Pope Francis, the Holocaust, and abortion

We need to be reminded of lessons we vow never to forget.

When Pope Francis visited each stop on his Holy Land pilgrimage last weekend, he delivered short but poignant messages, keeping with the way Francis addresses everything he sees and sums up concerning problems for global humanity.

They were each poignant, relevant, challenging, true and incisive. I followed them all, and thought the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial message was stunning.

The day after his return to Rome, Vatican expert analyst George Weigel was my guest on radio for an hour of compelling conversation about this Middle East visit, Pope Francis, what Christianity proposes to the modern world (which is the same as what it proposed to the ancient world), and the Church engaging current global affairs. Weigel is the world’s pre-eminent papal biographer (with a two-volume analysis and commentary on the life of John Paul II).

He made a very interesting point that after John Paul’s Yad Vashem address during his March 2000 pilgrimage, one might think nothing said there could be as profound.

Weigel vividly recalled the opening of that address.

In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.

I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain.

How powerful a remembrance, one that seared our consciousness. But George went on to say that what Francis said last weekend at Yad Vashem was quite startling and profound, and probably at least equaled the depth of John Paul’s message.

Francis spoke from scripture readings that posed the voice of God, and it was powerful.

“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9). Where are you, o man? What have you come to? In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more: “Adam, where are you?” This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child…

Adam, who are you? I no longer recognize you. Who are you, o man? What have you become? Of what horror have you been capable? What made you fall to such depths?…

Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you? Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god?

At this point, I had two thoughts, beyond a visceral reaction to so breathtaking an indictment.

One, the timely, insightful book my friend Elizabeth Scalia published just before Francis was elected pope, Strange Gods. From the beginning of his papacy Francis has warned often of idolatry.

And two, the fitting analogy of the abortion culture. “What made you fall to such depths…Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.”

On Wednesday, preparing for an hour with National Review Online’s Kathryn Lopez, co-founder of Catholic Voices USA, we collaborated on what we saw as important topics to cover in fast and fleeting time, there was so much. It was the day a Tweetfest was planned by abortion activists claiming that #WomensHealth called for the global body of the United Nations to tie ‘reproductive rights’ (euphemism for abortion) to binding international documents. Kathryn and I both saw the tie-in.

Her post at NRO.

Were you to do a Google search for “International Day of Women’s Health,” as I just did, the first link you would find is from the Center for Reproductive Health. There you would learn that:

“On May 28, the Center for Reproductive Rights joins health and women’s rights advocates from around the world in commemorating the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. The Center also calls on governments to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, which is essential to improve women and adolescent girls’ health.”

Sexual and reproductive health services. That’s one of those phrases abortion-rights activists use when they don’t want to say abortion. Which is why there should be no tears shed for the “women’s health” lobby when they complain that their day was “hijacked” by pro-life activists today [May 28].

Kathryn included some remarkable screen shots for this post, check it out. By a long shot, the pro-life movement overtook Twitter with messages that countered the abortion propaganda of that day’s campaign. Her post captured the extreme lengths abortion activists have gone to for the right to end new human life.

Think about that. The right to end life at will.

And remember the Shoah. As John Paul II did.

Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.

We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.

“No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.” What is happening in abortion clinics every day cannot be ignored and vast numbers of women, men, siblings of those now lost will not forget. No one can diminish the scale of the population lost to abortion, close to 57 million babies in the US alone since Roe v. Wade, and countless numbers beyond. Watching those numbers tick up so rapidly moves some of us urgently to try to stop it.

Pope Francis at Yad Vashem, last weekend.

Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you. Hear, Lord, and have mercy! We have sinned against you. You reign for ever (cf. Bar 3:1-2). Remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!

“Adam, where are you?” Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.

Remember us in your mercy.

JPII to Mandela: One great human being to another

Some people transcend tribe and nation, race and religion. They belong to all of us.

Here is a communication between two we have been blessed to know in our time. Let it suffice for now to be a placeholder for further consideration of the transcendent truths both men represented.

Remarks John Paul II made to President Nelson Mandela on his arrival in South Africa in 1995.

“I wish to pay tribute to you, Mr. President, who, after being a silent and suffering “witness” of your people’s yearning for true liberation, now shoulder the burden of inspiring and challenging everyone to succeed in the task of national reconciliation and reconstruction. I remember our meeting at the Vatican in June 1990, shortly after your release from prison. In your kind words of welcome today I recognize the same spirit which sustained you then in the ideal of achieving a better life for the peoples of this Nation…. Let us commend to God in our prayers all those who have worked and suffered and continue to strive for that day when everyone’s dignity will be fully acknowledged, respected and safeguarded throughout this land and all over this Continent.

South Africa refers to itself as a “Rainbow Nation”, indicating the diversity of races, ethnic groups, languages, culture and religions which characterize it. And you have the extremely rich concept of UBUNTU to guide you, according to the saying that “People are made people through other people”. Certainly, the Government of National Unity’s commitment to bring all the citizens of this land together in a united, fair and more prosperous society is shared by South Africa’s Religious leaders, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and Traditional, all of whom I greet with cordial esteem. By insisting on the things which unite, all believers can “build together”, using their spiritual resources to keep alive the flame of hope on the horizon of humanity’s march towards a brighter future.

–Blessed John Paul II
Arrival Remarks in South Africa
Johannesburg International Airport
16 September 1995

Pope Benedict’s retirement fatigue

The man himself is clearly a tired and overly wrought servant who recognizes and admits his failing health and strength. The global coverage of his historic announcement to step down has unleashed an exhausting barrage of analysis, mostly from those who know not of what they speak.

It’s been a long day of gathering and reporting news, and there will be many more days and weeks of it to come. For now, take a look at how Elizabeth Scalia put things together here.

…on consideration, this almost seems typical of Benedict, particularly if his health is failing. He would have hated a long drawn out affair with pilgrims waiting within the basilica courtyard for his death. If John Paul went out like the sustained note of a grand organ, fading into silence, Benedict simply senses his tiredness and the hour, closes up his piano, and bids us adieu. Ratzinger, in the end, is still Ratzinger: he does his work, kisses it all up to the Holy Spirit and moves on, not particularly concerned about the peripheral yakking of man or media.

Well put. I have a profound respect for both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I’ve read both extensively and appreciate them as brilliant pieces of one magnificent concert. I have much to say, but I’m first a listener. With a filter. 

I’ll be devoting time and attention to this important transition in the Catholic Church at this moment in history, in the days and weeks to come. For now, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be in the presence of both popes and follow their global journeys to reach the ends of the earth with the timeless and universal truths about human dignity and the sanctity of life and the interconnectedness of everything. I received their blessing personally, and the world did globally.

Whether people they blessed know it or not.

Media’s role in world peace

This is interesting. It’s not that a pope encouraging the communications media to be responsible is exactly headline news….

But it’s the text beneath the headline and the story behind the news release that are worth pursuing.

Here’s the news release from the pope addressing the European Broadcasting Union:

“In today’s society”, [Pope Benedict] continued, “the basic values of the good of humanity are in play, public opinion … is often found disoriented and divided”. In this context he noted that “it is a duty to provide every day, correct and balanced information and a profound debate that seeks the best shared solutions regarding these questions in a pluralistic society. It is a task that requires great professional honor, correction and respect, an openness to different perspectives, clarity in treating problems, freedom from ideological barriers, and an awareness of the complexity of problems”.

I’m wondering at this point how well they’re listening and whether they’d take this message to heart, but what he said was really for a global audience.

Religion contributes by ‘purifying’ reason, helping it not to fall prey to distortions, such as manipulation by ideology or partial application that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person”. In this sense the Pope invited the professionals in communications to “seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason, with a view to serving the common good of the nation”.

While emphasizing the difficulties that need to be faced in their service, the Pope stressed that “the challenges of the modern world on which you have to report are too great and too urgent for you to become discouraged or tempted to give up in the face of such difficulties”.

The Holy Father concluded by encouraging them to put their “contacts and activities at the service of reflection and commitment” with the aim of “ensuring that the instruments of social communication promote dialogue, peace and development of peoples in solidarity, overcoming cultural separation, uncertainties and fears”.

This reminds me of a letter I received not long ago from a young Rwandan woman studying journalism in London, who followed some of my writing and asked me to contribute thoughts on the media handling of the Rwandan genocide for her research. Here’s how she described the intent of her paper: 

This dissertation will be written by a critical journalism student, who wants to understand the role of the International media when it comes to wars in developing countries and its role in preventing the genocide in Rwanda.

She said she wanted to

explore the role of International media, its intervention and strategies in tackling genocides and other conflicts in the third world countries.

My aim is to understand the media’s responsibility in such a delicate situation where it should play a role of prevention, protection and education. And for future journalists like my classmates and future academic work, I hope this will help to use our journalistic role responsibly and never use it to spread hatred, thus making our journalistic powerful position a second weapon to crimes against humanity.

This dovetails exactly with what Pope Benedict said (and keeps saying) about the role of media in the world. Pope John Paul II said “Communications is a moral act.” It’s reassuring and encouraging that young adults entering the media are taking that responsibility seriously.

The global village priest

From the moment he passed away, he was called John Paul the Great. Now, he can be called Blessed John Paul II. Which is acknowledging what he was.

Detractors notwithstanding, I submit that this is fitting and appropriate. As Peggy Noonan did in her weekend column for WSJ. There are so many facets to his priesthood, episcopacy and papacy, but mostly how he was a witness to faith and a servant to the people of God. And people who didn”t know or accept God. ‘If the world was a global village, he was the village priest,’ notes the now familiar tribute.

On radio lately, I’ve focused particularly on the ‘nine days that changed the world,’ as Noonan does here.

This is so key to his service to humanity, I’ve been riveted by it for years. Partly it comes from having family from eastern Europe who suffered under the Soviet regime. Mostly it comes from realizing the power of the message is in facing evil by asking God what your role is, as JPII did as a young man who never imagined being a priest, and going where that answer leads.

And then going into the heart of oppression and taking the opportunity providence gives you to speak truth to darkness. He reminded millions of people in one country that they were not who the regime said they were. Their human dignity was noble and invincible and imprinted by God.

“After the proclamation of the Gospel, a deep silence fell over the tremendous crowd. Polish Communist Party leader Edward Gierek watched nervously from a window in a hotel adjacent to the square. He, and millions of others, wondered: What would he say? What could he say?

“Karol Wojtyla looked out at a sea of expectant faces, paused–and then gave what may have been the greatest sermon of his life.”

Theses and texts have been written about that homily, brief but tremendously powerful.

Today, he began, he wanted to “sing a hymn of praise to divine Providence” which had enabled him to come home “as a pilgrim”…

The Poles, he insisted, had a right to think…”with singular humility but also with conviction” that it was to Poland, today, that “one must come…to read again the witness of His cross and His resurrection.” This was no cause for boasting, however. “If we accept all that I have dared to affirm in this moment, how many great duties and obligations arise? Are we capable of them?”

The crowd began rhythmic chant, “We want God, we want God…”

Somewhere around that moment, communism lost its grip.

And so will any repressive ideology that reduces citizens to workers under the ultimate authority of the state.

Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude of geography. The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.

He said that everywhere he went, and he went further across the globe than any pope in history. Countless members of humanity have been ennobled and encouraged and blessed because of his witness. It is only fitting that he be blessed as well.

Church and monarchy share calendars

Once again, major events are happening in the Catholic Church and the Royal Family around the same time.

CNN noticed this strange happenstance.

Have you heard about the historic event this weekend that’s drawing hundreds of thousands to one of Europe’s leading capitals for a long day of pageantry?

No, not Friday’s royal wedding in London. I’m referring to Sunday’s beatification of Pope John Paul II in Rome.

It’s hard to deny that international media coverage of William and Kate’s nuptials is overshadowing preparations for Sunday’s beatification, the last step before sainthood.

There’s a history to this.

Pope John Paul II died days before the last royal wedding – Prince Charles’ marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles in April 2005.

Then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, both of whom were scheduled to attend the wedding, also were expected at the pope’s funeral…

Eight years earlier, leading lights of the royal family and the church vied for international attention, this time both in tragedy: Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died within a week of each other in 1997.

That’s an odd way of putting it, but we certainly recall the jarring timing of those sad events that week.

“Many lamented that Mother Teresa, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and ‘living saint’ if there ever was one, was overshadowed by Diana’s death and funeral,” says David Gibson, a Catholic journalist and Vatican expert.

Others remarked about how ‘Mother Teresa-like’ that turned out to be.

The tragedy of Diana’s death in a car accident at age 36 garnered more media attention than Mother Teresa’s passing at age 87.

The humble religious servant of the poor would have wanted it that way, I recall hearing at the time.

“But there were connections between those two women as well,” Gibson notes. In 1992, Diana met with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, a reported high point of the princess’ trip to India, and the two met again in New York just months before they died.

Though this blog frames an otherwise interesting post in unecessary conflict, it winds up on a decent note.

If royal-Catholic tensions continue this weekend – with some Catholics no doubt miffed about the beatification playing second fiddle to the royal wedding – Gibson says he doubts John Paul would have minded.

“He would certainly have loved the focus on the royal marriage as an event undergirding the importance of the family,” Gibson says.

And note to CNN: some Catholics are really into both.

Blessed John Paul II

After he passed away and it seemed like most of the world converged on Rome to mourn the loss but also to celebrate a life that so touched humanity,cries of “Santo Subito!” went up from St. Peter’s Square. Looks like the crowds are getting their wish.

This was just announced today.

On 1 May, the second Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, Benedict XVI will preside at the rite of beatification for John Paul II in the Vatican.

He passed away on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.  At the time, one observer said ‘If the world is a global village, he was the village priest.’ Indeed.

“John Paul II did everything he could for life, to defend life,” (Sister Marie Simon-Pierre) said. “He was very close to the smallest and weakest. How many times did we see him approach a handicapped person, a sick person?”…

“Pope John Paul’s life is precisely such a model because it was lived beautifully and with love, respect and forgiveness for all,” [Knights of Columbus head Carl] Anderson told the AP in an e-mail. “We saw this in the way he reached out to the poor, the neglected, those of other faiths, even the man who shot him…

Forgiveness is more powerful than evil. And love is stronger than death. He taught the world both.

Remember your identity

I’ve been going over Pope Benedict’s messages in Malta, short as that trip was, and appreciating the depth of his message. He does so much with brevity.

Pope John Paul II so often urged his audiences to recognize and claim their identity as Christians made in the image of God, never to allow themselves to be redefined or demeaned by cultural or political forces. His book ‘Memory and Identity’ is outstanding.

Pope Benedict has told Europeans the same thing repeatedly in his pontificate, urging them to recall their Christian roots as they re-shape their political identities and government. Tough message for populations who’ve strayed so far from those roots their government didn’t want to acknowledge it in the European Constitution.

But no matter the political and cultural forces, Benedict keeps encouraging his listeners with the same message in the voice of the gentle shepherd. Be aware of your identity. And…

“…embrace the responsibilities that flow from it, especially by promoting the Gospel values that will grant you a clear vision of human dignity and the common origin and destiny of mankind…

“Unity, solidarity and mutual respect stand at the basis of your social and political life. Inspired by your Catholic faith, they are the compass that will guide you in the search for authentic and integral development. The treasure of the Church’s social teaching will inspire and guide these efforts. Never allow your true identity to be compromised by indifferentism or relativism. May you always remain faithful to the teaching of St. Paul”.

Amen to that.