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Message for World Day of Peace 1977

Pope Paul VI

"If you want peace, defend life"

(…) Every crime against life is a blow to Peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of the people, as often happens today, with horrible and often legal ease, as in the case of the suppression of incipient life, by abortion. Reasons such as the following are brought forward to justify abortion: abortion seeks to slow down the troublesome increase of the population, to eliminate beings condemned to malformation, social dishonor, proletarian misery, and so on; it seems rather to favor Peace than to harm it. But it is not so. The suppression of an incipient life, or one that is already born, violates above all the sacrosanct moral principle to which the concept of human existence must always have reference: human life is sacred from the first moment of its conception and until the last instant of its natural survival in time. It is sacred; what does this mean? It means that life must be exempt from any arbitrary power to suppress it; it must not be touched; it is worthy of all respect, all care, all dutiful sacrifice. For those who believe in God, it is spontaneous and instinctive and indeed a duty through the law of religion. And even for those who do not have this good fortune of admitting the protecting and vindicating hand of God upon all human beings, this same sense of the sacred -- that is, the untouchable and inviolable element proper to a living human existence -- is and must be something sensed by virtue of human dignity. Those who have had the misfortune, the implacable guilt, the ever renewed remorse at having deliberately suppressed a life know this and feel this. The voice of innocent blood cries out with heartrending insistence in the heart of the person who killed it. Inner Peace is not possible through selfish sophistries! And even if it is, a blow at Peace -- that is, at the general system that protects order, safe living in society, in a word, at Peace -- has been perpetrated: the individual life and Peace in general are always linked by an unbreakable relationship. If we wish progressive social order to be based upon intangible principles, let us not offend against it in the heart of its essential system: respect for human life. Even under this aspect Peace and life are closely bound together at the basis of order and civilization.

The discussion can continue by reviewing the hundred forms in which offences against life seem to be becoming normal behavior: where individual crime is organized to become collective, to ensure the silence and complicity of whole groups of citizens; to make private vendetta a vile collective duty, terrorism a phenomenon of legitimate political or social affirmation, police torture an effective means of public power no longer directed towards restoring order but towards imposing ignoble repression. It is impossible for peace to flourish where the safety of life is compromised in this way. Where violence rages, true peace ends. But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, Peace becomes the joyful and operative atmosphere of life in society.

The texts of international commitment for the protection of human rights, for the defense of children and for the safeguarding of fundamental human freedoms are proofs of our civil progress. They are the epic of Peace, in so far as they are the shield of Life. Are they complete? Are they observed? We all note that civilization is expressed in such declarations, and finds in them the guarantee of its own reality. This reality is full and glorious if these declarations are transfused into consciences and moral conduct; it is mocked and violated if they remain a dead letter.

Men and women, men and women of the last part of the twentieth century, you have signed the glorious charters of the human fullness you have achieved, provided such charters are true. You have sealed for history your moral condemnation, if they are documents of empty rhetorical wishes or juridical hypocrisy. The measure is there: in the equation between true Peace and the dignity of Life.

Accept our suppliant plea: that this equation should be fulfilled and that over it be raised a new pinnacle on the horizon of our civilization of Life and Peace -- the civilization, we say again, of love. ( ... )


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