Each October, the Catholic Church in the United States observes Respect Life Month as a time to focus on the protection of God’s precious gift of human life. The theme of the month varies from year to year, but it usually concentrates our attention on the issue of abortion.
This year’s theme is “Living Radical Solidarity.” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, explains, “While ending legalized abortion remains our preeminent priority, the most immediate way to save babies and mothers from abortion is to thoroughly surround mothers in need with life-giving support and personal accompaniment. This is radical solidarity.”
Bishop Burbidge noted, “Being in radical solidarity with women who are pregnant or raising children in difficult circumstances means putting our love for them into action and putting their needs before our own.”
The bishop cited Pope Francis, who has emphasized that such radical solidarity presumes a transformation of the heart and the creation of a new mindset.
I believe that this new mindset – and our credibility as the People of Life – must arise from a profound understanding of the inviolable dignity of every single human life, through every stage of life, with special attention given to those who are the most frail or in situations of the greatest vulnerability.
Although abortion is an issue of utmost urgency, we cannot limit our pro-life enthusiasm to this issue alone. Our commitment to human life must be all-embracing, or it will not be credible at all.
Pope Francis often voices this all-embracing concern for human life.
In a press conference after his recent trip to Marseille, France, the pope spoke of both the beginning and the end of life. “You don’t play with life, neither at the beginning nor at the end. You don’t play with it,” he insisted.
Speaking of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean the pope said, “God will bless us, if on land and at sea we know how to take care of the weakest, if we can overcome the paralysis of fear and the disinterest that, with velvet gloves, condemns others to death.”
He spoke of the mindset that radical solidarity requires: “Let us, the church and civil society, start anew by listening to the poor who should be embraced, not counted, for they are faces, not numbers. The change of direction in our communities lies in treating them as brothers and sisters whose stories we know, not as troublesome problems or chasing them away, sending them home; it lies in welcoming them, not hiding them; in integrating them, not evicting them; in giving them dignity.”
The real social evil in our world today, the pope observed, is not so much the increase of problems, but the decrease of care. “Who nowadays becomes a neighbor to the young people left to themselves, who are easy prey for crime and prostitution? … Who is close to people enslaved by work that should make them freer? Who cares for the frightened families, afraid of the future and of bringing children into the world? Who listens to the groaning of our isolated elderly brothers and sisters, who, instead of being appreciated, are pushed aside, under the false pretenses of a supposedly dignified and ‘sweet’ death that is more ‘salty’ than the waters of the sea? Who thinks of the unborn children, rejected in the name of a false right to progress, which is instead a retreat into the selfish needs of the individual?”
These forceful words of Pope Francis present many fields of action calling out for our pro-life convictions and engagement.
It is in involving ourselves in the full breadth of situations in need of our care and commitment that a credible and truly radical solidarity will emerge.
Each member of the Body of Christ has unique gifts and abilities, different interests and convictions. Each of us has an unrepeatable, God-given mission – but we are all called to be artisans of the culture of life.
Through our prayers, words and actions we are all called to proclaim that human life is always precious – it is not to be played with!
Sr. Constance Veit is the communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States and an occupational therapist.