I warmly greet all those taking part in this Study Day. I am very sorry that I am not present with you. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your nearness and solidarity but above all else I would like to thank you for your prayers.
Exactly twenty years ago, on 25 March 1995, St. John Paul II signed the much awaited encyclical Evangelium vitae, one of the most authoritative documents of his magisterium. In it he expressed the truth of the value and inviolability of human life, especially when it is weak, frail and defenceless, in the face of the very many imminent threats to it: ‘In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war’, he wrote, ‘new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale…any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-
Over the last twenty years since the publication of’ Evangelium vitae we can see that these attacks have not diminished but have, rather, increased, taking on increasingly new and subtle forms. Today, indeed, in the wake of scientific and technological progress, human life is manipulated in the name of purported ‘rights’. Reference is thus made to the ‘right to abortion’ and women are pushed towards the use of the ‘morning after pill’, without any concern about the damage caused to unborn life and without any concern about the health of the expectant mother. In opposite fashion, the ‘right to have a child’ is invoked, with resort to techniques of assisted procreation, which, amongst other things, lead to the destruction of innumerable embryos. In addition, it is ever more the case that countries in the industrialised world have increasingly legalised euthanasia, even for children. ‘The culture of death’ – this is the sad observation that must be made – has not surrendered and has not laid down its lethal weapons!
Through this Study Day organised by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers we wish to stress the contemporary relevance of the teaching of St. John Paul II as regards the dignity and the inviolability of human life. This teaching was recently restated by Pope Francis in his address of 5 March 2015 to those taking part in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life: ‘I repeat the appeal of St. John Paul II: ‘respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!’ (Evangelium vitae, n. 5)’.
Respect and Defend Life!
In order to perform in a more effective and incisive way the task of respecting and defending life from conception until natural death, on 11 February 1985 St. John Paul II instituted the Pontifical Commission for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers and three years later he elevated it to the rank of a Pontifical Council. Subsequently, thinking of providing a scientific support for this evangelising mission, on 11 February 1994 the Pope instituted the Pontifical Academy for Life which is organically connected to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.
I would like to refer here to the Letter to the Elderly in which St. John Paul II expressed his love for life as a gift of God and exhorted us to appreciate it in every situation. Despite the limitations that arrived with his advancing age, the Holy Father observed: ‘I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God’ (n. 17). Grateful for this gift he ended with the prayer: ‘Grant, O Lord of life, that we may be ever vividly aware of this and that we may savor every season of our lives as a gift filled with promise for the future. Grant that we may lovingly accept Your will and place ourselves each day in Your merciful hands’ (n. 18).
With these words I address first and foremost all health-
Following the example of St. John Paul II, the founder of our Pontifical Council, we as well, together with all those who are involved in the field of health and health care, must be courageous defenders of human life. Only in this way, uniting our forces, will we be able to counter the advance of the ‘culture of death’. May the Lord Jesus, who said in the Gospel according to St. John ‘I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness’ (Jn 10:10), support us!
With all my heart I wish you a most fruitful meeting! May God bless you!
X Zygmunt Zimowski
President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers