A Celebration of Life
John Paul ll -- World Youth Day-Denver, 1993
"At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of life has
been put into your hands," Pope John Paul II told hundreds of thousands of World
Youth Day participants in his homily Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption,
during the eucharistic celebration at Cherry Creek State Park in Denver. "The
eighth World Youth Day is a celebration of life," said the Pope. He commented
that the young people gathered in Denver had had, through the sacraments and
through the unity and friendship created among so many, "a real and transforming
experience of the new life which only Christ can give." He added, "You, young
pilgrims, have also shown that you understand that Christ's gift of life is not
for you alone. You have become more conscious of your vocation and mission in
the church and in the world." The Pope described a "culture of death" which
"battles against life." "Its effects," he said, are "injustice, discrimination,
exploitation, deceit, violence. In every age, a measure of their apparent
success is the death of the innocents." Continuing a theme heard in a number of
his Denver addresses during the Aug. 11-15 World Youth Day events, the Pope said
that "vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is
wrong." These people, he added, "are at the mercy of those with the power to
'create' opinion and impose it on others." The text of the pope's homily
"God who is mighty has done great things for me" (Lk. 1:49).
1. Today the church finds herself, with Mary, on the threshold of the house
of Zechariah in Ain-Karim. With new life stirring within her, the virgin of
Nazareth hastened there immediately after the fiat of the annunciation to be of
help to her cousin Elizabeth. It was Elizabeth who first recognized the "great
things" which God was doing in Mary. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth
marveled that the mother of her Lord should come to her (cf. Lk. 1:43). With
deep insight into the mystery, she declared: "Blest is she who believed that the
Lord's words to her would be fulfilled" (Lk. 1:45). With her soul full of humble
gratitude to God, Mary replied with a hymn of praise: "God who is mighty has
done great things for me and holy is his name" (Lk. 1:49).
On this feast the church celebrates the culmination of the "great things"
which God has done in Mary: her glorious assumption into heaven. And throughout
the church the same hymn of thanksgiving, the Magnificat, rings out as it did
for the first time at Ain-Karim: All generations call you blessed (cf Lk. 1:48).
2. Gathered at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, which remind us that
Jerusalem too was surrounded by hills (cf. Ps. 124:2) and that Mary had gone up
into those hills (cf. Lk. 1:39), we are here to celebrate Mary's "going up" to
the heavenly Jerusalem, to the threshold of the eternal temple of the most holy
Trinity. Here in Denver, at the World Youth Day, the Catholic sons and daughters
of America, together with others "from every tribe and tongue, people and
nation" (Rv. 5:9), join all the generations since who have cried out: God has
done great things for you, Mary -- and for all of us, members of his pilgrim
people! (cf. Lk. 1:49).
With my heart full of praise for the Queen of Heaven, the sign of hope and
source of comfort on our pilgrimage of faith to "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb.
12:22), I greet all of you who are present at this solemn liturgy. It is a
pleasure for me to see so many priests, religious and lay faithful from Denver,
from the state of Colorado, from all parts of the United States and from so many
countries of the world, who have joined the young people of the World Youth Day
to honor the definitive victory of grace in Mary, the mother of the Redeemer.
The eighth World Youth Day is a celebration of life. This gathering has been
the occasion of a serious reflection on the words of Jesus Christ: "I came that
they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn. 10:10). Young people from every
corner of the world, in ardent prayer you have opened your hearts to the truth
of Christ's promise of new life. Through the sacraments, especially penance and
the Eucharist, and by means of the unity and friendship created among so many,
you have had a real and transforming experience of the new life which only
Christ can give. You, young pilgrims, have also shown that you understand that
Christ's gift of life is not for you alone. You have become more conscious of
your vocation and mission in the church and in the world. For me, our meeting
has been a deep and moving experience of your faith in Christ, and I make my own
the words of St. Paul: "I have great confidence in you, I have great pride in
you; I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy" (2 Cor. 7:4).
These are not words of empty praise. I am confident that you have grasped the
scale of the challenge that lies before you and that you will have the wisdom
and courage to meet that challenge. So much depends on you.
3. This marvelous world - so loved by the Father that he sent his only Son
for its salvation (cf. Jn. 3:17) - is the theater of a never-ending battle being
waged for our dignity and identity as free, spiritual beings. This struggle
parallels the apocalyptic combat described in the first reading of this Mass.
Death battles against life: A "culture of death" seeks to impose itself on our
desire to live and live to the full. There are those who reject the light of
life, preferring "the fruitless works of darkness" (Eph. 5:11). Their harvest is
injustice, discrimination, exploitation, deceit, violence. In every age, a
measure of their apparent success is the death of the innocents. In our own
century, as at no other time in history, the "culture of death" has assumed a
social and institutional form of legality to justify the most horrible crimes
against humanity: genocide, "final solutions," "ethnic cleansings" and the
massive "taking of lives of human beings even before they are born or before
they reach the natural point of death" (cf. Dominum et Vivificatem 57).
Today's reading from the Book of Revelation presents the woman surrounded by
hostile forces. The absolute nature of their attack is symbolized in the object
of their evil intention: the child, the symbol of new life. The "dragon" (Rv.
12:3), the "ruler of this world" (Jn. 12:3 1) and the "father of lies" (Jn.
8:44), relentlessly tries to eradicate from human hearts the sense of gratitude
and respect for the original, extraordinary and fundamental gift of God: human
life itself. Today that struggle has become increasingly direct.
4. Dear friends, this gathering in Denver on the theme of life should lead us
to a deeper awareness of the internal contradiction present in a part of the
culture of the modern "metropolis."
When the founding fathers of this great nation enshrined certain inalienable
rights in the Constitution - and something similar exists in many countries and
in many international declarations - they did so because they recognized the
existence of a "law" - a series of rights and duties - engraved by the Creator
on each person's heart and conscience.
In much of contemporary thinking, any reference to a "law" guaranteed by the
Creator is absent. There remains only each individual's choice of this or that
objective as convenient or useful in a given set of circumstances. No longer is
anything considered intrinsically "good" and "universally binding." Rights are
affirmed but, because they are without any reference to an objective truth, they
are deprived of any solid basis (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
"Threats to Human Life," I, iii). Vast sectors of society are confused about
what is right and what is wrong, and are at the mercy of those with the power to
"create" opinion and impose it on others.
The family especially is under attack. And the sacred character of human life
denied. Naturally, the weakest members of society are the most at risk: the
unborn children, the sick, the handicapped, the old, the poor and unemployed,
the immigrant and refugee, the South of the world!
5. Young pilgrims, Christ needs you to enlighten the world and to show it the
"path to life" (Ps. 16:11). The challenge is to make the church's yes to life
concrete and effective. The struggle will be long, and it needs each one of you.
Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your
fortitude at the service of life!
Have no fear. The outcome of the battle for life is already decided, even
struggle goes on against great odds and with much suffering. This certainty
is what the second reading declares: "Christ is now raised from the dead, the
first fruits of those who have fallen asleep ... so in Christ all
will come to life again" (1 Cor. 15:2022). The paradox of the Christian message
is this: Christ - the head - has already conquered sin and death. Christ in his
body - the pilgrim people of God - continually suffers the onslaught of the Evil
One and all the evil which sinful humanity is capable of.
6. At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of life has
been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the
earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great apostle Paul, you too
must feel the full urgency of the task: "Woe to me if I do not evangelize" (1
Cor. 9:16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The church needs
your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the
Gospel of life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people's hearts and
the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and
love. Now more than ever, in a world that is often without light and without the
courage of noble ideals, people need the fresh, vital spirituality of the
Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places like the
first apostles, who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the
squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the
Gospel (cf. Rom. 1: 16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (cf. Mt.
10:27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living
in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern
"metropolis." It is you who must "go out into the byroads" (Mt 22:9) and invite
everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The
Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never
meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people
may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father (cf. Mt. 5:15-16).
Jesus went in search of the men and women of his time. He engaged them in an
open and truthful dialogue, whatever their condition. As the good Samaritan of
the human family, he came close to people to heal them of their sins and of the
wounds which life inflicts, and to bring them back to the Father's house. Young
people of World Youth Day, the Church asks you to go, in the power of the Holy
Spirit, to those who are near and those who are far away. Share with them the
freedom you have found in Christ. People thirst for genuine inner freedom. They
yearn for the life which Christ came to give in abundance. The world at the
approach of a new millennium, for which the whole church is preparing, is like a
field ready for the harvest. Christ needs laborers ready to work in his
vineyard. May you, the Catholic young people of the world, not fail him. In your
hands, carry the cross of Christ. On your lips, the words of life. In your
hearts, the saving grace of the Lord.
7. At her assumption, Mary was "taken up to life" - body and soul. She is
already a part of "the first fruits" (1 Cor. 15:20) of our Savior's redemptive
death and resurrection. The Son took his human life from her; in return he gave
her the fullness of communion in divine life. She is the only other being in
whom the mystery has already been completely accomplished. In Mary the final
victory of life over death is already a reality. And, as the Second Vatican
Council teaches: "In the most holy Virgin the church has already reached the
perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle" (Lumen Gentium,
65). In and through the church we too have hope of "an inheritance which is
imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us" (cf. 1 Pt. 1:4).
You are blessed, O Mary! Mother of the eternal Son born of your virgin womb,
you are full of grace (cf. Lk. 1:28). You have received the abundance of life
(cf. Jn. 10:10) as no one else among the descendants of Adam and Eve. As the
most faithful "hearer of the Word" (cf. Lk. 11:28), you not only treasured and
pondered this mystery in your heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51), but you observed it in
your body and nourished it by the self-giving love with which you surrounded
Jesus throughout his earthly life. As mother of the church, you guide us still
from your place in heaven and intercede for us. You lead us to Christ, "the way,
and the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6), and help us to increase in holiness by
conquering sin (cf. Lumen Gentium, 65).
8. The liturgy presents you, Mary, as the woman clothed with the sun (cf. Rv.
12:1). But you are even more splendidly clothed with that divine light which can
become the life of all those created in the image and likeness of God himself:
"This life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn. 1:4-5).
O woman clothed with the sun, the youth of the world greet you with so much
love; they come to you with all the courage of their young hearts. Denver has
helped them to become more conscious of the life which your divine son has
We are all witnesses of this.
These young, people now know that life is more powerful than the forces of
death; they know that the truth is more powerful than darkness; that love is
stronger than death (cf. Song 6:8).
Your spirit rejoices, O Mary, and our spirit rejoices with you because the
Mighty One has done great things for you and for us - for all these young people
gathered here in Denver and holy is his name!
His mercy is from age to age. We rejoice, Mary, we rejoice with you, Virgin
assumed into heaven. The Lord has done great things for you! The Lord has done
great things for us! Alleluia. Amen.
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statements of the Pope on Abortion