VATICAN CITY, 20 APRIL 2010 (ZENIT)
The Church has always
championed the cause for life and the family, and several
Catholics spent their lives fighting for these fundamental
Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo was one of these champions as
the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, a post
he held from 1990 up until his death on April 19, 2008.
Before he died, the cardinal gave an interview to Juan Manuel
Estrella, which remained unpublished until now.
This interview published by ZENIT shares the words of the
prelate as he reflects on the work to defend the family, the
providential nature of "Evangelium Vitae," and the roles of John
Paul II and Benedict XVI in this realm.
Q: How and why did the Servant of God John Paul II institute the
Pontifical Council for the Family, a few years after having been
elected Successor of Peter?
Cardinal López Trujillo: The day of the assassination attempt in
St. Peter's Square, John Paul II erected the Pontifical Council
for the Family in the morning.
That is why I have said that our council had a sort of baptism
of blood. Its creation was, without a doubt, a clear fruit of
the Synod of the Family and, specifically, of the Apostolic
Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio," which was the first he wrote
based on the synodal propositions and which, very enriched,
represented a sort of Magna Carta not only on the family but
also on our council.
It is worthwhile remembering that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was
the General Relator. We could say it was the first "teamwork"
between John Paul II and today's Benedict XVI.
I had the honor of being elected one of the relators of the
minor circles, specifically the Hispanic-Portuguese circle, and
I worked very closely with him.
The family dicastery was born from the Pontifical Council for
the Laity, in which there was a commission that Cardinal Karol
Wojtyla belonged to; he was very experienced in this subject as
archbishop of Krakow, both in the theological as well as the
pastoral dimensions. He had an institute for the family that
operated in the archbishopric's palace itself, which offered
courses beginning in the month of April, taking advantage of the
spring and part of the summer. Our council, hence, was in seed
So fundamental is the question of marriage and the family and so
fundamental its defined importance for society that it went
beyond the possibilities and limits of the Council for the
Its own areas, in keeping with "Familiaris Consortio," are
immense: the family and life.
Many are the subjects entrusted to it by the Successor of Peter
and it made its first public launching, ad extra, faced to the
world, people and humanity's common good, in keeping with
something stressed by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of
the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Questions such as the family as a social subject, with its
peculiar sovereignty and also its political tasks, show the vast
field that has been confirmed as central, in an "ad extra"
pastoral program and not just "ad intra," conceived as something
Our council was an intuition of the Pope, as was the institute
that bears his name and, much later, the Pontifical Academy for
Life, which is not a dicastery of the Roman Curia and which is
at the service of the dicastery for Health Care Ministry and the
dicastery for the Family.
My attention was caught by how the commission for the family in
France now links clearly to society, and in its coordination
scheme gives it a new name, something like "the family and the
societal," which is difficult to translate.
Experience has shown that John Paul II's intuition was a great
Q: What year were you called to preside over the dicastery? Why
did the Servant of God, John Paul II, think of you? Do you think
it was because of your participation as Secretary General in the
3rd CELAM [the Latin American bishops' council] Conference?
Cardinal López Trujillo: I began my service in November of 1990.
The Holy Father asked me to come to Rome to discuss the issue
and I returned to my archdiocese already committed, as I
understood that I could not refuse this collaboration, although
it represented a change and a challenge for me; and the Pope did
not hide from me the difficult task of the dicastery.
At the moment of my acceptance I myself did not imagine the size
of the challenge or its difficulties and possibilities. Cardinal
Edouard Gagnon had laid a good basis.
The call to serve in the Pontifical Council for the Family was a
surprise for me and an interesting challenge.
To collaborate with the Pope is always a privilege and a change.
To come to Rome from a large diocese [Medellin, Colombia], with
a numerous curia (around 400 people, as we concentrate in it the
institutions of the local Church), to a small dicastery was a
contrast at the beginning. Outside we had many collaborators,
I don't know the reason why the Holy Father appointed me. I have
never asked for anything. I knew the Holy Father first as
secretary general and later as president of CELAM and of the
episcopal conference of Colombia and I had many opportunities to
I did so with greater frequency because I belonged to several
dicasteries. I had done some work on the family. For example, I
established the episcopal vicariate of the family, and I started
an institute of the family in the Pontifical Bolivarian
University of Medellin.
In CELAM we created first a secretariat of the family and later
the corresponding commission.
I thank the Pope for the trust placed in a poor bishop created
cardinal by him, knowing his love for the "cause" of the family
and life, which so distinguished his formidable pontificate.
He dedicated so much effort, time and determined enthusiasm to
it, which was really contagious.
Q: The encyclical letter "Evangelium Vitae" was published in the
year 1995. What was your participation in it? Did Pope John Paul
II ask you to collaborate directly?
Cardinal López Trujillo: As is well known, "Evangelium Vitae"
originated in an Extraordinary Consistory of the College of
Cardinals, which requested that the Holy Father address
with a high-level Papal document, which in fact was an
the proclamation of God's gift of human life, as good news
worthy of being proclaimed, defended, and fully assumed in a
culture of life.
This took place after having examined the situation in the world
that offered negative, worrying, threatening features, which
reflected a culture of death as a widespread aggression
underway, above all against the category of the weakest and
poorest. This was the origin of "Evangelium Vitae."
The Pope took such a decisive question into his hands and
personally consulted bishops worldwide.
The personal response of the bishops in this historical
consultation, to my knowledge unprecedented in the last
pontificates for an encyclical, was studied with due
In this study our council had the honor of receiving the
confidence of the Successor of Peter of supporting him in the
study of the answers that provided, so to speak, the primary
material for "Evangelium Vitae." Then John Paul II followed,
under his personal care, the different stages and contributions
of those who collaborated, in close dependence on the Pope, in
Our Pontifical Council for the Family was very active and close
in collaboration with the substitute of the State Secretariat,
in the whole process and in the moments of greatest
Together with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith we
offered our collaboration in the course of the years of
preparation on the subjects and points that were personally
followed by the Holy Father. I was also present in the
consultation of some thirty bishops of the world gathered in
Rome for some issues.
Much care was taken to weigh the different questions and,
together with Cardinal Ratzinger, I had the task of presenting "Evangelium
Vitae" to the media. The lessons of what happened with the
encyclical "Humanae Vitae," whose contents were assumed by John
Paul II, were useful.
In an advanced moment of its preparation, given the doubt that
some would introduce the idea of the sufficiency of the "Letter
to Families" and that a new document might be unnecessary, I
supported the Pope in his renewed decision that the encyclical
was necessary and obeyed a clear desire expressed first by the
College of Cardinals and later by the concert of the bishops of
We coordinated the first comments in the Pontifical Council for
the Family, though they were published by the Academy for Life,
which had just been established. "Evangelium Vitae" is clearly
part of the theological domain of the family, otherwise the
mission and understanding of marriage and the family would be
Great was our joy when this encyclical was published, after
appropriate preparation and a difficult gestation.
Today we have this precious instrument to which the Pope
committed himself personally.
The repercussion was immense, and a beautiful legacy, which
Benedict XVI, who collaborated closely with its preparation,
receives and proposes to encourage without beating about the
bush, as we see, together with the priority of the family.
"Evangelium Vitae" is providential, especially today in the
parliamentary realm, with so much progress in science but with
an "absolutism" lamented by Cardinal Ratzinger, which pretends
not to know the limits and to ignore moral principles and
God is canceled from social life and this does not happen with
impunity, as there is an attempt against the principles of truth
of every society.
The sense of law is turned upside down and arrives at the height
of confusion that dehumanizes man, by converting crime into law,
as denounced in "Evangelium Vitae," or as Cardinal Ratzinger
said, when the state arrogates to itself abusive prerogatives.
Democracy is overturned and "accepting in fact that as the
rights of the weakest are violated, accepted also is that the
right of force prevail over the force of law" (L'Europa de
Benedetto nella Crisi della Cultural, ed. Cantagalli, pp.
Q: As president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, what
message for the family do you draw from the precious and
fruitful legacy of the Servant of God John Paul II? Can John
Paul II be defined as "the Pope of Life?" Have you ever
described him thus?
Cardinal López Trujillo: His teaching and his life, linked in
such admirable consistency, are a gift for the Church and for
His fidelity to his mission was a message to the world.
Often certain Vatican "experts," not always lucid and objective,
have attempted to introduce an opposition between John Paul II's
openness to human rights, to the cause of the liberty of
peoples, to the social realm, on one hand, and on the other, the
Pope closed and intolerant on issues of the family, life, sexual
morality, which gave no space to abortion, to contraception, and
did not yield to pressures (impossible to be successful) on
divorce, divorced persons who remarry, etc.
With little penetration in the exigencies of the faith and in
obedience to the Church, they create the confusion of thinking
that on these subjects options to the letter can be made. They
are not optional but obligatory.
The Pope did not seek to spare himself incomprehension and being
accused, including by some fanciful theologians and groups with
a minimum of ecclesial attunement.
It was a wonderful lesson: The worldwide tribute of the faithful
and of non-Christians and non-believers were not seduced by this
The multitudes saw in him a man in love with the integral truth
as a servant of Christ. People felt questioned by the Bible.
The life and death of this faithful servant were and are an
In the World Meeting of Families in the Year of the Family I
greeted him as the "Pope of the family and of life." I think
this struck deeply in many.
It is true that the Pontiff, who had come from Poland, was
outstanding in so many fields, and that expressions can be
multiplied that do not exhaust the wealth of his ministry.
However, his extraordinary contribution to the Gospel of the
family and life was certainly his stamp.
Never before had a Pontiff proclaimed so vigorously and
assiduously this Gospel that resonated everywhere in the world.
The whole of his teaching is monumental and a sure path, not
only for Catholics.
We must receive with gratitude the teaching for which the Pope
spent himself, without trimming it or engaging in comfortable
The Pontifical Council for the Family has sought to be faithful
in this, without curtailing energies and difficulties.
Several times he told me that we should go against the current.
In this sense, he entrusted a difficult dicastery to me, always
situated in the eye of the hurricane, on almost all the topics,
because many do not understand that behind the appearances of
rigor and incomprehension there is an abundance, immense as the
Iguazu Falls, of the search for respect for human dignity, true
love, which springs as a gift from the heart of God who loves us
and saves us in the truth.
And truth is configured with the profiles of the face of Christ.
Therefore, it is a truth made life in the Incarnate Word.
We believe this message is called to change those who make room
for the Gospel in their life. And this is possible despite the
confusion of so many governments and parliaments, which will be
attracted by the splendor of the truth.