Diplomats, directors of international institutes for life, and United Nations representatives — including the Holy See’s permanent observer at the UN — were just some of those who paid tribute to Pope John Paul II and his legacy on the world stage on Friday.
The Rome conference, hosted by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) and Alliance Defending Freedom, was on the theme “Building a Culture of Life at the UN and Beyond” and took place at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
Blessed John Paul II’s biographer George Weigel opened the talks by stressing how the late Holy Father used the platform of the papacy to call on international power to resist attacks on human rights.
At the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994, the Pope sent a call worldwide to defend life, faith and the family. There, a coalition of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Muslims stopped the attempt to create a “right” to abortion.
Dr. Robert Royal, director of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington,D.C. and editor-in-chief of TheCatholicThing.Org, told ZENIT that John Paul II “never backed off from his opposition with the Soviet Union and communism and, without anyone ever expecting it, it just collapsed one day.”
“We should take a hint from this,” he said, “as we never know what effects our efforts may have.”
Quoting the adage “tyranny is always better organized than freedom,” Royal said that networks devoted to the true advancement of the human person are crucial.
“John Paul reached out personally to delegates at the Cairo conference. He defended the sanctity of human life and communicated the proper understanding of the human person,” said Agnes King, director of operations at the World Youth Alliance in Europe.
“This is history,” she told ZENIT. “Not only is it the 20-year anniversaries of the Cairo Conference and the International Year of the Family, but also the UN, two weeks ago, revisited the conference document. Thus, it is relevant and crucial to look at John Paul’s impact on the UN.”
Giuseppe Benagiano and John Michael Klink, both participants at the Cairo conference, noted that proper defining and interpreting of medical and life-related terms can have consequences on the life of a person.
Raymond Flynn, former ambassador to the Holy See during the Clinton administration, said: “We must stand up for faith, family, and country. We need a forum to carry on the legacies of John Paul and of Catholic Church.”
Michael Novak, former US ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights, said that John Paul II quoted a passage from Vatican II, saying ‘whatever is opposed to human life itself, violates life of the human person and insults human dignity are “infamies” that “poison society.”
Discussing how scientific research evidences that abortion kills a person, Novak said, we know now that, what is aborted, is human. He continued: “It will not ever be a cocker spaniel. It’s not the DNA of the mother or father. It’s its own human person.”
President of the first national pro-life organization in the U.S., Americans United for Life, Charmaine Yoest, noted John Paul II’s insight on the nature of the state and “its ability to destroy human freedom, dignity and worst, human life.”
Director of Acton Institute in Rome, Kishore Jayabalan, who was baptized by the Polish pontiff, remembered John Paul’s effect on justice and peace and his indefatigable defense of life on the world stage.
The philosopher and politician Rocco Buttiglione made the point that to have freedom, “you must have a conscience.”
The conference honored Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, honorary president of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute and former permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN, with the Maximilian Kolbe Medal, which honors those committed to protecting life.