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Letter on the Sanctity of Life

Final Letter of Terence Cardinal Cooke

Cardinal Cooke, whose cause for canonization continues to move forward, died on October 6, 1983. In the course of his illness, he wrote the following letter to the people of the Archdiocese of New York, to be read the weekend of October 8-9. It is a letter on the sanctity of the gift of life.

October 9, 1983

Dear Friends in Christ:

How often we speak of " the gift of life," God's "gift of life" to us, His sons and daughters. What a beautiful phrase! How filled with meaning it is! In the Book of Genesis, we read of the origin of this gift: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."

It is at times when life is threatened - such as times of serious illness - that the Lord gives us a special grace to appreciate "the gift of life" more deeply as an irreplaceable blessing which only God can give from conception until death and at every moment between, it is the Lord Our God Who gives us life, and we, who are His creatures, should cry out with joy and thanksgiving for this precious gift.

We are made in God's image and likeness, and this fact gives a unique dimension to "the gift of life." We have even more reason to be grateful. It is tragic that in our time, concepts which are disastrous to the well-being of God's human family--abortion, euthanasia and infanticide--are falsely presented as useful and even respectable solutions to human family and social problems. Human life is sometimes narrowly viewed in terms of being inconvenient or unwanted, unproductive or lacking arbitrarily imposed human criteria.

From the depths of my being, I urge you to reflect on this anti-life, anti-child, anti-human view of life and to oppose with all your strength the deadly technologies of life-destruction which daily result in the planned death of the innocent and the helpless. Together we must search for ways to demonstrate this conviction in our daily lives and in our public institutions. In doing so, we must never be discouraged or give up. Too much is at stake - "the gift of life" itself.

The "gift of life," God's special gift, is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at these times, human life gains extra splendor as it requires our special care, concern and reverence. It is in and through the weakest of human vessels that the Lord continues to reveal the power of His love.

For the last ten years, I have served as Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities in the United States. With God's help, I have tried to encourage and promote a Respect Life attitude throughout our nation. I have pleaded with you to pray and to be active in the many efforts for the enhancement and the protection of human life at every stage of existence.

In October, as we observe Respect Life Month, I call on you to rededicate your efforts for the sanctity of all human life and to work to counteract the contemporary threats to life. I urge you to increase and to strengthen the programs in our parishes and communities for the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, the rejected, the homeless, the suffering, the unwanted, the unborn. I ask you to focus attention again on the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life activities and on the three elements of education, pastoral care and public policy which are necessary if we are to work for and defend the most defenseless members of society.

At this grace-filled time of my life, as I experience suffering in union with Jesus Our Lord and Redeemer, I offer gratitude to Almighty God for giving me the opportunity to continue my apostolate on behalf of life. I thank each one of you, my sisters and brothers in the Archdiocese of New York and throughout our nation, for what you have done and will do on behalf of human life. May we never yield to indifference or claim helplessness when innocent human life is threatened or when human rights are denied.

With you, I entrust our efforts to the care of Our Lady who, from the moment of her Immaculate Conception to the present, has been the refuge for the poorest and most forgotten among God's people. I assure you of a special share in the prayerful offerings of my sufferings to the Father, in union with Jesus and through the Spirit of Love Who is ours in abundance.

May God bless you always and give you His peace.

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Terence Cardinal Cooke
Archbishop of New York


P.S. Please read this letter at all the Masses on Sunday, October 9th, including the anticipated Mass on Saturday, October 8th.

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