The U.S. bishops' chairman on pro-life issues invited Catholics to commemorate the forty-first annual Respect Life Month through prayer, education and advocacy.
Respect Life Month, along with the upcoming Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI, provides a “vitally important” opportunity for Catholics to “spark a renewal of love and commitment to the true good of others,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.
He stressed that a change in the culture can only take place through the unwavering commitment and witness of the faithful, and their compassionate service to those in need.
The cardinal, who heads the pro-life committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a Sept. 25 statement on the 2012 Respect for Life Month, which will be observed by the Catholic Church this October, beginning with Respect Life Sunday on Oct. 7.
Cardinal DiNardo explained that the theme for the 2012 Respect Life Program is “Faith opens our eyes to human life in all its grandeur and beauty,” an idea expressed regularly by Pope Benedict XVI.
During his recent trip to Lebanon, the pontiff emphasized this concept by stating, “The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life,” which inspires us “to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life.”
America's founders also understood the necessity of faith in building the morality and respect for human dignity that is necessary for a peaceful and just society, Cardinal DiNardo said.
“How can people coexist, much less flourish, in a society lacking the shared belief that we are called to care for those unable to care for themselves, not to neglect, abuse or kill them?” he asked.
The cardinal observed a gradual erosion in the foundational principle of respect for human life throughout American society.
This trend began with the medical neglect of those with disabilities and fatal diseases, and eventually progressed to active measures to end the lives of the most vulnerable, who were viewed as a burden on society, he said.
These practices of aborting those with fetal abnormalities and aiding in the death of the sick and elderly have become not only approved but also receive state funding in some places, he observed, and forty years of legalized abortion has left a “staggering” death toll and families stricken with pain and grief.
In addition, he said, innocent lives are routinely taken when fertility procedures result in multiple successful implanted embryos, prompting the “selective reduction” of some of the “excess” children through induced heart attacks.
The cardinal also noted that the federal government continues to fund stem cell research that destroys human embryos, despite the failure of such research to yield results and the “remarkable” success of other types of stem cell research that do not take a human life.
And soon, he said, even Catholic institutions will be forced to participate in “procedures they believe to be gravely wrong” due to a federal mandate requiring coverage contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs in employee health care plans.
But despite the ongoing challenges and new threats, there are also “positive signs” that offer a “reason for hope,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
He pointed to polls revealing that Americans increasingly identify as pro-life, along with numerous pro-life laws passed at the state level and a “steady decline in the number of abortions.”
Furthermore, he said, young adults in the Church are “actively involved in promoting life through social media and services to those in need,” while adult Catholics are discovering the “wisdom and rightness” of Church teaching when they have the chance to see it authentically and not merely through “the media's caricatures.”
Throughout Respect Life Month and the Year of Faith, Cardinal DiNardo invited Catholics to grow in their understanding of their faith, in order to “live out these teachings more faithfully, witness them more radiantly in our actions, and propose them to others in fresh and engaging ways.”
It is only through a love that serves those in need regardless of personal cost that the culture of death can be overcome and a foundation laid for “a civilization worthy of human beings made in God's image,” he explained.