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Culture of Life

In a climate of immense confusion about the worth and meaning of human life, Pope John Paul II set out to make the Catholic position abundantly clear in the Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). He once again reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s consistent teaching about the sanctity and dignity of every human life and its prohibition against abortion and euthanasia and other attacks on human life. First published in 1995, the Gospel of Life remains one of the Catholic Church’s most important and comprehensive documents on bioethics.

John Paul II spent much of his pontificate encouraging everyone to defend and promote the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. Importantly in this encyclical he gave the Church and the pro-life movement some key insights into the ideologies underlying some of the threats to the life at this particular time in history and how they might be defeated.

Evangelium Vitae was not just theory for John Paul II but the product of his entire life experience and reflection. He had personally lived through crises of civilisation and experienced the horrors of and brutality of both the Nazis and the Communists. He believed that one of the great evils of our time was denial of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.

Cultural resistance was one of the best ways to ultimately defeat ideologies hostile to life, he believed. His own response was his decision to live “his life in defense of the inalienable dignity of every human person. He decided that his would be a life-for-life: a life lived so as to build a culture of life.”1 He urged us to join with all people of goodwill to become the people of life and for life and to bring about a transformation of our culture beginning with a renewal of life within our Christian communities. He contrasted this with the “culture of death.”

Since then, Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged us in this mission and reminded us that the Gospel of love and life is also always the Gospel of mercy. He calls us to be like the Good Samaritan and to have “a ‘heart which sees,’ a heart which sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.” Together we are called ‘to love and honour the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.’

For more information

1 George Wiegel, “John Paul II: A Life for Life” Human Life Review W/S 2002

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