February 1, 1998 10.00 a.m.

It is a pleasure for me to be with you here in the parish of Newbridge this morning to bless and officially open your new parish centre. I thank Father McNally for his kind invitation to come here.
Today has been set aside by the Irish Bishops as a Day for Life. A Day for Life is being celebrated for the first time in Ireland this year. On this day we recall the fact that all life is a sacred gift from God. All life is worthy of respect.

Human life has always been under attack. Poverty and hunger, sickness and disease, violence and war, murder and manslaughter, have always menaced human existence. But in modern times new and ever more serious threats have emerged. This is especially true where life is weak and defenceless. Now human life is being attacked at its beginning, through abortion. It is being attacked in its closing days through euthanasia or so called ‘mercy-killing’. As we know only too well from recent events here in the North of Ireland it is being attacked continually by those who murder and maim in the name of political ideology. It is attacked by whatever is opposed to life itself such as any kind of genocide and willful self destruction. All of these attacks are a disgrace to those who carry them out; they poison human society and are a supreme dishonour to God, the source of all life.

Whatever violates human integrity such as torture or mutilation, rape and abuse; wherever people are brutalised, dehumanised and diminished; whatever insults human dignity such as sub-human living and working conditions, disparaging and contemptuous behaviour and remarks, all these things are really attacks on human life and dignity.

True Parity of Esteem
The life of one person must be recognised as being worth the same as any other. True parity of esteem begins here. For life is a gift of God. Life is also God’s invitation. From the first moment of our existence each one of us is invited to return to the Father. No-one has the right to put an end to a life which God intends to grow into knowledge and love of Himself and calls to share His life and love forever. Pope John Paul II has put it well in his encyclical, The Gospel of Life. He says: “Everyone has an incomparable worth because everyone shares in the very life of God…. the life of every individual from its very beginning, is part of God”. This “Gospel of Life” is also at the heart of the message of Jesus.

When the Church speaks of reverence for human life, these words are meant to be taken in their widest sense. The Church does not isolate the defence of unborn life from the defence of human life and dignity in other areas where these are being cheapened, endangered or destroyed. God’s commandment, “Thou Shalt not Kill”, unconditionally forbids all taking of innocent human life from its beginnings in the womb until the end that God, not man, has set for it. One must have absolute respect for human life as coming from God’s hands at the very first moment of conception and as remaining under God’s care on earth until he takes it back to himself again in death.

The recent spate of murderous attacks on innocent people has terrified many. Its total disrespect for basic human rights has angered many. The right to live, the right to follow one’s conscience, and practise the religion of one’s choice as well as the right to work and earn one’s living and support one’s dependants, all of these are being disregarded. These rights are the foundations of all civilised society. Such murders of innocent working men, fathers and breadwinners assail human life and dignity. They bring shame not only on the perpetrator but also on all who support or condone in any way their commission. They are a terrible indictment of those who have the power to change the bigotry and hatred which underpin such conduct and who fail to do so.

The Way Forward
A way forward must be found. The pleas of those who have been bereaved that there should be no retaliation must be heard. The memory of their dead must not be dishonoured by further bloodshed.
Those entrusted with the powers of government have to protect the lives of the people. They have to protect the rights of people to go about their business and do their work in safety. They have to create the conditions where the peace negotiators can make legitimate demands on behalf of their communities without thereby exposing innocent members of that community to death.
Those involved in the talks must not be intimidated or deflected from their work. That work is the search for a fair and lasting peace. Any other peace will contain the seeds of future conflict. Only a lasting peace will create the conditions where the rights of all are acknowledged and cherished, especially the right to live and to earn one’s living, the right to be accepted and esteemed, the right to have one’s dignity respected.

Those who are trying desperately to wreck the search for agreement must be seen for what they really are. They are the enemies of life and the peddlers of death. They are like those who deal in arms and drugs. They promote the culture of death. So it is right that on this Day for Life we pray for the defeat of all the death dealers, they must not be allowed to win. The combination of patient and courageous discussion on the part of those in the Peace Talks, supported by the prayers of all who want a genuine peace, will ensure that the death dealers do not win.

Another Attack on Human Life
There is yet another attack on human life which gives cause for concern. There are fears that attempts will soon be made to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. No Northern Ireland M.P. has supported this move. This reflects the overwhelming opposition of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland to such a move.

Some Northern Ireland M.P.s have also signed a motion affirming the profound respect for human life maintained by the majority of people in Northern Ireland.

As children of God we are known and loved and valued. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”. God says speaking through his spokesman, Jeremiah. God has an intense interest in each one of us, even before we existed. That message of God, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you” is hard to square with those who claim that the result of conception cannot be considered to be a personal human life, at least up to a certain number of weeks.

Decisions that go against life sometimes arise from difficult or even tragic situations. They are situations of profound suffering, loneliness. There may be a total lack of economic prospects, there may be depression and anxiety about the future. Pregnant women sometimes find themselves in very tragic circumstances, in circumstances of almost despair. Such circumstances can mitigate or even totally exclude subjective responsibility and consequent culpability of those who make choices which in themselves are evil, which are anti-life. But nowadays the problem is a greater one.

It is a problem which goes far beyond the necessary recognition of those personal situations. There is a tendency at the cultural, social and political level to see abortions, these violations against life as legitimate expressions of individual freedom, which are to be acknowledged and protected as actual rights. There is an implicit contradiction here. We live in an age when the rights of persons are solemnly proclaimed. The value of life is publicly affirmed but at the same time the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the most significant moments of existence such as birth and death. It is being denied to the weakest and the most defenceless, at their most vulnerable moments.

Due to the tragic circumstances which some women find themselves in, as I have already mentioned, anyone who claims to be pro-life must be emphatically pro-mother as well. When crisis strikes, people can often feel vulnerable and alone. Unexpected pregnancy can be such a crisis. Sadly, there are some women for whom there will be no-one to listen and offer support at such a time. For those who support life, the mother who is about to give birth cannot be left alone with her doubts, difficulties and temptations. We must stand by her side. This is why the Irish Bishops set up CURA (Latin for Care), in 1977, to provide care for mothers and their unborn children who are in difficult situations.

The Holy Father has recently applauded CURA in its work of counselling and assisting of women facing difficulties in meeting the challenge of motherhood. CURA cares with practical help and emotional support. It has 16 centres throughout Ireland and 400 trained volunteers and deals with 10,000 calls annually. CURA also seeks to assist compassionately those who are experiencing the trauma of abortion and others affected by the problem.

The Christian “Yes” to life must also include a call for freedom, for adequate education, for proper living conditions, for more just distribution of wealth and opportunity. It is social and economic injustices such as these which often lead women to consider abortion as the best way out of a difficult situation. The Church is thus not just simply “against abortion”, it is also for life and human dignity and social justice.
We must always be aware of the agonies of conscience and the tortures of remorse which many women who have had abortions are now suffering. I want to assure them of the boundless compassion and unlimited mercy of Christ. He loves them. He loves to forgive. He has told us that he has more joy in forgiving sinners than he receives from the just who do not think they need forgiveness. No one is excluded from his love. No matter what the past, he offers everyone forgiveness and peace. His “Yes” to life is an unconditional “Yes” to all who come in sorrow and love to ask his pardon.

In his letter for the Day of Life, the Holy Father prays that: “the Day of Life will encourage clergy, religious and the lay faithful to deepen their understanding of the Church’s teaching on the human person and will inspire them to an even greater commitment to be forthright in proclaiming in society the Gospel of Life”. On this Day for Life, mindful of the Lord’s words: “I came that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10), let us to resolve to remain committed to uphold the sanctity of life in all its stages of existence, through our words and deeds, and to reject all that is contrary to the nurturing and flourishing of human existence.