God calls people to uphold the sanctity of life, to reverence human dignity, and to defend the rights of the unborn, two internationally-known priests emphasized during a Dec. 2 conference on "The Gospel of Life-All for Jesus" at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis.
Father Frank Pavone of Port Chester, N.Y., national director of Priests for Life, and Benedictine Father Matthew Habiger from Gaithersburg, Md., the president of Human Life International, challenged prolife supporters to communicate the Holy Father's 11th encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae, " to an ever-wider audience.
" 'The Gospel of Life' is simply the Gospel," Father Pavone said in a discussion of how the papal encyclical is a call to holiness. Christians must be pro-life, he said, because to believe in Christ's teachings means to believe in life.
Catholics, as a eucharistic people, celebrate the victory of life over death each time they participate in Mass, Father Pavone said. "The Eucharist is a sacrament of faith, life, unity, and love."
Just as the eucharistic host is not too small to be God, Father Pavone said, a preborn baby just conceived is not too small to be a human being worthy of life outside the womb.
"God is in the business of destroying death," he said. "Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, the victory of eternal life over death is advanced that much further for everyone throughout the world because all the power of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ is unleashed upon the world. Christ is alive!"
Tragically, Father Pavone said, Christ's loving words "This is my body," which are celebrated with reverence during eucharistic liturgies, are the same pro-choice words expressed by women who are abortion advocates to defend the killing of pre-born babies.
Christians can be encouraged in their pro-life ministry, he said, because "our starting point (in the pro-life cause) is the victory that has been won over death by Christ, who is the life and who destroyed death by his death and resurrection. We have very powerful reasons and motives drawn from Revelation as to why we need to rid the world of the scourge of abortion and related evils. But those are not the only motives. We should be able to present the case for life and against abortion from many different perspectives."
Solid religious education and authentic evangelization will help end the tragedy of abortion, Father Pavone said. Adults and teen-agers can and must work to end abortion by supporting family members and friends experiencing crisis pregnancies.
"Abortion is the opposite of love," he said. "Abortion destroys the unity of the human family."
But this unity can be reclaimed and preserved through Christian action, he said. "How do we stop abortion? We stop abortion by teaching the mother and the father how to love. I tell teen-agers that a good friend helps friends do what is right, not what is wrong."
Every person of faith is called by God to work to change society's present culture of death into a culture of life, Father Habiger said during a discussion of the call to proclaim "The Gospel of Life."
"The times demand it," he said. "We must work together to retrieve something which has been lost, a sense of the sacredness of life. 'Evangelium Vitae' is a godsend for anyone in the pro-life movement because it articulates moral truths. The challenge now is to read it and put it to good use."
This papal encyclical is divided into four parts, he said, which address the incomparable worth of the human person, life as a gift, life as a responsibility, and life as a task to be promoted.
"The laity comprise 99 percent of the pro-life movement in the church," he said, "and the strategies for reconstructing the culture of life must come from the laity. 'Evangelium Vitae' was written for all of you. We have the benefit of the best thinking of the church. Our task is to articulate these clear, moral principles about human worth and dignity."
Mary, the God-bearer, inspires the faithful to reverence motherhood as a vocation of the highest level, he said. "Thus Mary becomes for all of the church the mother of believers, the mother of the living."
As people look ahead to the start of the third millennium, he said, they naturally look to the future with hope.
"What we should hope for is a greater realization of the kingdom of God on earth," Father Habiger said. "If we want the tragedies of hunger and war and the scourge of abortion to end, we must strive to work for the kingdom of God. We're all supposed to be a people of life, proclaiming a gospel of life."