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My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As adopted daughters and sons of God, each October we begin the activities of Respect Life Month with the observance of Respect Life Sunday, celebrated on October 6th this year. At Masses that day, thousands of parishes across the country begin a year-long educational and prayer campaign in support of life. As chair of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, it is my pleasure to introduce this year's theme, which echoes Pope Francis' call for all people to "Open your hearts to life!"
We live in a society of unbelief, where the unborn, the sick, and the elderly are often unwanted and endangered by acts of violence or neglect. Earlier this year, we marked the 40th anniversary of the tragic U.S. Supreme Court rulings Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Without grounding in the Constitution, natural law, or our nation's human rights traditions, these decisions made it legal to end the life of an unborn child in the United States for any reason and at almost any stage of development. Since then, over fifty-five million unborn children's lives have been taken, leaving many millions of mothers, fathers, and family members wounded and grieving their loss. Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in three states, allowing doctors to help end patients' lives rather than provide much-needed comfort in times of pain and distress.These laws pave the way for euthanasia by undermining true respect and care for people with serious illness.
Despite these challenges, Pope Francis reminds us that we always have hope in Christ. The Holy Father speaks not only of physical life, but spiritual life as well -- our life in Christ that has the power to transform us. By opening our hearts to his love and mercy, we let Christ dwell in us and we see more deeply the intricate and unique beauty of each person.
What does it mean to open our hearts to life? It means to search our souls and acknowledge our deepest longing for Christ's love.Though we are capable of sins against human life such as abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, we are not beyond Christ's mercy.It is important for us to know and share with others that Christ's forgiveness is offered even to those who have taken another person's life, if they are truly repentant of that act.
We must respond to Pope Francis' call with great urgency.Opening our hearts to life in Christ empowers us for loving, merciful action toward others. We must give witness to the Gospel of Life and evangelize through our lives. We must personally engage others and share the truth about human life. We must continue to show love and mercy, especially with those who have been involved in abortion. All members of the Church can bring healing to the world by upholding the beauty of human life and God's unfailing mercy.
Only a tender, compassionate love that seeks to serve those most in need, whatever the personal cost, is strong enough to overcome a culture of death and to build a civilization of love.Let us open our hearts and reflect on how God might be calling each of us to witness the sacredness of human life and assist in pro-life efforts.We may be called to help parents welcome their unborn child as a miracle of God's creation, to visit the elderly or aid those who are sick and suffering, to pray and fast for life, to advocate to our elected officials, or to assist educational efforts in our parishes.
We entrust all these efforts to the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, and her husband St. Joseph. They are models of virtue and holiness who gave everything to welcome Jesus into their lives despite the hardships. With their assistance, may each of us have the courage to open our hearts to life.
Cardinal Seán O'Malley is the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
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