Cardinal John Tong, the Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, has invited Christians to “revisit the notion of the culture of life”.
His invitation came in a message ahead of Pro-Life Day 2020, which this year coincides with the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).
In the past seven months, noted Cardinal Tong, “the pandemic (Covid-19) has claimed the lives of over 810,000 persons and infected more than 23.5 million persons worldwide. This disaster drives us to reflect on the values and meaning of life and treasure them more.”
The encyclical, The Gospel of Life, is “meant to be a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time, a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!” said Cardinal Tong, citing Evangelium Vitae.
Cardinal Tong also explained that the fourth Pro-Life Day was postponed to 8 September, the feast of the Nativity of our Lady, because its original day – the feast of the Visitation – fell on 31 May 2020, which was also Pentecost Sunday.
Covid-19 and the culture of death
Cardinal Tong noted that, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, some countries adopted some policies and attitudes that treated the pandemic lightly – like the common flu or by handling it with the approach of “herd immunity.” These attitudes, he said, “devalued our vulnerable brothers and sisters,” caused us to “neglect our responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters properly,” and intensified the impact of “the culture of death.”
Contrasting this with the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Cardinal Tong said that St. John Paul II invited us to contemplate the meaning of life, its greatness and fantasy, respecting that everyone has a right to life. This reflection should, in turn, lead us to “do good…love and care for others,” as the value of a person is not determined by any categories but “simply because he/she is a person irrespective of any disability or incapability.”
He hailed the sacrifice of many priests who, in spite of infection rates, continued to visit coronavirus patients often at the risk of getting infected themselves. They live our Jesus’s words, he said, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13).
Promoting a new culture of life
To foster a new culture of life, the Cardinal stressed on the importance of obeying God’s commandment: “Thou shall not kill.” Obedience to this commandment, he further explained, includes not being angry with our brother, preaching the Gospel of life and supporting “all the programmes, organizations and teachings that promote the values of life and serve the gospel of life.”
In this regard, human life is to be respected and treated as “a gift from God, sacred and inviolable” from conception to the time of natural death. Consequently, abortion and euthanasia are “absolutely unacceptable” as the value of life is based on giving and accepting love with the understanding that “the conjugal acts of married couples are oriented to the procreation of life.”
Important also is “the formation of conscience,” noted the Cardinal, especially as “our societies and mass media today are deeply influenced by ‘the culture of death.’” He pointed out more education needs to be done to nourish a “correct conscience” in the face of a culture that causes “confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life.”
The role of family
Cardinal Tong highlighted the important role of family as a “sanctuary of life” and the place “where the couple welcomes a new life – the gift of God.”
The family is also a “place for daily individual and family prayers, to live out the gospel of life and for the special care of the elderly and the sick.” In these capacities, he noted, the family has an “indispensable role in fostering the culture of life.”
Science, technology in service of human life
Cardinal Tong said that science and technology can be used in the “service of human life and its integrity,” insisting that advancements in biotechnology need to be understood in order to be used “for the promotion and protection of life.”
In this regard, he acknowledged the role of the Bioethics Resource Center of the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy, the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and Family, and Catholic schools which identify “life” as one of their core educational values. He also recommended the Creighton Model Fertility Care System for couples who are having difficulties in achieving pregnancies and natural family planning services for couples preparing to have children.
Pointing out that contemporary society is torn between a “culture of life” and a “culture of death”, Cardinal Tong called for critical thinking that is “capable of discerning true values and authentic needs” to build a culture of life.
In conclusion, he urged everyone to “love and respect every human life, walk forward patiently and courageously, to foster ‘the culture of life’ which is the fruit of truth and love.”