Blessed John Paul II, a beloved pope and inspirational religious leader who was a pro-life hero, will be canonized a saint on Sunday, April 27th. We pause to reflect on the pro-life messages of this soon-to-be saint who as pope spoke with steadfast faith and inextinguishable commitment to human dignity for all. A pope who acted with peerless courage and conviction in the face of extreme animosity and danger to help bring freedom and democracy to his Polish homeland and eventually all of Eastern and Central Europe, bringing about the demise of the Soviet Union. His travels to over 129 countries earned him the title of "The Pilgrim Pope" and won the hearts of billions as he called upon the faithful to advance a culture of life.
For pro-life lawmakers- and for all those working to protect unborn children and their mothers from the violence of abortion- Blessed John Paul II's defining of this global struggle as the "culture of life" vs. the "culture of death" epitomized the battle clearly and succinctly, renewed the pro-life movement with a clear vision of what it was working for and not just against, and motivated a new generation to stand up for the most vulnerable. Blessed John Paul II's courage, charisma and unwavering convictions were-and are-the stuff that makes heroes. He was, and remains, a pro-life hero who soon will be canonized a saint.
Blessed John Paul II innately understood the darkness of the struggle for the right to life for children in the womb. After all, he had endured years in the midst of the evil and darkness that had enveloped his beloved Poland, never giving-in or giving-up, resisting as he could until the day freedom was won. We need to do the same in the pro-life movement.
When he addressed World Youth Day in Colorado Pope John Paul II exhorted the youth on the dangers of the "culture of death" which struggles against life:
"Death battles against life: A 'culture of death' seeks to impose itself on our desire to live and live to the full. There are those who reject the light of life, preferring 'the fruitless works of darkness' (Eph. 5:11). Their harvest is injustice, discrimination, exploitation, deceit, violence. In every age, a measure of their apparent success is the death of the innocents. In our own century, as at no other time in history, the 'culture of death' has assumed a social and institutional form of legality to justify the most horrible crimes against humanity: genocide, 'final solutions,' 'ethnic cleansings' and the massive 'taking of lives of human beings even before they are born or before they reach the natural point of death' (cf. Dominum et Vivificatem 57)."
Blessed John Paul's message to the youth to feel the "urgency of the task" in opposing the culture of death speaks to us all,
"At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: "Woe to me if I do not evangelize" (1 Cor. 9:16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life."
The world knows all too well the woes of not feeling the full "urgency of the task" to overturn laws that allow the death of unborn children by abortion and not succeeding in defending life as many nations with laws allowing abortion on demand struggle with demographic implosion and below replacement fertility rates brought on by the large numbers of innocents killed in the womb. In the United States, the terrible 'woes' of abortion on demand have resulted in over 56 million children have lost their lives since abortion was imposed by the Supreme Court and countless women who have experienced the harmful physical, psychological, and spiritual consequences of abortion.
Blessed John Paul II also clearly understood the relentless and unified efforts of international pro-abortion organizations and agencies at the United Nations that continue today to seek legitimacy, legality, and justification for the killing of preborn children. His leadership helped to stop the advance of an international right to abortion at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) at Cairo in 1994.
His encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) continues to instruct, inspire, motivate, and encourage today. Article 59 is especially relevant as the recent UN debate during the meeting of the Commission on Population and Development marking 20 years since the meeting at Cairo exemplifies:
"Finally, one cannot overlook the network of complicity which reaches out to include international institutions, foundations and associations which systematically campaign for the legalization and spread of abortion in the world. In this sense abortion goes beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond the harm done to them, and takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society's promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families, 'we are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself'. We are facing what can be called a 'structure of sin' which opposes human life not yet born."
Evangelium Vitae specifically speaks to pro-life lawmakers who struggle in countries with legalized abortion as they attempt to enact restrictions on abortion, often through incremental actions. Soon-to-be Saint John Paul II addresses the passage of such laws:
73) "A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects."
Blessed John Paul II's call for a "great campaign in support of life" continues to motivate and inspire our work to 'mobilize consciences' and unite efforts of people of all faiths to achieve cultural transformation so that all cultures "may express the full truth about the human person and about human life."
Pope John Paul II was an inspirational leader of the Catholic Church, a skilled communicator, a charismatic and personable individual- one whose holiness was palpable. It has been a great personal joy to have met him on a number of occasions and during one particular moving encounter to have experienced the spontaneous flow of tears, along with many others in the room, brought on solely by being in his presence.
From the beginning of his papacy, Pope John Paul II instructed the world to "have no fear". Saint John Paul II will help us to "have no fear" as we defend life from womb to tomb and work to advance a culture of life through law and policy. Saint John Paul II, pray for us!
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.