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February 14, 2000

Your Eminence,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

1. First of all, I wish to thank the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, and the Pontifical Academy for Life for having planned and organized this commemorative day, on the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical "Evangelium Vitae." It takes place within the framework of celebrations of the Jubilee year and offers the opportunity to be in prayerful harmony with the pilgrimage I will make to the Holy Land next month to venerate the places where "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1, 14).

I greet Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo and I thank him for the sentiments he expressed to me earlier. I greet all of you, participating in this reflection on a document that I consider central to the whole of the Magisterium of my pontificate and in perfect continuity with the Encyclical "Humanae Vitae" of Pope Paul VI of venerable memory.

2. In the Encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," whose publication was preceded by an Extraordinary Consistory and a consultation of Bishops, I began with an outlook of hope for the future of humanity. I wrote: "To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love." (n.6).

Life, truth, love: these words are rich in suggestions stimulated by human commitment in the world. They are radical in the message of Jesus Christ, who is Way, Truth and Life, but are also impressed in the heart and aspirations of every man and every woman.

The experiences lived at the center of society, to which the Church has carried its message with renewed impetus in the course of these five years, highlights two facts: on one hand, the persistent difficulty that the message meets in a world that presents grave symptoms of violence and decadence; and on the other, the immutable validity of the message itself and the possibility of its social reception there where the community of believers, including also the sensibility of men of good will, courageously and uniformly expresses its commitment.

3. There are events that prove with growing clarity how policies and legislation that are contrary to life are leading society not only to moral but also to demographic and economic decline. Therefore, the message of the Encyclical could be presented not only as a true and authentic indication for moral rebirth, but also as a point of reference for civil salvation.

Consequently, there is no reason for the existence of a resigned mentality that leads to maintaining that laws that are contrary to the right to life -- laws that legalize abortion, euthanasia, sterilization, and the planning of births with methods contrary to life and the dignity of matrimony, present an inevitability and are, in addition, virtually a social necessity. On the contrary, they constitute a germ of corruption of society and its fundamentals.

Civil and moral conscience cannot accept this false inevitability, just as it does not accept the idea of the inevitability of wars and of inter-ethnic exterminations.

4. The chapters of the Encyclical that are concerned with the relationship between civil and moral laws merit great attention, because of the growing importance that those are destined to have in the healing of social life. We invite pastors, faithful and men of good will, especially policy-makers, to a renewed and harmonious commitment to the modification of unjust laws that legitimize and tolerate such violence.

Do not leave anything undone in the attempt to eliminate legalized crime or at least to limit the damage of such laws, keeping in mind the radical obligation to respect the right of every human being to life from conception to natural death, even if he is the last and least gifted.

5. But another field opens to the enterprise of the community of believers with full commitment to the defense of life: the pastoral and educational realm, on which one fourth of the encyclical concentrates, tracing concrete guidelines for the construction of a new culture of life. In these five years numerous initiatives have been started in dioceses and parishes, but much remains to be done.

A genuine pastoral plan for life cannot be simply delegated to specific movements, however meritorious, that operate in the sociopolitical field. It must always be an integral part of the ecclesial pastoral plan, which has the responsibility to carry forward the proclamation of the 'Gospel of life.' In order to implement it effectively, it is important to put both adequate educational plans in operation as well as concrete services and structures of welcome.

This presupposes the preparation of the pastoral agents in seminaries and institutes of Theology; it also requires the correct and harmonious teaching of morality in various forms of catechesis and the formation of consciences; finally, the setting up of specific services that will assist all persons in difficulty to find the necessary help.

Through harmonious educational action in families and schools, an effort will be made to have the services assume the value of a 'sign' or a message. As a community needs places of worship, the latter must feel the need to organize -- especially at the diocesan level -- educational and operative services to sustain human life, services that will be the fruit of charity and a sign of vitality.

6. The modification of laws cannot but be preceded and accompanied by modification of the mentality and customs on a vast scale, in a capillary and visible way. In this area the Church will leave no attempt undone; it will not accept negligence or silent culpability.

In a particular way I turn to youth, who are sensitive to the need to respect the values of the human body and, above all, the value of conceived life itself: may they be the first architects and beneficiaries of the work that will be carried out in the context of the pastoral of life.

I also renew the appeal I made in the Encyclical to the whole Church: to scientists and doctors, to educators and families, to those who work in the media and, in a special way, to the lawyers and legislators. It will be thanks to the commitment of all that the right to life will be able to find concrete application in this world where necessary goods, if well distributed, are not lacking. Only in this way will it be possible to overcome that silent and cruel choice by which the weakest are unjustly eliminated.

Every person of good will must feel called to mobilize for this great cause, and must be sustained by the conviction that every step taken in defense of the right to life and in the concrete promotion of it is a step toward peace and civility.

Trusting that this commemoration will inspire new and concrete impetus to commitment in defense of human life and in the spreading of the culture of life, I invoke over all of you, and those who join you in this delicate sector, the intercession of Mary, 'Dawn of the new world and Mother of the living' ("Evangelium Vitae" 105) and I impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.

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