The Defense of Life: The Great Cause of the Third
Intervention of His Eminence
Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo
17th World Conference on Love, Life and the Family
Human Life International
April 15, 1998
Dear brothers and sisters, this gathering in Houston of the 17th World
Conference on Love, Life, and the Family is a significant moment for each one of
you and for the pro-life, pro-family movement. Each one of you is here to learn
and to share of your own knowledge and experience. You are here, furthermore, to
strengthen one another in your commitment to bear witness to the dignity of
human life and the sanctity of the family. It is one thing to work day after day
in our own communities; it is quite another to come together with those who are
engaged in the same struggle throughout the world. We are reminded that we are
not alone, and that we have more than our own strength to rely on. I hope these
days will be a time to strengthen the unity among your various groups and to
commit yourselves to an ever more active collaboration.
You have come here, above all, to worship and to draw strength from the Holy
Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. Your conference is taking place within the
year designated by the Church as a time of special devotion to the Holy Spirit,
as we prepare for the dawn of the Third Millennium. It is a time to renew our
confidence that He, who breathed over the waters at the dawn of creation and
brought life out of death and order out of chaos, will again breathe on the
world and on the consciences of all men and women, and, out of the ruins of a
culture of death, bring about a new and glorious culture of Life! Let us hope
for no less than this! Let us constantly cry out, "Lord, send out Your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth!"(1)
Life is the Great Cause for the Third Millennium
The defense of human life is, indeed, the great cause for the Third
Millennium. This is true for many reasons, which our Holy Father has pointed out
in Evangelium Vitae.
The Church is always attentive and responsive to the signs of the times, and in
our day we see a "conspiracy against life," a "war of the powerful against the
weak."(2) There have always been attacks against human life, ever since the
slaughter of Abel by Cain. But in our day, not only are countless defenseless
children being destroyed systematically throughout the world, but the fact that
this destruction has been declared to be a "right" which is legally defended
gives the evil a more urgent character.
We are quite aware of the nature of these evils, but how is our response to
them related to the coming of the Third Millennium?
The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is a Jubilee celebration of the coming of
Jesus Christ. For two thousand years, the world has heard the message of the
first Christmas, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord!"(3) For two thousand years, humanity has been united to
Divinity in the person of Christ, and the destiny of the human person has been
revealed more clearly than ever before: the gift of eternal life. "To him who
is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne!" (4) For
two thousand years, the Church has proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the
Resurrection and the Life, and that His coming brings us life to the full.
To celebrate this great Jubilee, therefore, is to celebrate the gift of Life.
To live through the start of the Third Millennium of the Gospel of Christ is to
live through the start of the Third Millennium of the Gospel of Life. There is
only one, unique, indivisible Gospel: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the
Gospel of Life. To stand with Christ, therefore, is to stand with life, and
therefore "rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is
really a rejection of Christ" (5). To stand with Christ, furthermore, is to
proclaim Him. To celebrate 2000 years of the Gospel is to commit oneself to
spread that Gospel. It is therefore to commit oneself never to be silent about
the dignity of human life!
The One who came two thousand years ago came to raise human beings to the
heights of heaven. It is impossible to profess this belief, and at the same time
to condone the trampling down and destruction of the same human beings. The
celebration of the Millennium, therefore, commits us again to "the
inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life." (6)
Christians accept this great cause in many arenas and circumstances of their
The cause is taken up in families
The great cause of life is taken up in individual families. The family is the
sanctuary of life, the place where life is to be most welcomed, nurtured, and
protected. The Holy Father has pointed out that the fact that one reason why
crimes like abortion and euthanasia are particularly evil is that they are
committed within the very sanctuary of life, the family.
The cause of life cannot be advanced without building up strong families.
There can be no life without family and no family without life! How inspiring it
is to see the efforts of so many parents actively exercising what is their
primary and inalienable responsibility: the education of their children in the
truths about love, life, and the family! This responsibility can never be
entirely entrusted to others. (7) Parents are the first to teach their children
who God is and how to pray to Him. They are the first to teach them the wonders
of the world and of the faith. They are, indeed, the first to teach, by word and
example, that human life is sacred, no matter how frail or repulsive it may be.
There should always be a family dimension to the work of your many and
various groups. Continue to seek ways to assist families to impart that
reverence for life which it is so necessary to regain in our day. Children are
particularly open and ready to receive the message that all life is sacred. They
know better than anyone that the weak need to be protected from the strong, and
their sense of fairness is very keen. Children also play a key role in helping
one another learn these lessons, and in sanctifying their parents within the
domestic Church which is the family.
The cause is taken up in schools
A very large arena for the advancement of the Gospel of Life in the new
Millennium is in the schools. The efforts of the Church to impart the faith, and
to teach a vision of the world based in the truths of that faith, find an
important expression in the apostolate of teaching, whether in schools or in
These programs provide an essential opportunity for imparting the truth about
the dignity of human life. Movements dedicated to life and family can play a
role here by encouraging schools in the development of curricula which, for
example, are not silent about the evil of abortion. It is ironic that at a time
when the Magisterium is so clear about the urgency of the issue of life, some
should be afraid to speak of it to the young! It is these very young people who,
sad to say, easily become the target for the propaganda of the abortion
Our times provide a challenging opportunity for the creativity and courage of
believers who work in the field of public education. It is possible and
necessary to bear witness to the truth about life and family in the midst of a
system which strongly resists such witness. All of us can encourage those who
work to reach the young people in public schools to instill in them a renewed
reverence for life.
The cause is taken up in the many aspects of the Life of the Church
The great cause of life, because it is at the heart of the Gospel, cannot be
absent from any of the facets of the Church's life and activity, whether at the
level of the parish, the diocese, the nation, or the Church Universal. The
truths of the faith and the demands of moral life interpenetrate one another in
a way that resists being put in separate and unrelated categories. Instead, they
form a living unity, because they reflect the person of the Lord Jesus, who is
Each ministry of the Church, therefore, is called to play its part in the
great cause of Life. We have already mentioned the ministry of teaching. There
is also the liturgical life of the parish, in which the gift of life is
celebrated and proclaimed in all its stages, and in moments both of joy and
sorrow. The theme of the defense of life against the attacks of our day is
easily brought out, for example, in the preparation of those who will serve as
sponsors for baptism and Confirmation. They are called to encourage new
Christians to "bear witness to Christ in all they say and do."(8) Certainly this
includes speaking up for life.
The many works of social justice on a parish and diocesan level cannot ignore
the most fundamental social injustice of our time, the negation of the very
right to life. There is no basis for separating, much less opposing, the defense
of life and the concept of "social justice." To defend life is the primary work
of justice in our day.
In the day to day life of the parish, the preaching of the clergy is to be a
fundamental source of nourishment for the faithful. At the conclusion of the
Second World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families in Rio de Janeiro -- a
great event in which a number of you participated -- the participants
unanimously ratified the Final Declaration, which says, in part, "We call on
the clergy to build up the spiritual family of the Church through parish
ministry to families, which includes teaching and preaching on the dignity of
human life, marriage, and the family." (9). Who among us does not
want to hear clear, vigorous, and compassionate preaching on these most critical
issues of our day? This is one of the reasons that the Pontifical Council for
the Family presents seminars to bishops, priests, and seminarians in various
parts of the world on the topics of Family and Bioethics.
It is helpful for you to know of the many initiatives of the Pontifical
Council for the Family, which has been entrusted by the Holy Father with two
fundamental areas of responsibility: the great themes of life and family.
According to the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, this Dicastery
"promotes pastoral attention to families and favors their rights and dignity in
the Church and in civil society so that they can better fulfill their own
functions...It also supports and coordinates initiatives for the defense of
human life from conception, and in favor of responsible procreation" (10).
In carrying out these mandates, the Council has produced many important
documents on such themes as the defense of life, the preparation for marriage,
and the truth and meaning of human sexuality. It also accompanied the
preparation of the great encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
Among many other initiatives, the Pontifical Council for the Family
coordinated the First and Second World Meetings of the Holy Father with
Families, and is now preparing for the third, which will occur in Rome in the
year 2000. We hope, in fact, that as many of you as possible will plan to come
to Rome for that occasion, to personally join the Vicar of Christ in
proclaiming, together with families from every continent, that Life is indeed
the great cause of the Third Millennium, and that is can flourish only when the
The cause is taken up before governments
The great cause of Life must also constantly be taken before the powers of
government, because government exists precisely to protect the people. In
today’s "conspiracy against life," not only do we have the sad fact of the
destruction of life, but we have governments declaring this destruction,
especially in the case of abortion and increasingly in the case of euthanasia,
to be a legal "right." We need to proclaim together again and again the words of
our Holy Father, "Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law
can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws;
instead, there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious
The foundation of these clear and strong words is the apostolic injunction,
"We must obey God rather than men."(12) Certainly, human laws are to be
obeyed, but human law must obey the Law of the One who made us. You will recall
the passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which our Lord is asked whether it is licit
to pay taxes to Caesar. He asked to see the coin, and said, "Whose image is
on this coin, and whose inscription?" "Caesar’s," they told him. The Lord
replied, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s."
(13) We must not miss the deep significance of this passage. The coin belongs to
Caesar because it bears the image of Caesar. What, then, belongs to God? ...all
that which bears the image of God, and this means every human person including
Caesar himself! Caesar and his authority belong to God. Caesar, therefore, must
obey God! The rulers of our day must obey God. There is no court, no Congress,
no president and no power anywhere on earth that can authorize a single act of
violence against the innocent human person!
We are all aware that there are people being held in prison today, not
because they have done any violence, but rather because they have resisted
unjust laws which allow abortion. There are others who, although not in prison,
are put on trial and under examination for peacefully bearing witness to the
sanctity of life. We call for an end to this misuse of the justice system.
We have also seen an example recently in Germany of how the Church must
preserve her uncompromising stand for life in the presence of laws which may
give rise to ambiguity and confusion. According to German law, counseling
centers issue a certificate to women who have been counseled. This certificate
is then necessary to obtain an abortion. While the Church is committed to
counsel women to help them choose life, the issuing of these certificates made
it look as though the Church were taking part in the process of obtaining an
abortion. The Holy Father, therefore, after careful consideration, issued a
letter in which, after praising the commitment of the Church in Germany to the
defense of life, he expressed his decision in this matter: "After careful
consideration of all the arguments, I cannot avoid the conclusion that there is
an ambiguity here which obscures the clear and uncompromising witness of the
Church and her counseling centers. I would therefore urgently ask you, dear
Brothers, to find a way so that a certificate of this kind will no longer be
issued at Church counseling centers or those connected with the Church. I urge
you, however, to ensure that in any event the Church maintains an effective
presence in the counseling of women seeking help"(14).
We take special note of his insistence on preserving the clarity and vigor of
the Church's witness to the Gospel of Life. This purpose and motivation are what
stand behind both the decision not to allow the "certificates" to be issued, and
the vigorous call to both continue and increase the Church's assistance to women
tempted to abort. What unites these two aspects of the Holy Father's position is
precisely the fact that love is indivisible. The Gospel of Life calls for equal
and uncompromising love for the woman and the child. We cannot love one without
loving the other. Therefore, the witness of an absolute refusal to do anything
to permit an abortion to happen is, at the same time, exactly what the mother of
that child needs to help her to do what is right, and to avoid the destructive
impact of abortion not only on her child, but on her.
This letter will undoubtedly have its repercussions in other nations where
the problems are similar and where there could be the risk of blinding public
opinion in the sense that the Church might give the appearance of not opposing
iniquitous laws, or that one could proceed to abort after fulfilling some
requirements that are not very clear. The Letter states, "The task of
defending life in all its phases allows no half measures. Consequently, the
Church’s teaching and way of acting in the question of abortion must, in their
essential content, be the same in all countries"(15).
The cause is taken up by many diverse groups
As we advance the cause of life into the Third Millennium, we also need to be
deeply conscious of our obligations to one another. The Church is one body with
many members. The movements for life and family consist of many diverse groups,
with different areas of specialty and different strategies. Evangelium Vitae
reminds us, "No single person or group has a monopoly on the defense and
promotion of life. These are everyone’s task and responsibility."(16)
I therefore wish to encourage you to seek an ever deeper spirit of harmony
and cooperation among pro-life groups. One group should never see another as a
threat, but rather should rejoice that others are joining the cause. It is much
like the case of the mother and her unborn child. If she sees the child as a
threat, an unnecessary hostility exists between mother and child, where there
should be unity instead. So, within the movement that defends life, there should
be a deep unity...not a unity that collapses legitimately diverse groups into
one, but rather a unity based on mutual esteem, active cooperation, and fervent
The cause is taken up in our own hearts
The great cause of the Third Millennium, the cause of life, is taken up above
all in our own hearts. In order to convert the world, we ourselves must be
converted. The entire Church is on a pilgrimage of ever-deepening conversion,
ever more profound assimilation of the truths about the human person and the
gift of love, life, and the family.
Unless this pilgrimage is a reality in our own hearts, our efforts will be
without fruit. If, on the other hand, we seek first the Kingdom of God and His
righteousness, all these other things will be given us besides.
My dear brothers and sisters, you have come to this Conference with a deep
faith and an inspiring perseverance in the work that must be done. I am grateful
to God for your commitment. I ask you to carry out your commitment with deep
peace and with the joy that the world can neither give nor take away. Christ is
Risen! The victory of Life has been placed in your hands! Go forth to proclaim
it, to celebrate it, and to serve it, for Life indeed is the great cause of the
New Millennium. God bless you.
1. Psalm 104.
2. Evangelium Vitae, 12.
3. Luke 2:11
4. Revelation 3:21
5. Evangelium Vitae, 104.
6. Evangelium Vitae, 27.
7. See The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Pontifical Council
for the Family, 1995.
8. See Ritual of Baptism, Final blessings
9. Rio Declaration, n.3.13.
10. Pastor Bonus, art.139,141.
11. Evangelium Vitae, 73
12. Acts 5:29
13. Matthew 22:20-21
14. Letter of Pope John Paul II to the German Hierarchy, January 11, 1998,
15. Ibid., n.5
16. Evangelium Vitae, 91