ROME, JAN. 14, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Over Christmastime the Pope repeatedly focused on the value of human life in its initial stages. The backdrop of celebrating Christ’s birth gave Benedict XVI the opportunity to touch on the gift of new life.
In his homily at Christmas Eve Midnight Mass the Pontiff drew attention to how God came down to us as a defenseless child. The Almighty has become one of us, noted the Pope, and we first come to know him as a child.
On every child shines something of the splendor of that first Christmas night, the Holy Father commented. This splendor also “shines on every child, even on those still unborn.”
A day before, during his speech welcoming the new British ambassador to the Holy See, the Pope stressed the importance of respecting the unborn. Noting that the ambassador, Francis Campbell, mentioned the importance of remaining faithful to Europe’s traditions, Benedict XVI added that this fidelity should also include “a profound respect for the truth that God has revealed concerning the human person.” This truth, the Pope continued, “requires us to recognize and protect the sanctity of life from the first moment of conception until natural death.”
During his general audience Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, who were martyred by Herod, the Pope returned to the theme of protecting innocent life. He gave a commentary on the second part of Psalm 138(139). In the psalm the human being, while still an unformed presence in the womb, is the subject of the Creator’s gaze.
Biblical experts agree that this refers to the embryo, the Holy Father said. “The idea in our psalm that God already sees the entire future of that embryo, still an ‘unformed substance,’ is extremely powerful,” he commented. “The days which that creature will live and fill with deeds throughout his earthly existence are already written in the Lord’s book of life.”
This psalm, the Pope explained, makes clear “the greatness of this little unborn human creature, formed by God’s hands and surrounded by his love.” It is, he noted, “a biblical tribute to the human being from the first moment of his existence.”
The Pope had good reason to be concerned over the fate of the unborn. On Dec. 28 the news agency Fides, which forms part of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, published the first part of a dossier on abortion.
In his introduction to the dossier Dr. Francesco Silvano, president of the pediatric hospital Bambino Gesù, asked how is it possible to think of eliminating a life that has in itself such a capacity for good. Abortion is an unacceptable form of violence and places us in opposition to the Creator’s will, Silvano stated.
Fides cited data published by the World Health Organization in 2002 would indicate that there are a staggering 46 million abortions every year, about 87 a minute.
In Italy, data for 2004 show an increase in abortion, the Catholic newspaper Avvenire reported Oct. 26. There were 4,537 more abortions, for a total of 136,715. This was a 3.4% rise over 2003, and a reversal of the declines in recent years.
Spain also posted an increase in abortions in 2004, to 84,985, a 6.5% increase over the previous year, according to a Dec. 27 report in the newspaper ABC.
In the last nine years the number of abortions in Spain has doubled, and in 2004 more than 12,000 teen-agers under age 19 obtained abortions. According to provisional data from the Health Ministry there were 453,278 live births in 2004, about five births for every one abortion.
One in four
The proportion of abortions to births is even higher in Australia. Last year a debate arose over the exact number of abortions, due to the lack of precise statistics on a national level. The matter was finally cleared up late last year. The Australian newspaper reported Dec. 14 that there are more than 84,000 abortions each year, or one in every four pregnancies.
The figures (for 2003), from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, also show that young women ages 20-24 have more than one abortion for every two live births.
Commenting on the data, Women’s Forum Australia spokeswoman Melinda Tankard Reist said too many women underwent abortions without prior advice. She also accused abortion clinics of failing to inform women about the physical and psychological risks of the procedure.
On Dec. 13 the Australian newspaper reported that the federal government’s health care program, Medicare, will now fund professional counseling for women who wish advice before deciding on an abortion. Details about what sort of counseling centers will be eligible for funding have still to be established. In February, meanwhile, the Senate is set to decide whether to legalize the abortion pill RU-486.
Push in Latin America
The Pope’s concern over the unborn comes at a moment when activists are orchestrating a push to change laws in the Latin American countries that do not allow abortion on demand.
The Dec. 2 issue of the Friday Fax, published by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, explained that a “massive coalition of international pro-abortion groups is behind a recent effort to liberalize Colombia’s abortion laws using that nation’s courts.”
Women’s Link Worldwide brought a lawsuit before Colombia’s Constitutional Court challenging the law that bans all abortions. A number of pro-abortion organizations filed briefs in the case. They included Catholics for a Free Choice; International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, USA; the Alan Guttmacher Institute; and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The attempt failed, the New York Times reported Dec. 11. It was rejected by the court on technical grounds, and Women’s Link Worldwide stated it would soon file another suit.
The Colombian case is just a part of the continentwide strategy by pro-abortion groups, the Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 26. Recent moves have included a legislative proposal in Brazil; a push to legalize the morning-after pill in Mexico; and an attempt, defeated by just 3 votes, to pass a bill legalizing abortion in Uruguay.
The Pope returned to the theme of protecting nascent life during his homily last Sunday closing the cycle of Christmas celebrations. He gave the homily in the Sistine Chapel on the occasion of administering the sacrament of baptism.
Baptism is the sacrament of life, he explained, as it gives us the possibility of being in communion with Christ, who is life. In accepting this gift of life we must also say “no” to its opposite, a culture dominated by death, the Pope said. We must fulfill the Commandments, including the prohibition against killing, he added. A fitting conclusion to a liturgical season centered on a redemptive Babe.