By Bishop James Conley
In 1993, Pope St. John Paul II had plain words for the several hundred thousand young people gathered in Denver, Colorado, for World Youth Day: “Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.”
The pope continued: “The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love.”
“Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life,” the pope encouraged. “The liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation.”
I heard John Paul II speak those words 24 years ago. I was a young priest, travelling with young pilgrims from Wichita to pray with John Paul II. But the young people who heard the pope speak those words 24 years ago are not so young anymore.
Like many people who heard him that day, I took his words to heart. I’ve tried to offer myself, and even my priesthood, in service to the Gospel of Life. And in fact, I had the good fortune of knowing, and praying with, and even going to jail with, pro-life missionaries even before John Paul II charged young people to work for a “civilization of justice and love.”
In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States decreed that the Constitution contains an implicit right to abortion; to the murder of a child within its mother’s womb. The Supreme Court was wrong. The Constitution permits no such thing. Indeed, justice itself forbids abortion. No just nation can allow for the legal protection of abortion.
Since the Supreme Court’s Roe vs Wade decision, faithful pro-life missionaries have been vigilant in working for an end to abortion. For 44 years, they have prayed outside abortion clinics. They have volunteered at crisis pregnancy centers. They have welcomed women needing help into their homes. They have offered the rosary, thousands of times, for life.
Pope St. John Paul II asked young people to place their fortitude in service to the Gospel of Life. There is no better witness to fortitude in our country than that of faithful pro-life missionaries working for the Gospel of Life, for decades, without giving up hope.
In October, the Church celebrates Respect Life Month, in which we focus our efforts and prayers on the Gospel of Life. The theme of Respect Life Month this year is “be not afraid.” To that, I would add, “be not discouraged.”
Be not discouraged, pro-life missionaries, by the decades in which we have fought to end abortion. Be not discouraged when it seems we have no effect. Be not discouraged by the weariness of your labors, and be not afraid to trust in the Lord.
The truth is that the sacrifices of pro-life missionaries, for decades now, will bear fruit in our country. They will lead to the end of abortion. They will lead to the “civilization of love” John Paul talked about. The prayers of pro-life missionaries poured out, like the blood of Christ, into the fabric of our nation, and through his blood, we will be redeemed.
“Have no fear,” said John Paul II in 1993. “The outcome of the battle for Life is already decided, even though the struggle goes on against great odds and with much suffering.”
The struggle goes on, pro-life missionaries. The odds are great, and so is your suffering. But the outcome of the battle is decided. The Gospel of Life is victorious. Be not discouraged. Be not afraid.