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Evangelium Vitae at 20: ushering in a culture of life

  • March 26, 2015

Twenty years ago, on the Feast of the Annunciation 1995, St. John Paul II published one of his signature encyclicals, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). It’s important to return to the richness of that teaching, as many who oppose the Church’s pro-life witness having been making mischief with Pope Francis’ remark that Catholics should not be obsessed with abortion.

It’s true that we should not be obsessed with anything. Obsession is always disproportionate, even in matters of urgent concern. While I presume the Holy Father does not consider himself to be obsessed with abortion, his constant deprecations of a “throwaway culture” is just a less dramatic way of phrasing what John Paul called the “culture of death.”

As we look back on Evangelium Vitae 20 years on, surrounded as we are with more sophisticated attacks on human life, it bears noting how John Paul himself considered the historic moment of his great charter for human life, which condemned in the strongest terms abortion and euthanasia, proposing instead the establishment of a sweeping new culture of life.

The development of Evangelium Vitae began in 1991. He explains this in the encyclical itself: “In that letter, written shortly after the celebration of the centenary of the encyclical Rerum Novarum, I drew everybody’s attention to this striking analogy: ‘Just as a century ago it was the working classes which were oppressed in their fundamental rights, and the Church very courageously came to their defence by proclaiming the sacrosanct rights of the worker as a person, so now, when another category of persons is being oppressed in the fundamental right to life, the Church feels in duty bound to speak out with the same courage on behalf of those who have no voice’.”

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