The Role of the Christian Conscience in the Promotion of Life in
Relation to Developing Countries
Delivered at the conference "The Christian Conscience in Support of the
Right to Life."
Pontifical Academy for Life,
Rome (23-24 February, 2007)
It is advisable to clarify at the outset the terms of this paper. First
of all, reference is made to "promotion of life" which, for a Christian,
embraces the various dimensions of the human person: the intellectual,
spiritual, mental, physical and social dimensions.
The Lord Jesus, who came into the world so that everyone "may have life,
and have it in abundantly" invites us to
promote it as a whole and to promote its components.
Secondly, the present paper addresses action for "developing countries,"
but it is principally intended for donor countries so that they may help
developing countries to achieve their own overall progress by receiving the
yeast of the Christian values of justice and love and service.
I would like to begin with a personal testimony. I come from India, an
"emerging" country with a non-Christian majority. Indeed, out of a
population of 1.2 billion people, 80% are Hindu, 13% are Muslim and only
2.3% are Christian.
The rest are made up of Buddhists, Jainars, Sikhs, Parsees and Jews.
Despite this fact, Christians are responsible for 20% of all primary
education in India, provide 10% of health care and literacy programs in
rural communities, direct 25% of institutions for orphans and widows, and
are responsible for 30% of homes for the mentally and physically
handicapped, for lepers and for people living with AIDS.
Most of those who benefit from these services are not Christians, and
this is a fine example of the role of Christians in a developing country in
the promotion of life. Non-Christians appreciate this genuine witness of
Christians, but they are at times scandalized by the behavior of certain
governments, bodies and people of the Christian faith who at times impose
conditions that are in contrast with Christian values.
For example, there is a famous international bank which grants aid to
developing countries on the condition "sine qua non" that they must adopt
birth control programs based on artificial contraceptive methods.
This is why the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who admired
Jesus Christ and believed that the Sermon on the Mount was the most
beautiful sermon ever given in the world, said: "I love Christ, but not
Christians, because they do not do what Jesus taught and commanded."
Beginning with such realities, I would like to outline three fundamental
principles -- by way of a orientation -- that should guide the role of
Christians in the promotion of life in developing countries.
The primacy of charity
The Church, which is a subject for the promotion of human life, through
her individual believers and aid bodies, prolongs in history the presence of
Christ, the Good Samaritan.
"As our previous reflections have made clear," writes Benedict XVI in his
encyclical "Deus Caritas est," "the true subject of the various Catholic
organizations that carry out a ministry of charity is the Church herself --
at all levels, from the parishes, through the particular Churches, to the
A primary task of a Christian involved in overall development is thus the
"witness of charity" and "charity without pretense"
which is lived to begin with within ecclesial communities. In fact, Christ
says: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love
for one another."
This witness of love makes the prophetic mission of the Church credible
only if it is open to the entire world.
Indeed, prophecy, as a proposal of values to be followed and goals to be
achieved, is sterile if it is not accompanied by the witness of concrete
facts. This is because "faith without works is dead."
In this way, prophecy makes witness clearer and witness makes prophecy more
The preaching of the "Gospel of life" becomes persuasive if it is
followed by gestures of welcoming and service. Even though, in fact,
responses to emergencies continue to have value, the complexity of today's
problems means that a broader horizon of action is required. Thus, although
it is necessary to respond to what is urgently needed, it is no less
essential to remove the obstacles that are often its cause, unless we want
to run the risk of institutionalizing situations of acute poverty that wound
the dignity of human life, as though such situations were unavoidable and
not, as in fact they are, the outcome of personal and social
The belief that "politics is an eminent form of charity" maintains all
its importance, but it is necessary to
intervene in relation to conditions that make offenses to life possible.
This is a matter of preparing the ground so that bad fruit is replaced by
At times, however, a commitment to dealing with emergencies makes more of
an impact and is more gratifying than humble and laborious action designed
to defeat the culture of death.
The recent encyclical of Benedict XVI
throws light on the relationship between justice and charity, and in
particular when this document declares: "The Church cannot and must not take
upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society
possible. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the
sidelines in the fight for justice.... A just society must be the
achievement of politics, not the Church. Yet the promotion of justice
through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of
the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply."
The Supreme Pontiff thus invites us to make charity the constitutive and
permanent core of the person, even where the conditions to assure justice
are already present. Thus, the commitment
to human life in developing countries is based upon the witness of charity.
The formation of conscience
A second, less-visible path in supporting life requires that efforts be
made in the formation of consciences. Such a task should be seen in relation
to the relational dimension of the person.
Although one cannot deduce a political model of society from the Gospel,
it emerges with clarity, however, that charity should be the
engine-principle of every political institution. Thus, to form consciences
means to learn to direct choices beginning with charity, taking into account
the historic concreteness within which man lives.
In this framework, it necessary to form consciences to that sense of
responsibility that is born from the relationship between the life of the
individual and the life of other people. This is an invitation to exit from
individualism so as to open oneself up to others.
The dominant culture, which is called postmodern, has recently developed
a tendency which absolutizes a partial element such as the market and makes
it become a unifying factor of all the experiences of life. Indeed,
globalization tends to homogenize the lives of people and countries in line
with a standard dictated by economic requirements, and it ends up by
reducing local cultures to a stage part.
Here is the root of responsibility for the unfair structures that are now
working against those very forces that produced them.
In this way the lives of people are subjected to the effects of an injustice
that has become institutionalized. To promote life in this situation means
to begin a path of conversion that contemporaneously brings back man to God
and his neighbor.
Globalization itself, with its world network of distribution, could be a
new opportunity to serve the cause of life. In order to promote life in
developing countries, attention must be turned to countries which are
already developed, forming a conscience that goes beyond the immediate
interests of a group or a multinational. This must be done without, however,
forgetting about the formation of conscience to solidarity, in developing
countries as well.
To form conscience means to be convinced that as long as in some part of
the world people are dying of hunger, there will be elsewhere those who eat
for two, not because they are hungrier than others, but because they have
God is the Lord of human life
Lastly, I would like to suggest a renewed commitment to the preaching of
the absolute and universal lordship of God over the world and men as a
concrete path for the promotion of human life.
"God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one
can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an
innocent human being." With these words the Instruction "Donum Vitae" sets
forth the central content of God's revelation on the sacredness and
inviolability of human life. God proclaims that he is absolute Lord of the
life of man, who is formed in his image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:26-28).
"Human life is thus given a sacred and inviolable character, which reflects
the inviolability of the Creator himself."
At least two consequences derive from this statement. The first concerns
the call to man to share in God's lordship over the world and life.14]
The second concerns the responsibility due to such participation.
Thus, as lord, man cannot be subjected to any other man and any other human
reality. Because it is shared in by ...
God, his lordship should be carried out in obedience to God's will. It
follows from this that only obedience to God guarantees human life against
every shameless abuse. No anthropology is secure when God is removed and
replaced with absolute claims of a political or market character.
The lordship of God, in which man participates, is revealed and made
present in the words and work of Jesus, who conceived his mission as
obedience to the Father and as a response to the needs of men, beginning
with the poorest and the last.
Here we are dealing with the law of the grain of wheat: "Truly, truly, I
say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it
remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life
loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal
life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall
my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him."
Human procreation remains impossible outside a context of love. It is not
enough to have procreated life to generate it. It is necessary to love it
because only love gives life. At times exaggerated procreation, sought for
at any cost and with any means, makes people forget that love can
"re-generate" people who are already born, but humiliated in their dignity
as children of God.
When the lordship of God over human life is obscured, some people are
tempted to end their own lives and request that euthanasia be made legal.
Others tend to give emotive opinions on the question of the death penalty
and ignore the cruel realities of thousands of children who are brutally
killed every day in their mothers' wombs, a crime often camouflaged by
so-called civil laws which are in reality totally "uncivil" because they
condemn innocent and defenseless children to death.
Conclusion: the Gospel of hope
More than a real conclusion, I have taken the liberty of offering two
approaches for a rereading of the subject that has been examined.
The first is that the promotion of human life in developing countries
goes beyond the questions and issues of genetics and forms of reproduction.
The ethical question calls into the debate the political and economic
structures of the world that produce conditions that are adverse to the
development of the life of man.
One could venture the conclusion that what injures the dignity of life is
not so much a couple that wants a child through artificial procreation at
any cost, but cultures and markets that are obsessed with finding responses
to desire and at times to the whims of individuals or nations and forget
about the real needs of the majority of mankind.
A second approach is that the Gospel of charity and life invites everyone
to live a vigilant waiting for the return of the Lord. One cannot crush hope
of a better future on our experience of life today.
However, many efforts we may make, we will never be able to respond in an
exhaustive fashion to the request for fullness of life. This is because only
Christ is the answer.
"The expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our
concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human
family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of
the new age.... For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in his Spirit
nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and
indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them
again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured."
The Gospel of life, in fact, is entirely bound up in its preaching with
the Gospel of charity and hope.
 John 10:10
 Benedict XVI, "Deus Caritas Est," Dec. 25, 2005, No.
 Romans 12:9.
 John 13:35.
 "Today as in the past, the Church as God"s family
must be a place where help is given and received, and at the same time, a
place where people are also prepared to serve those outside her confines who
are in need of help." (Benedict XVI, "Deus Caritas Est," No. 32).
 James 2:26.
 "Here politics and faith touch meet" ("Deus Caritas
Est," No. 28).
 Cf. ibid., Nos. 26-29.
 Ibid., No. 28.
 "Love -- caritas -- will always prove necessary,
even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the state so just
that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to
eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such" (ibid., No. 28).
 "It is important to note therefore that a world which
is divided into blocs, sustained by rigid ideologies, and in which instead
of interdependence and solidarity different forms of imperialism hold sway,
can only be a world subject to structures of sin.
"The sum total of the negative factors working against a true awareness of
the universal common good, and the need to further it, gives the impression
of creating, in persons and institutions, an obstacle which is difficult to
"If the present situation can be attributed to difficulties of various
kinds, it is not out of place to speak of 'structures of sin,' which, as I
stated in my apostolic exhortation 'Reconciliatio et Paenitentia,' are
rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of
individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them
difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the
source of other sins, and so influence people's behavior" (Pope John Paul
II, "Sollecitudo Rei Socialis," 36).
 "The exercise of solidarity within each society is
valid when its members recognize one another as persons. Those who are more
influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services,
should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all
they possess. Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of
solidarity, should not adopt a purely passive attitude or one that is
destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate
rights, should do what they can for the good of all. The intermediate
groups, in their turn, should not selfishly insist on their particular
interests, but respect the interests of others (ibid., No. 39; see also Nos.
 John Paul II, "Evangelium Vitae," No. 53.
 "To defend and promote life, to show reverence and
love for it, is a task which God entrusts to every man, calling him as his
living image to share in his own lordship over the world" (ibid., No. 42).
 "A certain sharing by man in God's lordship is also
evident in the specific responsibility which he is given for human life as
such.... But over ad above the specific mission of parents, the task of
accepting and serving life involves everyone; and this task must be
fulfilled above all towards life when it is at its weakest" (ibid., No. 43).
 John 12:24-26
 Second Vatican Council, "Gaudium et Spes," No. 39.