Evangelium vitae 74

"You shall love your neighbour asyourself":"promote"life

(Lc 10,27)

75 God's commandments teach us theway of life. The negative moral precepts, which declare that the choice ofcertain actions is morally unacceptable, have an absolute value for humanfreedom: they are valid always and everywhere, without exception. They make itclear that the choice of certain ways of acting is radically incompatible withthe love of God and with the dignity of the person created in his image. Suchchoices cannot be redeemed by the goodness of any intention or of anyconsequence; they are irrevocably opposed to the bond between persons; theycontradict the fundamental decision to direct one's life to God. 99

In this sense, the negative moral precepts have anextremely important positive function. The "no" which theyunconditionally require makes clear the absolute limit beneath which freeindividuals cannot lower themselves. At the same time they indicate the minimumwhich they must respect and from which they must start out in order to say"yes" over and over again, a "yes" which will graduallyembrace the entire horizon of the good (cf. Mt
Mt 5,48). The commandments, inparticular the negative moral precepts, are the beginning and the firstnecessary stage of the journey towards freedom. As Saint Augustine writes, "the beginning of freedom isto be free from crimes... like murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud,sacrilege and so forth. Only when one stops committing these crimes (and noChristian should commit them), one begins to lift up one's head towardsfreedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfectfreedom".100

76 The commandment "You shallnot kill" thus establishes the point of departure for the start of truefreedom. It leads us to promote life actively, and to develop particular waysof thinking and acting which serve life. In this way we exercise ourresponsibility towards the persons entrusted to us and we show, in deeds and intruth, our gratitude to God for the great gift of life (cf. Ps Ps 139,13-14).

The Creator has entrusted man's life to hisresponsible concern, not to make arbitrary use of it, but to preserve it withwisdom and to care for it with loving fidelity. The God of the Covenant hasentrusted the life of every individual to his or her fellow human beings,brothers and sisters, according to the law of reciprocity in giving andreceiving, of self-giving and of the acceptance of others. In the fullness of time,by taking flesh and giving his life for us, the Son of God showed what heightsand depths this law of reciprocity can reach. With the gift of his Spirit,Christ gives new content and meaning to the law of reciprocity, to our beingentrusted to one another. The Spirit who builds up communion in love createsbetween us a new fraternity and solidarity, a true reflection of the mystery ofmutual self-giving and receiving proper to the Most Holy Trinity. The Spiritbecomes the new law which gives strength to believers and awakens in them aresponsibility for sharing the gift of self and for accepting others, as asharing in the boundless love of Jesus Christ himself.

77 This new law also gives spiritand shape to the commandment "You shall not kill". For the Christianit involves an absolute imperative to respect, love and promote the life ofevery brother and sister, in accordance with the requirements of God'sbountiful love in Jesus Christ. "He laid down his life for us; and weought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jn 1Jn 3,16).

The commandment "You shall not kill", evenin its more positive aspects of respecting, loving and promoting human life, isbinding on every individual human being. It resounds in the moral conscience ofeveryone as an irrepressible echo of the original covenant of God the Creatorwith mankind. It can be recognized by everyone through the light of reason andit can be observed thanks to the mysterious working of the Spirit who, blowingwhere he wills (cf. Jn Jn 3,8), comes to and involves every person living in thisworld.

It is therefore a service of love which we are allcommitted to ensure to our neighbour, that his or her life may be alwaysdefended and promoted, especially when it is weak or threatened. It is not onlya personal but a social concern which we must all foster: a concern to makeunconditional respect for human life the foundation of a renewed society.

We are asked to love and honour the life of every manand woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked byall too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a newculture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.



"You are God's own people, that youmay declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into hismarvellous light": a people of life and for life

(1P 2,9)

78 The Church has received theGospel as a proclamation and a source of joy and salvation. She has received itas a gift from Jesus, sent by the Father "to preach good news to thepoor" (Lc 4,18). She hasreceived it through the Apostles, sent by Christ to the whole world (cf. Mk Mc 16,15 Mt 28,19-20).Born from this evangelizing activity, the Church hears every day the echo of Saint Paul's words of warning: "Woe to me if Ido not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor 1Co 9,16). As Paul VIwrote, "evangelization is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, herdeepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize".101

Evangelization is an all-embracing, progressiveactivity through which the Church participates in the prophetic, priestly androyal mission of the Lord Jesus. It is therefore inextricably linked topreaching, celebration and the service of charity. Evangelization is aprofoundly ecclesial act, which calls all the various workers of the Gospel toaction, according to their individual charisms and ministry.

This is also the case with regard to the proclamationof the Gospel of life, an integral part of that Gospel which is Jesus Christhimself. We are at the service of this Gospel, sustained by the awareness thatwe have received it as a gift and are sent to preach it to all humanity,"to the ends of the earth" (Ac 1,8). With humility and gratitude weknow that we are the people of life and for life, and this is how we presentourselves to everyone.

79 We are the people of lifebecause God, in his unconditional love, has given us the Gospel of life and bythis same Gospel we have been transformed and saved. We have been ransomed bythe "Author of life" (Ac 3,15) at the price ofhis precious blood (cf. 1 Cor 1Co 6,20 1Co 7,23 1 Pet 1P 1,19). Through thewaters of Baptism we have been made a part of him (cf. Rom Rm 6,4-5 Col 2,12), as brancheswhich draw nourishment and fruitfulness from the one tree (cf. Jn Jn 15,5).Interiorly renewed by the grace of the Spirit, "who is the Lord and giverof life", we have become a people for life and we are called to actaccordingly.

We have been sent. For us, being at the service oflife is not a boast but rather a duty, born of our awareness of being"God's own people, that we may declare the wonderful deeds of him whocalled us out of darkness into his marvellous light" (cf. 1 Pet 1P 2,9). Onour journey we are guided and sustained by the law of love: a love which has asits source and model the Son of God made man, who "by dying gave life tothe world".102

We have been sent as a people. Everyone has anobligation to be at the service of life. This is a properly"ecclesial" responsibility, which requires concerted and generousaction by all the members and by all sectors of the Christian community. Thiscommunity commitment does not however eliminate or lessen the responsibility ofeach individual, called by the Lord to "become the neighbour" ofeveryone: "Go and do likewise" (Lc 10,37).

Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel oflife, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serveit with the various programmes and structures which support and promote life.

"That which we have seen and heard weproclaim also to you" : proclaiming the Gospel of life

(1Jn 1,3)

80 "That which was from thebeginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we havelooked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life ... weproclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,1). Jesus is the only Gospel: we have nothing further to say or any otherwitness to bear.

To proclaim Jesus is itself to proclaim life. ForJesus is "the word of life" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,1). In him "life was mademanifest" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,2); he himself is "the eternal life which was withthe Father and was made manifest to us" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,2). By the gift of theSpirit, this same life has been bestowed on us. It is in being destined to lifein its fullness, to "eternal life", that every person's earthly lifeacquires its full meaning.

Enlightened by this Gospel of life, we feel a need toproclaim it and to bear witness to it in all its marvellous newness. Since itis one with Jesus himself, who makes all things new 103 and conquersthe "oldness" which comes from sin and leads to death, 104this Gospel exceeds every human expectation and reveals the sublime heights towhich the dignity of the human person is raised through grace. This is howSaint Gregory of Nyssa understands it: "Man, as a being, is of no account;he is dust, grass, vanity. But once he is adopted by the God of the universe asa son, he becomes part of the family of that Being, whose excellence andgreatness no one can see, hear or understand. What words, thoughts or flight ofthe spirit can praise the superabundance of this grace? Man surpasses hisnature: mortal, he becomes immortal; perishable, he becomes imperishable;fleeting, he becomes eternal; human, he becomes divine".105

Gratitude and joy at the incomparable dignity of manimpel us to share this message with everyone: "that which we have seen andheard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (Jn 1,3). We need to bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and womanand to make it penetrate every part of society.

81 This involves above allproclaiming the core of this Gospel. It is the proclamation of a living God whois close to us, who calls us to profound communion with himself and awakens inus the certain hope of eternal life. It is the affirmation of the inseparableconnection between the person, his life and his bodiliness. It is thepresentation of human life as a life of relationship, a gift of God, the fruitand sign of his love. It is the proclamation that Jesus has a uniquerelationship with every person, which enables us to see in every human face theface of Christ. It is the call for a "sincere gift of self" as thefullest way to realize our personal freedom.

It also involves making clear all the consequences ofthis Gospel. These can be summed up as follows: human life, as a gift of God,is sacred and inviolable. For this reason procured abortion and euthanasia areabsolutely unacceptable. Not only must human life not be taken, but it must beprotected with loving concern. The meaning of life is found in giving andreceiving love, and in this light human sexuality and procreation reach theirtrue and full significance. Love also gives meaning to suffering and death;despite the mystery which surrounds them, they can become saving events.Respect for life requires that science and technology should always be at theservice of man and his integral development. Society as a whole must respect,defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and inevery condition of that person's life.

82 To be truly a people at theservice of life we must propose these truths constantly and courageously fromthe very first proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in thevarious forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all educationalactivity. Teachers, catechists and theologians have the task of emphasizing theanthropological reasons upon which respect for every human life is based. Inthis way, by making the newness of the Gospel of life shine forth, we can alsohelp everyone discover in the light of reason and of personal experience howthe Christian message fully reveals what man is and the meaning of his beingand existence. We shall find important points of contact and dialogue also withnon- believers, in our common commitment to the establishment of a new cultureof life.

Faced with so many opposing points of view, and awidespread rejection of sound doctrine concerning human life, we can feel thatPaul's entreaty to Timothy is also addressed to us: "Preach the word, beurgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailingin patience and in teaching" (2 Tim
2Tm 4,2). This exhortation should resoundwith special force in the hearts of those members of the Church who di- rectlyshare, in different ways, in her mission as "teacher" of the truth.May it resound above all for us who are Bishops: we are the first ones calledto be untiring preachers of the Gospel of life. We are also entrusted with thetask of ensuring that the doctrine which is once again being set forth in thisEncyclical is faithfully handed on in its integ- rity. We must use appropriatemeans to defend the faithful from all teaching which is contrary to it. We needto make sure that in theological faculties, seminaries and Catholicinstitutions sound doctrine is taught, explained and more fully investigated.106 May Paul's exhortation strike a chord in all theologians, pastors,teachers and in all those responsible for catechesis and the formation ofconsciences. Aware of their specific role, may they never be so grievouslyirresponsible as to betray the truth and their own mission by proposingpersonal ideas contrary to the Gospel of life as faithfully presented andinterpreted by the Magisterium.

In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fearhostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity whichmight conform us to the world's way of thinking (cf. Rom Rm 12,2). We must be inthe world but not of the world (cf. Jn Jn 15,19 Jn 17,16), drawing ourstrength from Christ, who by his Death and Res- urrection has overcome theworld (cf. Jn Jn 16,33).

"I give you thanks that I amfearfully, wonderfully made": celebrating the Gospel of life

(Ps 139,14)

83 Because we have been sent intothe world as a "people for life", our proclamation must also become agenuine celebration of the Gospel of life. This celebration, with the evocativepower of its gestures, symbols and rites, should become a precious andsignificant setting in which the beauty and grandeur of this Gospel is handedon.

For this to happen, we need first of all to foster, inourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. 107 Such an outlookarises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a"wonder" (cf. Ps
Ps 139,14). It is the outlook of those who see life inits deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitationto freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume totake possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in allthings the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his livingimage (cf. Gen Gn 1,27 Ps 8,5). This outlook does not give in to discouragementwhen confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death's door.Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, andprecisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of everyperson a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.

It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, andwith deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour everyperson, as Paul VI invited us to do in one of his first Christmas messages.108 Inspired by this contemplative outlook, the new people of theredeemed cannot but respond with songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving for thepriceless gift of life, for the mystery of every individual's call to sharethrough Christ in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communionwith God our Creator and Father.

84 To celebrate the Gospel of lifemeans to celebrate the God of life, the God who gives life: "We mustcelebrate Eternal Life, from which every other life proceeds. From this, inproportion to its capacities, every being which in any way participates inlife, receives life. This Divine Life, which is above every other life, givesand preserves life. Every life and every living movement proceed from this Lifewhich transcends all life and every principle of life. It is to this that soulsowe their incorruptibility; and because of this all animals and plants live,which receive only the faintest glimmer of life. To men, beings made of spiritand matter, Life grants life. Even if we should abandon Life, because of itsoverflowing love for man, it converts us and calls us back to itself. Not onlythis: it promises to bring us, soul and body, to perfect life, to immortality.It is too little to say that this Life is alive: it is the Principle of life,the Cause and sole Wellspring of life. Every living thing must contemplate itand give it praise: it is Life which overflows with life".109

Like the Psalmist, we too, in our daily prayer asindividuals and as a community, praise and bless God our Father, who knitted ustogether in our mother's womb, and saw and loved us while we were still withoutform (cf. Ps
Ps 139,13). We exclaim with overwhelming joy: "I give youthanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. Youknow me through and through" (Ps 139,14). Indeed, "despite itshardships, its hidden mysteries, its suffering and its inevitable frailty, thismortal life is a most beautiful thing, a marvel ever new and moving, an eventworthy of being exalted in joy and glory".110 Moreover, man andhis life appear to us not only as one of the greatest marvels of creation: forGod has granted to man a dignity which is near to divine (Ps 8,5-6). In everychild which is born and in every person who lives or dies we see the image ofGod's glory. We celebrate this glory in every human being, a sign of the livingGod, an icon of Jesus Christ.

We are called to express wonder and gratitude for thegift of life and to welcome, savour and share the Gospel of life not only inour personal and community prayer, but above all in the celebrations of theliturgical year. Particularly important in this regard are the Sacraments, theefficacious signs of the presence and saving action of the Lord Jesus inChristian life. The Sacraments make us sharers in divine life, and provide thespiritual strength necessary to experience life, suffering and death in theirfullest meaning. Thanks to a genuine rediscovery and a better appreciation ofthe significance of these rites, our liturgical celebrations, especiallycelebrations of the Sacraments, will be ever more capable of expressing thefull truth about birth, life, suffering and death, and will help us to livethese moments as a participation in the Paschal Mystery of the Crucified andRisen Christ.

85 In celebrating the Gospel oflife we also need toappreciate and make good use of the wealth of gestures andsymbols present in the traditions and customs of different cultures andpeoples. There are special times and ways in which the peoples of differentnations and cultures express joy for a newborn life, respect for and protectionof individual human lives, care for the suffering or needy, closeness to theelderly and the dying, participation in the sorrow of those who mourn, and hopeand desire for immortality.

In view of this and following the suggestion made bythe Cardinals in the Consistory of 1991, I propose that a Day for Life becelebrated each year in every country, as already established by some EpiscopalConferences. The celebration of this Day should be planned and carried out withthe active participation of all sectors of the local Church. Its primarypurpose should be to foster in individual consciences, in families, in theChurch and in civil society a recognition of the meaning and value of humanlife at every stage and in every condition. Particular attention should bedrawn to the seriousness of abortion and euthanasia, without neglecting otheraspects of life which from time to time deserve to be given carefulconsideration, as occasion and circumstances demand.

86 As part of the spiritual worshipacceptable to God (cf. Rom Rm 12,1), the Gospel of life is to be celebrated aboveall in daily living, which should be filled with self-giving love for others.In this way, our lives will become a genuine and respon- sible acceptance ofthe gift of life and a heartfelt song of praise and gratitude to God who hasgiven us this gift. This is already happening in the many different acts ofselfless generosity, often humble and hidden, carried out by men and women,children and adults, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick.

It is in this context, so humanly rich and filled withlove, that heroic actions too are born. These are the most solemn celebrationof the Gospel of life, for they proclaim it by the total gift of self. They arethe radiant manifestation of the highest degree of love, which is to give one'slife for the person loved (cf. Jn Jn 15,13). They are asharing in the mystery of the Cross, in which Jesus reveals the value of everyperson, and how life attains its fullness in the sincere gift of self. Over andabove such outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up ofgestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life.A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs,performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chanceof health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.

Part of this daily heroism is also the silent buteffective and eloquent witness of all those "brave mothers who devotethemselves to their own fam- ily without reserve, who suffer in giving birth totheir children and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, inorder to pass on to them the best of themselves".111 In living outtheir mission "these heroic women do not always find support in the worldaround them. On the contrary, the cultural models frequently promoted andbroadcast by the media do not encourage motherhood. In the name of progress andmodernity the values of fidelity, chastity, sacrifice, to which a host ofChristian wives and mothers have borne and continue to bear outstandingwitness, are presented as obsolete ... We thank you, heroic mothers, for yourinvincible love! We thank you for your intrepid trust in God and in his love.We thank you for the sacrifice of your life ... In the Paschal Mystery, Christrestores to you the gift you gave him. Indeed, he has the power to give youback the life you gave him as an offering".112

"What does it profit, my brethren, ifa man says he has faith but has not works?": serving theGospel of life

(Jc 2,14)

87 By virtue of our sharing inChrist's royal mission, our support and promotion of human life must beaccomplished through the service of charity, which finds expression in personalwitness, various forms of volunteer work, social activity and politicalcommitment. This is a particularly pressing need at the present time, when the"culture of death" so forcefully opposes the "culture of life"and often seems to have the upper hand. But even before that it is a need whichsprings from "faith working through love" (Ga 5,6). As the Letter ofJames admonishes us: "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says hehas faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister isill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ?Go in peace,be warmed and filled', without giving them the things needed for the body, whatdoes it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:14-17).

In our service of charity, we must be inspired anddistinguished by a specific attitude: we must care for the other as a personfor whom God has made us responsible. As disciples of Jesus, we are called tobecome neighbours to everyone (cf. Lk Lc 10,29-37), and to showspecial favour to those who are poorest, most alone and most in need. Inhelping the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, theimprisoned-as well as the child in the womb and the old person who is sufferingornear death-we have the opportunity to serve Jesus. He himself said: "Asyou did it to one of the least of these my breth- ren, you did it to me"(Mt 25,40). Hence we cannot but feel called to account and judged by the everrelevant words of Saint John Chrysostom: "Do you wish to honour the bodyof Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it homage herein the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where it sufferscold and nakedness".113

Where life is involved, the service of charity must beprofoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for humanlife is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is anindivisible good. We need then to "show care" for all life and forthe life of everyone. Indeed, at an even deeper level, we need to go to thevery roots of life and love.

It is this deep love for every man and woman which hasgiven rise down the centuries to an outstanding history of charity, a historywhich has brought into being in the Church and society many forms of service tolife which evoke admiration from all unbiased observers. Every Christiancommunity, with a renewed sense of responsibility, must continue to write thishistory through various kinds of pastoral and social activity. To this end,appropriate and effective programmes of support for new life must beimplemented, with special closeness to mothers who, even without the help ofthe father, are not afraid to bring their child into the world and to raise it.Similar care must be shown for the life of the marginalized or suffering,especially in its final phases.

88 All of this involves a patientand fearless work of education aimed at encouraging one and all to bear eachother's burdens (cf. Gal Ga 6,2). It requires a continuous promotion of vocationsto service, particularly among the young. It involves the implementation oflong-term practical projects and initiatives inspired by the Gospel.

Many are the means towards this end which need to bedeveloped with skill and serious commitment. At the first stage of life,centres for natural methods of regulating fertility should be promoted as avaluable help to responsible parenthood, in which all individuals, and in thefirst place the child, are recognized and respected in their own right, andwhere every decision is guided by the ideal of the sincere gift of self.Marriage and family counselling agencies by their specific work of guidance andprevention, carried out in accordance with an anthropology consistent with theChristian vision of the person, of the couple and of sexuality, also offervaluable help in rediscovering the meaning of love and life, and in supportingand accompanying every family in its mission as the "sanctuary oflife". Newborn life is also served by centres of assistance and homes orcentres where new life receives a welcome. Thanks to the work of such centres,many unmarried mothers and couples in difficulty discover new hope and findassistance and support in overcoming hardship and the fear of accepting a newlyconceived life or life which has just come into the world.

When life is challenged by conditions of hardship,maladjustment, sickness or rejection, other programmes-such as communities fortreating drug addiction, residential communities for minors or the mentallyill, care and relief centres for AIDS patients, associations for solidarityespecially towards the disabled-are eloquent expressions of what charity isable to devise in order to give everyone new reasons for hope and practicalpossibilities for life.

And when earthly existence draws to a close, it isagain charity which finds the most appropriate means for enabling the elderly,especially those who can no longer look after themselves, and the terminallyill to enjoy genuinely humane assistance and to receive an adequate response totheir needs, in particular their anxiety and their loneliness. In these casesthe role of families is indispensable; yet families can receive much help fromsocial welfare agencies and, if necessary, from recourse to palliative care,taking advantage of suitable medical and social services available in publicinstitutions or in the home.

In particular, the role of hospitals, clinics and convalescenthomes needs to be reconsidered. These should not merely be institutions wherecare is provided for the sick or the dying. Above all they should be placeswhere suffering, pain and death are acknowledged and understood in their humanand specifically Christian meaning. This must be especially evident andeffective in institutes staffed by Religious or in any way connected with theChurch.

89 Agencies and centres of serviceto life, and all other initiatives of support and solidarity whichcircumstances may from time to time suggest, need to be directed by people whoare generous in their involvement and fully aware of the importance of theGospel of life for the good of individuals and society.

A unique responsibility belongs to health-carepersonnel: doctors, pharmacists, nurses, chaplains, men and women religious,administrators and volunteers. Their profession calls for them to be guardiansand servants of human life. In today's cultural and social context, in whichscience and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherentethical dimension, health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at timesto become manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of thistemptation their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepestinspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethicaldimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized by theancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor tocommit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness.

Absolute respect for every innocent human life alsorequires the exercise of conscientious objection in relation to procuredabortion and euthanasia. "Causing death" can never be considered aform of medical treatment, even when the intention is solely to comply with thepatient's request. Rather, it runs completely counter to the health- careprofession, which is meant to be an impassioned and unflinching affirmation oflife. Bio- medical research too, a field which promises great benefits forhumanity, must always reject experimentation, research or applications whichdisregard the inviolable dignity of the human being, and thus cease to be atthe service of people and become instead means which, under the guise ofhelping people, actually harm them.

90 Volunteer workers have aspecific role to play: they make a valuable contribution to the service of lifewhen they combine professional ability and generous, selfless love. The Gospelof life inspires them to lift their feelings of good will towards others to theheights of Christ's charity; to renew every day, amid hard work and weariness,their awareness of the dignity of every person; to search out people's needsand, when necessary, to set out on new paths where needs are greater but careand support weaker.

If charity is to be realistic and effective, itdemands that the Gospel of life be implemented also by means of certain formsof social activity and commitment in the political field, as a way of defendingand promoting the value of life in our ever more complex and pluralisticsocieties. Individuals, families, groups and associations, albeit for differentreasons and in different ways, all have a responsibility for shaping societyand developing cultural, economic, political and legislative projects which,with respect for all and in keeping with democratic principles, will contributeto the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognizedand protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced.

This task is the particular responsibility of civilleaders. Called to serve the people and the common good, they have a duty tomake courageous choices in support of life, especially through legislativemeasures. In a democratic system, where laws and decisions are made on thebasis of the consensus of many, the sense of personal responsibility in theconsciences of individuals invested with authority may be weakened. But no onecan ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has alegislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer toGod, to his or her own conscience and to the whole of society for choices whichmay be contrary to the common good. Although laws are not the only means ofprotecting human life, nevertheless they do play a very important and sometimesdecisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour. I repeat oncemore that a law which violates an innocent person's natural right to life isunjust and, as such, is not valid as a law. For this reason I urgently appealonce more to all political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding thedignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of society.

The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount aneffective legal defence of life in pluralistic democracies, because of thepresence of strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time,certain that moral truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in everyconscience, the Church encourages political leaders, starting with those whoare Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking intoaccount what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment ofa just order in the defence and promotion of the value of life. Here it must benoted that it is not enough to remove unjust laws. The underlying causes ofattacks on life have to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper supportfor families and motherhood. A family policy must be the basis and drivingforce of all social policies. For this reason there need to be set in placesocial and political initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of truefreedom of choice in matters of parenthood. It is also necessary to rethinklabour, urban, residential and social service policies so as to harmonizeworking schedules with time available for the family, so that it becomeseffectively possible to take care of children and the elderly.

91 Today an important part ofpolicies which favour life is the issue of population growth. Certainly publicauthorities have a responsibility to "intervene to orient the demographyof the population".114 But such interventions must always takeinto account and respect the primary and inalienable responsibility of marriedcouples and families, and cannot employ methods which fail to respect theperson and fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life of everyinnocent human being. It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, letalone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization andabortion in order to regulate births. The ways of solving the populationproblem are quite different. Governments and the various international agenciesmust above all strive to create economic, social, public health and culturalconditions which will enable married couples to make their choices aboutprocreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility. They must thenmake efforts to ensure "greater opportunities and a fairer distribution ofwealth so that everyone can share equitably in the goods of creation. Solutionsmust be sought on the global level by establishing a true economy of communionand sharing of goods, in both the national and internationalorder".115 This is the only way to respect the dignity of personsand families, as well as the authentic cultural patrimony of peoples.

Service of the Gospel of life is thus an immense andcomplex task. This service increasingly appears as a valuable and fruitful areafor positive cooperation with our brothers and sisters of other Churches andecclesial communities, in accordance with the practical ecumenism which theSecond Vatican Council authoritatively encouraged. 116 It also appearsas a providential area for dialogue and joint efforts with the followers ofother religions and with all people of good will. No single person or group hasa monopoly on the defence and promotion of life. These are everyone's task and responsibility.On the eve of the Third Millennium, the challenge facing us is an arduous one:only the concerted efforts of all those who believe in the value of life canprevent a setback of unforeseeable consequences for civilization.

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