Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 64(3) August 2014

Pope Francis: a truly pastoral Pope

Pope FrancisRight from the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been teaching us that proclaiming Jesus Christ is the first mission of the Church. Everything else stems from this first proclamation. Jesus Himself reminds us in the Sermon of the Mount that external observance of the law is not enough. Interior reform is required: holiness can never be reduced to following a set of rules. A radical change in life animated by an inner conversion of heart is what is needed.

An authentic pastoral programme follows from an authentic understanding of Jesus Christ and His Church. Let us examine the teachings of the Church on abortion. In times past, there has been a tendency to see pro-life people as "conservatives" and those with a passionate commitment for justice and peace as "liberals." Pope Francis reminds us that such labelling is both unhelpful and unnecessary. A person who wishes to serve the poor must be willing to serve the poorest of the poor including the unborn, the disabled and the elderly. A person who is genuinely pro-life must recognize that the global abortion movement is especially likely to exploit the poor and therefore the issue of poverty must always be addressed. Nevertheless, the right to life is the fundamental human right from which all other rights stem.

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelium Gaudium, Pope Francis writes:

"Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us."

The Holy Father is fully aware of the difficulties we face:

"Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church's effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present (the position of the Church) as ideological, obscurantist and conservative."

He continues:

" Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the Creator of the individual."

Because we are Christians, Pope Francis is calling us to be more pro-life, not less. Reason teaches us how wrong abortion is. Faith cries out for more.

Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life.
Pope Francis

And then the Holy Father says something that makes us want to examine our conscience: have we done enough to "adequately accompany women in very difficult situations... especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty?" My thoughts are with the women in Sri Lanka that I have encountered who have had an abortion not because they wish to exercise their freedom of choice but because of dire poverty.

Are we doing enough to support our wonderful pro-life groups?

Pope Francis is not planning to change Catholic doctrine. He is, after all, a "loyal son of the Church" who only wants to serve Jesus.

But he is really interested in changing people. The Holy Father has given us the teachings. He wants us, the laity, to put them into action.