REAFFIRM THE CULTURE OF LIFE!
Pope John Paul II
Message to those attending an international congress held in Rome on 22-24 April sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Bioethics Institute of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, and the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, for the anniversary of the Encyclical Evangelium vitae, given on April 23, 1996.
1. I learned with pleasure of the International Congress sponsored by this Pontifical Council for the Family, the Bioethics Institute of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum on the theme, For a Culture of Life, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Evangelium vitae.
I address cordial greetings to you Your Eminence, to my venerable Brother Bishops and to all those who are taking part in this important meeting. On this first anniversary of the Encyclical, it is your intention to study its doctrinal content in depth and to welcome and to spread its call to promote the culture of life.
A year after this document's publication, the reflection on the present conflict, the "enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the 'culture of death' and the 'culture of life" (Evangelium vitae, n. 28) continues to be more timely and urgent than ever.
The rejection of life, confirmed and ratified by legal abortion as a culture of death, is gaining ground in today's society, with the intention of legalizing euthanasia also.
2. Life, which has always been welcomed and desired as a great good for humanity as well as being the fundamental and primary value for every individual, must be reaffirmed, assimilated and recovered today from a culture which otherwise risks closing in on and destroying itself, or reducing life to a consumer product for an affluent society.
In the Encyclical Evangelium vitae, I recalled how, on the one hand, present-day society has developed increasing sensitivity to human rights, but on the other, has not succeeded in applying them to the defense of the weakest.
The reflections made by professors and experts over the past few days and the dialogue between the various academic disciplines from theology and philosophy to law and social communications on so central a theme as the culture of life will doubtless be an excellent opportunity for promoting a true humanism in support of human persons, from conception until natural death.
There is a pressing need to rediscover the authentic anthropology that illuminates and enhances the human dignity of every person, and the sacred and fundamental gift of life. The way one conceives the "quality of life", concerning which we often discover rather reductive interpretations, must take into account the transcendent dimension of the human person open to God, his origin and his goal. Man, "though made of body and soul, is a unity" (Gaudium et spes, n. 14); as the image of God, he cannot become an instrument nor be reduced to the value of his qualities.
3. Man today is capable of deeply grasping the reality of life, which is not limited to our time on earth but is rooted in God and extends dynamically into eternity. Therefore this life cannot be limited to the earthly dimension, but is imbued with God's gift and marked by eternity. This is why it is essential to turn back to God. Only in him will we be able to recover the meaning of man and thus of life. "Man's life comes from God; it is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills" (Evangelium vitae, n. 39).
Today everyone must be committed supporters of life. "We need to promote a serious and in-depth exchange about basic issues of human life with everyone, including non-believers, in intellectual circles, in the various professional spheres and at the level of people's everyday life" (ibid., n. 95). The value and defense of life is a sign of our times on the threshold of the third millennium and therefore represents an urgent appeal to bear witness to life, it is a true sign of the credibility of the Gospel message of the Lord of Life. It is a sign that speaks to the hearts of all people in order to open them to Christ, because "the Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel" (ibid., n. 2). This commitment must pervade the social and cultural fabric, it must penetrate human ways of thinking, judging and acting, so that in the acceptance and protection of life, the beauty of self-giving to others may be rediscovered.
4. With respect for all creation, the eminent value of the human person acquires an overriding and primordial concern. The culture of life is the basis and the inescapable presupposition for the development of every aspect of an authentic ecology of creation. What is called for is "a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life" (ibid., n. 95).
With these sentiments, as I entrust to the Lord the work of these days and the concrete commitments which have come to maturity from it, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, Your Eminence, and to all those taking part.
From the Vatican, 23 April 1996.
Weekly Edition in English
8 May 1996, p. 11.
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