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Political year offers opportunity to renew our efforts to build a Culture of Life

Bishop George L. Thomas
Bishop of Helena, Montana

Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 20, No. 10, October 15, 2004.

Outside the city of Cairo, Egypt, is a little known district known as Mukatam. A city of 500,000 people, it is an area of Cairo seldom seen by outsiders and never spoken of by tour guides or city officials. Mukatam is the town of rubbish collectors. In the words of Father Timothy Radcliff, O.P., Mukatam is characterized as one of the dirtiest, ugliest and most sordid districts on the face of the earth.

Each morning the inhabitants of Mukatam enter the city of Cairo to collect the refuse of the city using wooden donkey carts. The people of Mukatam bring the garbage back to their quarters and sift through it piece by piece to see what might be salvaged or recycled.

Behind the city of Mukatam, on the cliff that looms over the town, is a strange and startling image. A gifted artist has painted vast images that overlook this city of refuse. The magnificent images are paintings of Christ transfigured, resurrected, and ascending into heaven.

When they return each evening from collecting the garbage, the residents of Mukatam face these images of glory. The artist has used his gifts and talents to remind a struggling people that they are not only citizens of the earth, but also citizens of the kingdom of God. The images of Christ help them see their value and worth and lift their heads high with dignity and hope.

Since its humble beginnings in apostolic times, the Church has proclaimed a clear and consistent message throughout the world: Each person is formed and fashioned in the image and likeness of God. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." Jer. 1:5

Today however, we remember with sorrow the startling fact that during the past 31 years over 40 million lives have been destroyed in the United States alone, with the full approbation of the law. We recall with sadness that each year one in every four pregnancies ends in abortion. We mourn the startling reality that thousands of abortions are executed in the sixth month of pregnancy, when the child would likely survive if born.

It is vitally important that the Church promote a CULTURE OF LIFE in an era when human life is devalued, degraded, discounted or discarded onto the garbage heaps of our communities.

Pope John Paul II has written, "the human person is called to a fullness of life that exceeds this earthly life for it consists in sharing God’s own life." Therefore, following in the footsteps of Christ himself, the Catholic Church cherishes and proclaims the sacredness and worth of every person from the moment of conception until natural death. In a word, all human life is inherently valuable, and that value is neither conferred by the state nor dependent on one’s usefulness or the quality of one’s life.

In a time when abortion on demand continues to claim the lives of over 100,000 American children each month, the Catholic community has a special obligation to raise up our voice and vision. This is especially true as conflicted voters enter the polling places, struggling with their conscience as they face difficult choices in the upcoming election.

The perception of the seriousness of abortion has become obscured in our day. The widespread use of ambiguous terminology – "freedom of choice," "interruption of pregnancy" or other euphemisms – tend to hide its true nature. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical "The Gospel of Life," uses direct and unadorned language: "We are dealing with the murder of a human being at the very beginning of life, lacking even that minimal form of defense consisting of the cries and tears of a newborn baby." E.V. 58

As a Catholic community, we face a vast ocean of unfinished business. At a time when 1.3 million abortions take place annually within the confines of our nation, I ask you to join me in the intentional promotion of a Culture of Life.

• The Catholic community must do all in its power to promote the value of human life and the theology of the common good. This is vitally important even in our own household, since secular pollsters tout figures demonstrating that Catholic attitudes towards abortion on demand are scarcely different from the remainder of society. I encourage pastors, teachers and parents to promote a vision of human life that underscores the inherent value and worth of every person, particularly the unborn and the vulnerable.

• The Church and community must call forth viable political candidates who are steeped in the conviction that human life is sacred, and who are willing to demonstrate the moral courage to uphold this vision of human life in the public forum.

• We implore Catholic politicians and candidates to embrace the Culture of Life and avoid the fiction that their public posture and private morality can be separated. Acknowledging that you face untold societal and political pressure, we ask you to remain in communion with the Church and help transform society in the light of the Gospel.

• The Church must continue to work hand in hand with state and federal legislatures to support family friendly legislation that makes medical services, day care, transportation, housing and nutrition services more accessible and affordable for everyone, especially the poor.

• We must seek to restore the role of the Catholic Church as the premier adoption agency of the nation, especially at a time when thousands of childless couples seek adoption abroad.

• The Church has a special responsibility to offer compassionate care and counseling to women and families who have experienced the pain of abortion. Project Rachel is an example of such an outreach and healing ministry.

• We must continue to work ecumenically with pro-life groups, individual faith communities and social services agencies which provide assistance for women facing difficult or crisis pregnancy.

• We must support the medical and research communities in their efforts to increase the availability of advanced ultrasound equipment that makes it possible to appreciate the humanity of the unborn child.

• We must provide ongoing training and formation opportunities for physicians in the values of Catholic social teaching, especially the Church’s vision of human life.

Like the artist in the city of Mukatam, the Church must work tirelessly to raise the eyes, minds and hearts of humanity to see and embrace a new vision of human life. In this political year, we have before us a golden opportunity to build up a Culture of Life and to call forth courageous leaders to help both address and allay conditions that have relegated countless unborn children onto the garbage heaps of society.

Priests for Life
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