Pope Francis started off his five-day trip to Poland with a strong defense of the unborn, saying that “life must always be welcomed and protected. These two things go together – welcome and protection, from conception to natural death.”
Abortion is illegal in Poland except for cases of rape/incest, or when the unborn child has a severe disability. It is also considered illegal in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, though as moral theologians explain, due to the principle of double effect, medical interventions to save the life of the mother which unintentionally bring about the death of the child are not abortion at all, since abortion is the deliberate killing of the unborn child.
For the last several years, pro-life groups have sought a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn, and this summer, a new civil initiative to ban abortion was again successful and stands to be debated by government.
In this context, the Pope’s first address in Poland, given to government authorities and other civil leaders just an hour after his arrival, emphasized the duty of the state to assist mothers in welcoming life.
“All of us are called to respect life and care for it,” he said. “On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the State, the Church and society to accompany and concretely help all those who find themselves in serious difficulty, so that a child will never be seen as a burden but as a gift, and those who are most vulnerable and poor will not be abandoned.”
Earlier in his address, Pope Francis praised the Polish nation for letting “good memory” have the upper hand in their society.
“In the daily life of each individual and society,” he said, there are “two kinds of memory: good and bad, positive and negative. Good memory is what the Bible shows us in the Magnificat, the canticle of Mary, who praises the Lord and his saving works. Negative memory, on the other hand, keeps the mind and heart obsessively fixed on evil, especially the wrongs committed by others.
“Looking at your recent history, I thank God that you have been able to let good memory have the upper hand, for example, by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the forgiveness mutually offered and accepted between the Polish and German episcopates, following the Second World War. That initiative, which initially involved the ecclesial communities, also sparked an irreversible social, political, cultural and religious process that changed the history of relationships between the two peoples.
“Here too we can think of the Joint Declaration between the Catholic Church in Poland and the Orthodox Church of Moscow: an act that inaugurated a process of rapprochement and fraternity not only between the two Churches, but also between the two peoples.
“The noble Polish nation has thus shown how one can nurture good memory while leaving the bad behind.”
The Pope said that in order to do this, there must be “solid hope and trust in the One who guides the destinies of peoples, opens closed doors, turns problems into opportunities and creates new scenarios from situations that appeared hopeless.”
The Holy Father went on to meet privately with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda. He then headed to Wawel Cathedral where he was to have a private meeting with the nation’s bishops.
There are 45 dioceses in Poland and 211 living bishops. The original program for his visit included a formal speech to the prelates, but the Pontiff decided to forego an address and instead have an informal “conversation” without media attention.
The Pope is expected to greet the crowds this evening from his residence in Krakow.
Tomorrow, Francis will visit the Monastery of Jasna Gora and have a time of prayer at the Chapel of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Częstochowa.
He will celebrate Holy Mass for the occasion of the 1,050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland, in the Shrine of Częstochowa.
In the evening, he will participate in Krakow at a welcoming ceremony with the young people of WYD2016.
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