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Pope Francis kissing baby Maria Faustina Hichborn in 2014. Supplied by Michael Hichborn
Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane

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Pope to pro-life group: We have an ‘absolute duty to defend’ life

Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane

ROME, February 4, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis is calling on Catholics and all people of good will to protect the unborn, saying we have an “absolute duty to defend” life. 

Speaking to leaders of the Movement for Life at the Vatican on Saturday, Feb. 2, ahead of Italy’s annual Day for Life, the Pope said such movements highlight “the primary value of human life and the absolute duty to defend it, from its conception until its natural end.”

The Pope immediately stressed, however, that “taking care of life requires that it be done throughout one’s life and to the end” and also “demands that attention be paid to living conditions” such as “health, education, job opportunities, and so on.”

While he has often spoken out strongly against abortion, Pope Francis’s message on the gravity of this evil with respect to other social issues has varied, depending on the group he is addressing.

For instance, his apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exultate, put care for migrants and opposing abortion on equal footing, as observed by both secular and Catholic media. And he famously praised one of Italy’s most notorious abortionists, Italian Senator Emma Bonino, as a “forgotten great” because of her work helping refugees.

Critics of the Pope’s “seamless garment” approach see it as a departure from the teaching of his predecessors, including Pope Benedict XVI, for whom the sacredness of life, the recognition and promotion of the natural family and the rights of parents to educate their children were non-negotiable values.

Fulcrum of defending life

But in his remarks to the pro-life group on Feb. 2, the Pope said the “fulcrum” of defending life is in “welcoming those who were conceived and are still in the womb, enveloped in the womb of the mother as in a loving embrace that unites them.” 

He therefore praised the theme of this year’s European school competition — “I will take care of you. The model of motherhood.” 

He said the theme “invites us to look at conception and birth not as a mechanical or physical fact, but from the point of view of the relationship and communion that unites the woman and her child.”

Throwing away miracles

In his remarks, Pope Francis recalled a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “Behold I am doing a new thing!” (Is 43:19). 

This passage, the Pope said, points to the miracle of life each time a new child is conceived, body and soul, in the womb, and how the refusal to see God’s “wonderful work” can lead men and women to literally throw His miracles away. 

God’s heart, the Pope said, is “ever-young” and rejoices every time, as in the beginning (cf. Genesis), a life that “was not there before” is conceived and “brings an unexpected beauty.”

“Do you not perceive it?,” God through the mouth of the prophet, to shake us from our torpor (Is 43:19). 

Applying the prophet’s words to our duty to defend life today, Pope Francis said: “How is it possible that you do not perceive the miracle is being wrought right beneath your gaze? And how can we consider [this miracle] our own work, to the point of feeling entitled to dispose of it as we please?”

The Pope continued:

Voluntarily extinguishing life as its blossoming is, in any case, a betrayal of our vocation, as well as of the pact that binds generations together, a pact that allows us to look forward with hope. Where there is life, there is hope! But if life itself is violated at its dawn, what remains is no longer the grateful and amazed welcome of the gift, but rather a cold calculation of what we have and what we can dispose of. Then even life is reduced to a consumer good, to be used and thrown away, for ourselves and for others. How tragic is this vision. Unfortunately it is widespread and deeply-rooted, and also presented as a human right.

“How much suffering it causes to the weakest of our brothers and sisters,” he said.

“But we never resign ourselves, but continue to work, knowing our limits but also the power of God, who looks with renewed amazement to us his children and the efforts we make to let the good buds forth each day,” Pope Francis told the pro-life group.

Young people defending life

The Pope said the presence of “so many young people” in the pro-life movement is a “special sign of consolation.”

Thanking young people for their commitment to defending life, he said: “Dear young men and young ladies, you are a resource for the Movement for Life, for the Church and for society, and it is beautiful that you dedicate time and energy to the protection of life and the support of the most defenseless.”

The Pope also praised the pro-life group for its “attachment … to the Catholic faith and to the Church,” which he said makes its members “explicit and courageous witnesses of the Lord Jesus."  

But he also expressed his appreciation for the “secularism” with which they act. Such secularism, he said is “based on the truth of the good of life, which is a human and civil value and, as such, needs to be recognized by all people of good will, whatever religion or creed they belong to.” 

He also praised the pro-life group for openly bearing witness that “those who are conceived are children of the whole of society, and their killing in huge numbers, with the endorsement of the States, is a grave problem that undermines the foundations of the construction of justice.” 

When a society kills its own children, he said, this “compromises” the “proper solution to every other human and social issue.”

Pro-life groups will undoubtedly welcome Pope Francis’s words, including his call to foster respect for life at all levels of society.

But they may find it more difficult to understand why, in 2016, he praised Italy’s foremost abortion activist, Emma Bonino, as one of the country’s “forgotten greats,” for her work in helping refugees in Africa. The same woman who, in 2017, was photographed rejoicing (amid others’ tears) after the Italian Senate passed a law allowing citizens the right to refuse artificial nutrition and hydration in living wills. 

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