ROME, Italy, April 29, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As the Catholic Church prepares to beatify the late Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) this Sunday, pro-life leaders are hailing him as “the Pope of Life” and say his beatification is the ultimate affirmation of his work as the leader of the international pro-life movement.
“John Paul II will be remembered as the Pope of Life,” Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told LifeSiteNews. “I saw, close-up, his devotion and enthusiasm for the cause of life. It shaped all that he did.”
Joe Scheidler, founder and national director of the Pro-Life Action League, recalled that John Paul had told Rev. Paul Marx, the late founder of Human Life International, that the pro-life cause is “the most important work on earth.” The beatification of a man so dedicated to the pro-life cause, Scheidler said, “sort of puts the stamp of ecclesiastical approval … on what we’re trying to do.”
The late Pope will be beatified, the last step before being declared a saint, by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, which is celebrated by Catholics as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Pope John Paul II died April 2, 2005 after the third longest pontificate in Church history. He was revered for his role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, his defense of theological orthodoxy, his painstaking efforts to implement an authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, and his many theological contributions, particularly through pioneering what is known as the theology of the body.
Yet he is perhaps most known for his ardent promotion of the “culture of life,” a term he popularized through his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”).
According to Rev. Pavone, the pope’s great contribution to the pro-life movement was to provide, through his addresses, encyclicals, and other writings, “a doctrinal, spiritual, and personal expression of the Church’s unchanging pro-life message in a ‘package’ that can be readily received by our modern culture.”
“He took the traditional, objective principle of the sanctity of life and spoke to a society that thinks in subjective, individualistic categories,” Rev. Pavone continued. “He did this effectively by focusing on each human person as an individual, unique expression of the one God.”
Judie Brown, president of American Life League and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the late pope was “an inspiration and unwavering beacon to all to return to a culture a life,” whose zeal for life “pierced the darkness in all four corners of the world.”
“From Evangelium Vitae to his Theology of the Body, John Paul reminded us of the incomparable worth of each human person,” she continued. “His beatification validates his efforts as de-facto leader of the worldwide pro-life movement.”
Brad Mattes, executive director of the Life Issues Institute and host of the pro-life TV show Facing Life Head-On, said John Paul’s importance to the movement was “impossible to assess” and reached far beyond the Catholic Church.
“When you have leadership taking a strong stand on behalf of unborn babies and having priests underneath them follow that leadership, people in the pews are hearing about the issue of abortion,” he said. “It’s become more of a part of everyday life, certainly part of Church life.”
“I think that whether we’re Catholic or not, we had a great deal of love and respect for the man,” said Mattes, a non-Catholic himself. “He really put his efforts where his heart was and that was reflected certainly in the work he did on behalf of unborn children.”
Joe Scheidler highlighted especially the impact the late Pope had in his many travels throughout the world. “We would watch carefully, and in almost every talk he gave, wherever he was, he would bring up the issue of life, the importance of life, and the value of life,” he said.
“Here was an older man right up to the very end staying busy travelling around and showing his dedication,” he continued. “I think it made some people feel that they should do something and not simply feel bad about abortion, but actually do something positive.”
“We have so many activists who will quote Pope John Paul II to support their activism in the pro-life movement,” he added.
Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula, interim president of Human Life International, said, “Like all who were blessed to have met him, I was moved by the warmth with which he greeted all in attendance and how he encouraged us in a very paternal way to strengthen our commitment in the defense of life and family.”
“Following the example of John Paul II, let us seek the loving intercession of our Blessed Mother, so that all the members of the Church would commit themselves to a vigorous and integral defense of life and family,” he added.
The soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II was named Venerable by Pope Benedict on December 19, 2009, after he was determined to have exercised heroic virtue. His upcoming beatification was announced in January.