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December 19, 1993

Dignity of person begins at conception

Before the prayer of the Angelus on Sunday, 19 December, the Holy Father said to the faithful in St Peter's Square "in human conception one is not witnessing a purely biological fact, but the moment from which a man comes into existence". Here is a translation of the Pope's reflection, which was given in Italian.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. A few days before Christmas the liturgy sets before us again the well-known, evocative dialogue of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel unfolded the mystery of the Incarnation before Mary's eyes: "Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a Son and you shall name him Jesus" (Lk 1:31).

In the Virgin's womb, the Son of God becomes man. From the very moment of conception, the eternal ego of the Word, always in dialogue with the Father through the ineffable trinitarian communion, makes his own the human nature that took flesh within his Mother's immaculate body. It is this profound unity of humanity and divinity in the person of the Word that enables the Church to give Mary the title of Theotókos: Mother of God. Mary truly is, as the angel described her, "full of grace".

2. The Son of God's conception in her womb is certainly a unique, unrepeatable event, but indirectly it also sheds light on the dignity of man, of every human being, from the very moment he is conceived in his mother's womb.

As we prepare to celebrate the Year of the Family, which begins next Sunday, 26 December, the Feast of the Holy Family, I wish to pause and reflect on the grandeur of this mystery. In the conception of a human being one does not witness a mere biological fact, but the moment from which a man comes into existence. In fact, science demonstrates that in the fruit of conception "from the first instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a man, this individual man with his characteristic aspects already well determined" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, n. 13: AAS 66 [1974], p. 738). From this embryonic existence to full physical and spiritual maturity, there is a continuous organic development. This evident orientation of the embryo towards its future makes it impossible for it to be treated as mere biological matter, since, in God's plan for man, the precise biological "individuality" received in the maternal womb is also welcomed by the omnipotent love of God who intervenes to endow it with an immortal soul. Indeed, this soul, as the principle of the person, is immediately created by God (cf. Pius XII Humani generis, DS 3896). As a result, surrounded by the warmth of his mother's womb and by God's creative love, the human being, although extremely fragile, should be paid the respect due to every human person.

3. Holy Virgin, you experienced the sublime mystery of motherhood as no other woman in the world. While faith enabled you to welcome the Lord's Word, your body made itself a fertile place for his incarnation.

O Mother, accompany us toward an ever deeper perception of the dignity of every human being. Grant a clear awareness of it especially to the men and women called to the lofty vocation of parenthood, so that they may always be "sanctuaries of life" through the miracle of giving birth, entrusted by God to the authenticity of their faithful love and watchful responsibility.

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

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