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To Discard the Unborn Child and the Elderly is to Deny Hope: Part One

an address by Pope Francis to the

Pontifical Academy for Life

published in L’Osservatore Romano 1 October 2021

Editor’s note:  In October, the Catholic Churches in the United States observe Respect Life Month, and we pray that during this month our resolve will be strengthened to cherish and protect the gift of every human life.   Articles in this column this month will be taken from materials provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and Vatican sources.

Dear Sisters and dear Brothers,

I am happy to be able to meet you on the occasion of your General Assembly and I thank Msgr. Paglia for his words. I extend a greeting also to the many Academics who are connected.

The theme you have chosen for these three days of workshops is particularly timely: that of public health in the horizon of globalization.  Indeed, the crisis of the pandemic has made “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” reverberate even more strongly” [Laudato Si, 49].   We cannot remain deaf before this dual cry.  We have to listen to it well!  And it is what you are setting out to do.

Examination of the numerous and grave issues that have emerged in the last two years is not an easy task.  One the one hand, we are worn out by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the inflation of issues that have been raised: we almost do not want to hear about it anymore and we hurry on to other topics.  However, on the other hand, it is essential to reflect calmly in order to examine in depth what has happened and to glimpse the path towards a better future for all.  Truly, “even worse than this crisis is the tragedy of squandering it” [Pentecost Homily, 31 May 2020].   And we know that we do not  emerge from a crisis the same:   we will either emerge better or we will emerge worse.  But not the same.   The choice is in our hands.   And I repeat, even worse that this crisis is the tragedy of squandering it.  I encourage you in this effort.  And I think the dynamic of discernment in which your meeting is taking place is wise and timely: first and foremost, listening attentively to the situation in order to foster a true and proper conversion and identify concrete decisions to emerge from the crisis better.

The reflection that you have undertaken in recent years on global bioethics is revealing itself to be precious. I had encouraged you in this perspective with the letter Humana communitas on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of your academy.   The horizon of public health in fact offers the possibility to focus on important aspects for the coexistence of the human family and to strengthen the fabric of social friendship.  These are the central theme in the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti [cf. Chapter 6].

The crisis of the pandemic has highlighted the depth of the interdependence both among ourselves and between the human family and our common home [cf. Laudato Si, 86, 14].   Our societies, especially in the West, have had the tendency to forget this interconnection.  And the bitter consequences are before our eyes. In this epochal change it is thus urgent to invert this noxious tendency and it is possible to do so through the synergy among several different disciplines.   Knowledge of biology and hygiene is needed, as well as of medicine and epidemiology, but also of economy and sociology, anthropology, and ecology.   In addition to understanding the phenomena, it is a matter of identifying technological, political, and ethical criteria of action with regards to healthy systems, the family, employment, and the environment.

This outlook is particularly important in the health field because health and sickness are determined not only by processes of nature but also by social life. Moreover, it is not enough for a problem to be serious for it to come to people’s attention and thus be addressed.   Many very serious problems are ignored due to lack of an adequate commitment.  Let us think of the devastating impact of certain diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis: the precariousness of health and hygiene conditions cause millions of avoidable deaths in the world every year.  If we compare this reality with the concern caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we can see how the perception of the seriousness of the problem and the corresponding mobilization of energies and resources are very different.

Of course, taking all measures to stem and defeat Covid-19 on a global level is the right thing to do, but this moment in history in which our health is being threatened directly should make us aware of what it means to be vulnerable and to live daily in insecurity.   We could thus assume the responsibility also for the grave conditions in which others live and of which we have so far been little or not interested at all. We could thus learn not to project our priorities onto populations who live on other continents where other needs are more urgent; where, for example, not only vaccines but also drinking water and daily bread are in short supply.  I don’t know if one should laugh or cry, cry sometimes, when we hear government leaders or community leaders advise slum dwellers to sanitize themselves several times a day with soap and water.  But, my dear, you have never been to a slum: there is no water there, they know nothing of soap. “No, do not leave your home!”: but there the whole neighborhood is home, because they live ….. Please, let us take care of this reality, even when we reflect on health.  Let us welcome then, any commitment to a fair and universal distribution of vaccines – this is important – but taking into account the broader field which demands the same criteria of justice for health needs and for the promotion of life…..

Conclusion next week.