Pope: Neglect of human dignity causes 'practical atheism'

Pope Francis meets with members of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute on Dec 7 2013 Credit Elise Harris CNA CNA 12 9 13 Pope Francis meets with members of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute on Dec. 7, 2013. | Elise Harris/CNA

On Saturday afternoon Pope Francis met with members of an international organization that promotes human dignity, warning them against a "false model" of humanity.

"Unfortunately, in our time, so full of so many hopes and achievements, there are powers and forces that end up producing a 'throw-away culture'; and this tends to become a common mentality,"  said the pontiff on Dec. 7. "The victims of this culture are its most weak and fragile humans – the unborn, the poor, the elderly sick, severely disabled…those who risk being 'thrown away,' expelled by a mechanism that must be efficient at all costs."

"This false model of man and of society effects a practical atheism (by) denying, de facto, the Word of God that says, 'let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,'" Pope Francis explained to the members of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute.

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the insitute's honorary president, said the group was founded in 2008 in the European Parliament "with the goal to protect and promote human dignity based on the anthropological truth that man is born in the image and likeness of God."

The cardinal spoke briefly at today's meeting with the Pope, saying, "to evangelize the very culture itself is the activity and ambition of this institute."

"We work with all people of goodwill. We are firmly ecumenical in our approach, respectful and tolerant of those with another (or) different faith; but we celebrate with joy our uncompromising inspiration by the holy Word of God, and Catholic social teaching."

Pope Francis' remarks focused on similar themes. He reflected on the need "to let ourselves be questioned by this Word" of God.

"If we allow it to approach our personal and social awareness, if we let it be part of discussions and our ways of thinking and acting, criteria, priorities, and choices, then things can change," the Pope encouraged.

"The power of this Word puts limits on anyone who wants to become dominant, abusing the rights and dignity of others," he continued. "At the same time, it gives hope and comfort to those who are not able to defend themselves, (and) to those who do not have intellectual and practical means to affirm the value of their suffering, of their own rights, of their lives."

The pontiff encouraged the group's initiatives, emphasizing the importance of a Christian presence in the political sphere.

"It is necessary to raise awareness and training, so that the lay faithful, in all conditions, and especially those who engage in the political field, are able to think according to the gospel and the social doctrine of the Church and act consistently, dialoging and collaborating with those who, with sincerity and intellectual honesty, share, if not the faith, at least a similar vision of man and of society and its ethical consequences," he said.

Ben Harnwell, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute's founder, was part of today's audience with Pope Francis.

Harnwell told CNA that he started the organization five years ago because he saw the need to "create a way, in the political sphere, of dialoguing with Christian politicians." He hoped to "create an environment in which politicians could be Christian" without being dismissed simply because of their religious beliefs.

Not expecting to meet Pope Francis personally, Harnwell was both surprised and thrilled to find himself shaking the pontiff's hand.

"It's incredible to talk to someone who is known by everyone, the acknowledged successor of Peter, and yet find a man of such humility, and a visible embodiment of the gospel. It's really a once in a life time experience," he said.

What struck Harnwell most of all, however, was the "transmission of joy embodied in Pope Francis."

The Pope took time to meet with many more people than originally planned at today's event. "The generosity of time, the freshness that he brought to each introduction – he's the Pope, but that generosity of spirit is the visible embodiment of what we're trying to do," reflected Harnwell.

More in Vatican

"The work of the institute has been an uphill push, but today has been unbelievable.  Everyone has said, 'this is far more than what we were expecting.'"

Harnwell also discussed institute members who fight to uphold human dignity in politics.

"We can hold the line," he said, "but people come here and get filled up with the joy and hope of being Catholic."

Harnwell said today's meeting with the Pope has "reinvigorated" the institute's members to continue their fight.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.