trends, by widespread recourse to abortion, by a thousand forms of egoism. We need a new culture of solidarity. The life of every person, even of those who are asking to be born, of the sick or the weak, of those in their declining years, is an absolute and intangible good. It is a good of all and for all.’
On February 25, 1989, the Pope addressed a group of Mexican bishops. Among other things, he said:
….It is your duty as well not to remain silent in the face of deceitful campaigns that claim to defend partial aspects of life, but which in fact seek openly to undermine the holiness of marriage and conjugal intimacy. In this regard, I want to repeat what I said in Familiaris Concortio:
‘The Church condemns as a grave offence against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children. Consequently any violence applied by such authorities in favour of contraception or still worse, of sterilization and procured abortion, must be altogether condemned and forcefully rejected. Likewise to be denounced as gravely unjust are cases where, in international relations, economic help given for the advancement of peoples is made conditional on programmes of contraception, sterilization and procured abortion’ (.30)….
…Your careful attention in seeking a good programme, of formation to your seminaries and university faculties will bear fruit in priests doctrinally prepared for pastoral action in which they may put their human and supernatural qualities at the service of the faithful and the families of your dioceses. Wholehearted fidelity to theological teaching and to the Magisterium of the Church is a necessary prerequisite for all who collaborate with the bishop, who is always the one primarily responsible for the pastoral care of the families in his diocese.” (Observatore Romano, March 13, 1989)
Every human life is sacred and inviolable
On Sunday, April 16, 1989, Pope John Paul addressed the participants in a pro-life congress sponsored by the Italian Episcopal Conference.
I am pleased to welcome you and greet all of you cordially…I also thank everyone who has joined this meeting promoted by the Italian Episcopal Conference. I especially mention the members of the Pro-life Movement, the Focolarini and the Neo-Catechumens.
The Congress, “At the Service of Human Life”-a significant stage in the “National Conference for a Pro Life Culture,”…is a well chosen witness to the importance you give to this problem.
I express my deep satisfaction and praise for the work done in preparing and carrying out this Congress, which has provided the possibility of an analysis of the Italian social and cultural situation with regard to the value of life, and to outline some operational choices for the coming years.
There is no doubt that, together with the very many shadows, which cloud the present day society that is afraid of, live, the many initiatives in favour of life shine vividly. Over and above every concrete endeavor, fundamental importance must be given to the spirit which must enliven and sustain every action aimed at rediscovering and rekindling this irreplaceable service, while keeping our eyes fixed on the Risen Christ, on the Living One who dies no more.
Jesus shared our life
2. By becoming one of us, Jesus experienced human life in its every phase and condition. He accepted its natural development and shared its destiny: birth, life, death. Jesus shared first of all human birth. He was born “of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary (cf. Lk. 1:31 ff.). His Mother introduced him into this world, fed him, took care of him, protected him and raised him. He, like every other child, was weak, poor, defenseless, dependent. And yet, from the very first moment of his life, he offered his human body as a sacrifice of praise to the Father in our place and on our behalf (cf.. Heb. 10:5 ff.). When he was still hidden in the Virgin’s womb, he already effected salvation: he sanctified the Precursor during the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth. Exultation of the mystery of birth finds its truest and most significant expression in the very words of Jesus: “A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a man has been born into the world” (Jn. 16:21).
In this way also an unborn human life begun under a mother’s heart finds in the very existence of Jesus Christ the most authoritative recognition of its absolute value. We find the same celebration of life in Jesus’ special love for children. He presents children to adults as examples of simplicity and humility (Mt.18:3-4; Lk.9:48), of openness to accepting the Kingdom of God (Mk. 10:15). Yet he is not afraid to issue a very serious warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Lk. 18:6).
Jesus shared human suffering
3. Jesus shared human suffering. By accepting life, he made its condition his own: he knew the fatigue of work, the humiliation of exile; he experienced hunger, thirst, fear, weeping and above all, pain. “And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly ;and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground,” the Evangelist Luke notes (22:44).
Precisely because he knew human suffering, both physical and moral, through an absolutely unique personal experience, he had immense pity for human pain. His compassion, as he performed miracles to heal bodies, restored souls to spiritual health and revealed God’s merciful love. He is the Good Samaritan spoken of in the Gospel parable. “But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them…and looked after him” (Lk. 10:33-34).
Jesus shared our death
4. Jesus also shared human death. In absolute freedom he faced death and experienced the drama of feeling far away from God, a drama that moved him in the depths of his soul and made him cry out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt. 27:46), but is calmed in filial abandonment into the hands of the Father.
His dying is a gift of total and perennial love which, in a mysterious but real way, continues in the Eucharist through the sacrifice of his “body given up” and his “blood poured out” for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51).
Therefore, by virtue of his death and resurrection, every death becomes a “pasch”, a passage from mortal to immortal life.
In this light every human life, even the most disregarded, marginalized and rejected, has infinite value because it is the expression of God’s immense love.
Therefore, the life of the unborn, of children, the sick and suffering, the elderly, the dying, as well as that of young and healthy persons, is equally sacred and absolutely inviolable, from the moment of conception until its natural end.
History of church
The church from her very origins – in a social context of disdain and rejection of human life expressed in terms of abortion and infanticide, of slavery and inhuman working conditions – decisively introduced a new mentality and a new order with regard to life.
In the Didache, an ancient Christian writing, it is clearly stated: “You shall not kill the fruit of the womb through abortion and you shall not harm the child already born” (Didache V, 2).
Athenagoras recalls in his Apologia for Christians that Christians regard as murderers women who take medicines to abort. He condemns the assassins of children even those still living in their mother’s womb, “where they are already, “ he writes, “the object of the care of Divine Providence” (no. 35).
A comparison spontaneously arises between the early period of the Church and the present time. Undoubtedly humanity today shows a love and concern for human life that is notably wide in scope and meaning. The general increase of the sense of the dignity of the person and the value of human life is comforting. Noteworthy also is the social sensitivity that is manifested in numerous and specialized services on behalf of disabled, elderly, poor and abandoned persons.
At the same time, however, no one can deny that there are still many forms of contempt and mal-treatment and rejection of life. It is not only a question of personal selfishness, but also of a social conscience, which, by not believing in the inviolable value of life, claims to be its absolute master and unquestionable arbiter. Frequently civil law itself is the first to violate or, at any rate, not to protect adequately the inviolable right to life. Nor has the growth of what has been called the “culture of death” been arrested. All of this requires an urgent and prompt “new evangelization” that provides ample space for the proclamation of the right to life.
Appeal to all
6. A task of such vast proportions can only be carried out if everyone, in civil society and in the Church, is able to face up to one’s responsibilities with conviction and courage.
Your Congress has studies these responsibilities and observed a generous commitment of the part of so many social and pastoral workers in favour of life. But there is still a lot of work to be done. It is necessary to continue with enthusiasm and confidence. Allow me then to address a word of exhortation to some categories of persons who have a particular mission with regard to human life.
My first appeal is to families, cradles of love and life. As regards the serious problem of the decrease in the birthrate, couples are called upon to rediscover in children a blessing from God; “Behold, sons are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Ps. 127:3), and to give witness to the truth reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council: “ Indeed children are the supreme gift of marriage…”(Gaudium et Spes, 50).
I address myself next to those who are involved in educational work, to those who collaborate in the formation of the individual and collective moral consciences, in particular to those who work with the means of social communication. May the educational task always be inspired by the conviction that love and the service to life depend decisively on a correct vision of man and his authentic values.
Those who work in the social field are called upon as well, whether in the public of private sector, or in the increasing forms of voluntary service. I remind all of them that the common good, the essential end of organized society, cannot be achieved if the good of the individual human person is not forcefully defended and promoted. Each person is to be respected in all his or her rights, starting from the fundamental right, which is the right to life. It is the task of the whole society to endure economic, working, hygienic and health, ecological, welfare, juridical and cultural conditions for an ever more human development of the life of each and all.
Another appeal I address to legislators so that, even in difficult political and social situations, they will help citizens recognize the value of life and respect it through legislation that is consistent with the inviolable requirements of the human person. Only in justice can civil law maintain its dignity and carry out its mission to humanize society.
I invite health-care workers to place themselves at the service of weak and suffering human life with professional expertise and deep humanity. May they never forget that their work is always directed towards the whole person in his body and in his immortal soul.
I ask scientists to develop research and technological application that are always respectful of the person. As in any other field where man is at stake, neutrality is impossible in this one also; if man is not served, he becomes enslaved.
7. Dear brothers and sisters! Let us pray to the lord that we shall never lose awareness and pride in our mission to be – in our service to life, especially to life that is in the poorest and most difficult situations—the revealers and witnesses of the very love of God, author and defender of every human existence.