Pope Francis’ Message to the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life
Vatican City, February 20, 2014
To Our Venerable Brother Msgr. Carrasco de Paula
President of the Pontifical Academy for Life
I extend my warmest and most sincere regards to you, your excellencies the Cardinals, and all the participants of the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Academy’s founding. In this moment our thoughts turn to blessed John Paul II, who instituted this very same Academy, as well as to all the Presidents who throughout its history have promoted the activity of those who in all parts of the world collaborate in this Academy’s mission. The specific task of the Academy, as expressed in the Motu proprio Vitae mysterium is “to study, instruct and proceed according to the principal problems of law and biomedicine regarding the advancement and defense of life, above all in the direct relationship these problems have to the moral Christian life and the directives of the Magisterium of the Church (n. 4).” In this way, each one of you strives to lead men and women of goodwill to see that science and other technical arts when placed at the service of the human person and his or her fundamental rights contribute to the integral good of the person.
The work undertaken takes as its theme “Aging and Disability”. It is a topic that is extremely relevant to our own day, and something likewise always very close to the Church’s heart. Indeed, in our society one encounters the tyrannical dominion forced upon us by a logic of economics that discounts, excludes and at times evens kills our elderly––and today so many fall victim to this. “We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised––they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’ (EG, 53).” The social-demographic predicament of the aged is a stark reminder of this exclusion of the elderly person, and especially when he or she is ill, disabled or for any other reason rendered vulnerable. One easily forgets that the relations among human beings are always relations of reciprocal dependence, which manifest themselves according to different degrees throughout the life of a person and become indispensable in situations of old age, illness, disability and indeed suffering in general. This requires of all of us our offers of necessary help through interpersonal as well as community relationships, in an attempt to answer the present need of these persons in their respective situations.
At the root of any discrimination and exclusion there is, however, an anthropological question: how much is man worth and upon what does one base this value of his? Health is certainly an important value, yet it does not determine a person’s value. Furthermore, health is not in and of itself a guarantee of happiness––this is verified even in the event of unstable health. The fullness toward which all human life is oriented is not in contradiction with any condition of illness and suffering. Hence, the lack of health or the fact of one’s disability are never valid reasons for exclusion or, and what is worse, the elimination of persons. The gravest deprivation experienced by the aged is not the weakening of one’s physical body, nor the disability that may result from this. Rather, it is the abandonment, exclusion and deprivation of love.
The family is the mistress, one might say, of acceptance and warm welcome as well as of solidarity. It is in the very womb of the family that education draws in a substantial manner from relations of solidarity. In the family, one learns that the loss of health can never be a reason for discriminating against any human life. The family teaches about not falling into an individualism that weighs oneself against the others. And it is here, in the family, that “taking care of you” constitutes one of the fundaments of human existence and a moral attitude that must be promoted, and again through values, conscience effort and solidarity. The testimony offered by the family becomes crucial in the sight of every facet of society in its consistent affirmation of the importance of the aged person as he or she is a subject of the community, who has a mission to fulfill, and about whom it is always false to say he or she receives without offering anything in return. “Whenever we attempt to read the signs of the times it is helpful to listen to young people and the elderly. Both represent a source of hope for every people. The elderly bring with them memory and the wisdom of experience, which warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes” (EG, 108).
A society is truly open to life when it recognizes that life is precious even in the elderly population, in the disabled, and even in those who are gravely ill or in the process of dying. When society affirms that the call to the realization of one’s humanity does not exclude suffering, and instead teaches how to see sick and suffering persons as gifts for the entire community, whose presence calls everyone to solidarity and responsibility, only then may this society call itself open to life. This is the Gospel of life that, by your scientific and professional endeavors and sustained by Grace, you are each called to spread.
My dear friends, I bless the work of the Academy for Life, work which is difficult in that it often requires moving against the current, though always precious because it mindfully joins together scientific rigor and respect for the human person. I can say this in full confidence knowing your activities and your publications. I implore you to preserve this same spirit throughout the course of your on-going service to the Church and the entire human family. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady protect you always.
Vatican, February 19, 2014