On March 25, 2020, the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the church celebrated the 25th anniversary of the papal encyclical “Evangelium vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”). This prophetic document, written by Pope St. John Paul II, reaffirmed the church’s constant teaching on the value and inviolability of every human life.
In this encyclical, the Holy Father explains that the “The Gospel of Life” is at the heart of Jesus’ saving message to the world. Through the incarnation of Christ, God reveals to us the dignity of all human life. Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, reflecting his glory and his imprint. We are therefore called to “respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person’s life.”
“The Gospel of Life” highlights the special and particular role of women in bearing the gift of life to the world. Pope John Paul II offers heartfelt thanks to these “heroic mothers,” who, placing their trust in God, “devote themselves to their own family without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of themselves.”
Pope John Paul II also outlines the many challenges that expectant mothers may face, including lack of support from the father, financial strains, concerns about her own health or that of her child, and pressures from family and friends. The Holy Father recognized that an “unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb.” For this reason, it is particularly important that the church come alongside mothers, offering them encouragement, assistance and support.
Through Christ, we have received the gift of the gospel of life in its fullness. As members of the church, we are the people of life and for life. It is our duty to proclaim the truth of “The Gospel of Life” to the world, for “to proclaim Jesus is itself to proclaim life.” Pope John Paul II tasked us with building a culture of life to combat the forces at work in the culture of death. He challenged us:
“With great openness and courage, we need to question how widespread is the culture of life today among individual Christians, families, groups and communities in our dioceses. With equal clarity and determination, we must identify the steps we are called to take in order to serve life in all its truth.”
In honor of the 25th anniversary of “The Gospel of Life” and in answer to Pope John Paul II’s call, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities launched a nationwide effort that began on March 25, entitled: “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.” Parishes, through the support of their bishops and pastors, are invited to join this effort to increase the church’s outreach and support to pregnant women facing difficult or challenging pregnancies. This special anniversary year provides the church with an opportunity to assess, expand and better communicate resources to pregnant moms and families in need.
Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and our neighborhoods but, in desperation, they are turning to other places for help. We know the needs and challenges can be immense for women in difficult pregnancies, especially women in poverty, and the sources for help may not be apparent to those most needing support. Women facing challenging pregnancies should see the church as a place where they can find help, especially with its extensive social services dedicated to meeting the needs of people in crisis.
Through this year of service, the church is being asked to respond to Pope John Paul II’s call and honestly assess the pastoral and practical assistance that it currently provides to pregnant moms and families in need and how effective it is in communicating such help.
Pope John Paul II wrote that “gratitude and joy at the incomparable dignity of man impel us to share [the gospel of life] with everyone.”
He said we need to bring this message “to the heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part of society.” By reaching out to lovingly support and care for pregnant women and their children, we witness to the sanctity of every human person, in every stage and every circumstance.
“The Gospel of Life” emphasizes that “where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable. . . . We need then to ‘show care’ for all life and for the life of everyone.” Pope John Paul II highlights the incredible history of service and charity that the church has provided throughout the centuries to those abandoned and forgotten by society. He urges that “every Christian community, with a renewed sense of responsibility, must continue to write this history.”
We are called to reverence and love every human person as ourselves. It is our responsibility to care for and protect human life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable among us. “The Gospel of Life” teaches us that “the task of accepting and serving life involves everyone; and this task must be fulfilled above all toward life when it is at its weakest.”
St. John Paul II wrote that “the Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel.” The Gospel of Jesus is the gospel of life, and to love Jesus is to love and serve life. As followers of Christ, may we strive to continually respond to the needs of the poor and vulnerable entrusted to us by God.
To learn more about archdiocesan efforts to walk with mothers in need, click here.