(Archbishop Gomez delivered these remarks to the National Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Kansas)
Thank you, friends! I am honored by your invitation to talk to you. I want to take this opportunity first to say “thank you” for what you do — for all your service to the Church and your witness to our society.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Evangelium Vitae, the magna carta of the modern pro-life movement. But St. John Paul II’s words still ring true: “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message.”1
When I became Archbishop of Los Angeles a few years ago, I expanded the portfolio of the Archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Office — so that it is now the Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
I did that because I believe the Gospel of life is not only the heart of the Gospel — it’s also the heart of the Church’s social witness.
Everything we do. All the Church’s works of mercy and charity. All our advocacy for the unborn and the elderly, the poor, the immigrant, the worker, the prisoner and the sick.
Everything we do is rooted in the truth of the Gospel. The beautiful truth that every human life matters — because every human life is sacred and created by the loving plan of God.
So for me, and I know for my brother bishops, the pro-life ministry is vital to the Church’s mission.
So thank you for your work and witness to the Gospel of life!
As many of you know, by the grace of God we had a pro-life victory recently in California. Earlier this month, the State legislature decided to withdraw a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide.
It’s a temporary victory, for sure. We expect to see the measure come back in January or later next year in a ballot proposition. But for now it is stopped.
It is no secret that there was big money and powerful interests behind this legislation, and nobody thought we could win.
But that what’s encouraging to me. Despite the odds and all the political pressure, we were still able to engage legislators on this complicated issue and help them to see our concerns.
The Church, of course, was not alone. We were part of a broad, diverse coalition that included doctors and health care professionals, persons with disabilities, advocates for the poor, leaders in our African American and immigrant communities, and others.
Working together, I think we made a persuasive case — that assisted suicide would have dangerous implications for the poor and those who don’t have adequate access to health care.
So I think that our success is a hopeful sign for the future. And that’s what I want to talk about this afternoon.
In the United States, we are a long way from the “new culture of life” that St. John Paul called us to build.2 I think we are all aware of that — probably more and more every day.
But that’s our challenge. It’s not only to save and protect the lives of the weak and defenseless. That’s absolutely urgent.
We have to fight every day for the rights and dignity of every human life. Every life, at every stage and in every condition. From the moment life is conceived in the womb, until the moment life reaches its natural end in death.
But as we do that, we face a deeper challenge — that is spiritual, moral and cultural. In fact, I would say this is one of the great challenges of the new evangelization in our country. And that is the task of transforming this culture — turning it from the darkness of death to the light of life.
We are living in a culture that is deeply confused and conflicted about the meaning of creation and the meaning of human life.
And so we find ourselves more and more indifferent to the cruelty and injustice that we see all around us.
This includes grave crimes against human life — widespread abortion at every stage, even in the final hours of a pregnancy; experimentation with human embryos; the “quiet” euthanasia of the old and sick.
But we can also talk about the injustice of racial discrimination; unemployment and homelessness; the pollution of our environment — especially in poor and minority communities.
We can talk about the violence in our neighborhoods; the epidemic of drugs; the crisis of hope among our young people. The scandalous conditions in our prisons; the death penalty.
One issue that we deal with every day in Los Angeles — the heart-breaking deportations of fathers and mothers; whole families, including young children, being held in immigration jails; people dying in the deserts outside our borders — all because of our broken immigration system and our failure to fix it.
I am not trying to say that all of these issues are “equal.” They are not. And we always need to be clear about that.
The fundamental injustice in our society is the killing of innocent unborn life through abortion and the killing of the sick and defenseless through euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Abortion and euthanasia raise basic questions of human rights and social justice in our society. Questions of what kind of society we are and what kind of people we want to be.
So the Church must proclaim, in every time and place — that the right to life is the foundation of every other right and the true foundation of justice and peace in society.
If the child in the womb has no right to be born, if the sick and the old have no right to be taken care of — then there is no solid foundation to defend anyone’s human rights.
But my friends, we need to acknowledge that the evils of abortion and euthanasia exist in a wider, cultural context.
We need to recognize that we are living in a culture that has become totally secularized and de-Christianized.
In my opinion, this is the great test for the Church in the 21st century. How do we live and love and work and create; how do we raise our families and carry out our Christian mission — in a culture that has no need for God and has no tolerance for people who believe in God? A culture that is more and more hostile to the Church and her teachings and institutions.
This is the test for us. And we are living in a culture that has taken on a “godless” shape. And what we see throughout our culture — all the cruelty, the injustice and indifference — all of it is rooted in our society’s abandonment of God.
Because without God we become strangers to ourselves. Without God we don’t know who we are, or where we come from, or what we are here for.
That’s the issue at a personal, individual level. At the level of society, a society that no longer believes in a Creator loses the meaning of creation, loses the reason for human solidarity and community.
In a society without God, the human person becomes “nothing special,” nothing sacred. The value of a human life is judged according to whether it is “productive” or “efficient.”
We see this utilitarian mentality at work everywhere in our society — especially in our cultural debates about euthanasia, abortion, embryo research, and contraception.
There is a growing assumption in our society that some lives do not matter as much as others — that some lives are not worth society’s “investment,” not worth paying for or protecting.
We also see that some lives are judged to be “disposable” precisely because they are no longer “useful” — because they are too old, too sick, or too weak. Lives that cause inconvenience or become a burden to others — can be ignored or eliminated.
My friends, it’s not enough for us to criticize the cruelty of this culture. It’s not enough for us to decry a “culture of death.”
Our challenge as Christians is to change and convert this culture!
We have to call our society once more to rediscover the sanctity, the dignity and the transcendent destiny of the human person, who is created in the image of the Creator.
We need to show our neighbors — by our words and by our actions — that every human life is sacred and precious, because every human life is created out of love by God, who calls us to a personal relationship, to the vocation of being God’s children.
The Servant of God Dorothy Day, the great apostle to America, tells the story about how one day she was walking down the streets of New York City praying her Rosary. She was on her way to a meeting of some union workers who were on strike.
And this is what happened, she said:
“As I waited for the traffic light to change ... suddenly like a bright light, like a joyful thought, the words ‘Our Father’ pierced my heart. To all those who were about me, to all the passersby, to the longshoremen idling about the corner, black and white, to the striking seamen I was going to see, I was akin. For we were all children of a common Father, all creatures of one Creator. And Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Christian, Communist or non-Communist, were bound together by this tie.
“We cannot escape the recognition of the fact that we are all brothers. Whether or not a man believes in Jesus Christ, his incarnation, his life here with us, his crucifixion and resurrection; whether or not a man believes in God, the fact remains that we are all the children of one Father.”3
My friends, in these words, we have a beautiful summary of the Gospel of life, which is the beautiful truth of God’s plan for creation and for every life.
As you know, my brother bishops and I in the United States are promoting Dorothy Day’s cause for canonization.
And I believe she is a powerful witness to the Gospel of life. She shows us a way to live in this culture that denies God, and a way to confront the injustice and poverty and violence that we find in this culture.
Dorothy Day knew personally the tragedy of abortion and also the despair that leads people to try suicide. But she also discovered the power of God’s tender mercies — which can heal every wound and bring new life out of sin and death.
In our mission of the new evangelization, we need to learn from Dorothy Day’s profound critique of our society and culture.
She called us to examine our conscience. She asked what does Christ’s command to love our neighbor mean, when we are living in comfort and our neighbor does not have what he needs to live?4
She called us to overturn the false idols in our lives and in our society — the idols of the flesh and the idols of the marketplace; the idols of individualism, nationalism, and racism.
She did not speak much publicly about abortion. But when she did, she wrote with empathy and compassion for the pain of the women who were caught up in it.
In her tender approach, she gives us a model for our own preaching and ministry — teaching us how to speak on this delicate issue in a way that brings forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
But Dorothy Day also reminded us that as a public policy — abortion and birth control are “social sins” — crimes against creation and our common humanity. She believed that “birth control and abortion are genocide” against the poor and minority peoples.
These are strong words. But they have credibility because of her own experience with abortion and her lifetime spent at society’s margins, serving the poorest of the poor.
Dorothy Day also gave us a beautiful line that should become our pro-life motto: “Make room for children, don’t do away with them.”5
My friends, Dorothy Day reminds us always that the Gospel of life must be proclaimed in words of love and works of mercy.
And as she did, we also have to find ways to make connections, to build bridges and friendships with others in our community. The purpose, of course, is to foster a spirit of compassion and caring and to bring people together in the cause of life and human dignity.
We have been trying to do that in various ways in Los Angeles.
One example: This year, held our first annual “march for life” to mark the Roe v. Wade decision — it’s the first time this has been done in Los Angeles. We called the event OneLifeLA.
It was a joy-filled, beautiful family-centered picnic and celebration, with more than 15,000 people. We marched through the streets of downtown L.A. — beginning at L.A.’s first church, which dates back to the mission era, and we ended up in the park outside City Hall where we held a day-long program.
We designed a program filled with inspiring testimonies drawn from a wide variety of individuals and groups working in our community to build a culture of life. Stories of hope and courage; stories of love and self-sacrifice.
And the message was clear — that God’s love embraces every life, and especially those lives that are vulnerable and weak, those who cannot care for themselves.
My friends, let me conclude these reflections by looking ahead to the visit of Pope Francis to the United States in September.
The Pope’s visit is going to be special for those of us from California, and also for Hispanic Catholics throughout the hemisphere. Because the Pope is going to be canonizing Blessed Junípero Serra, the great Franciscan missionary who is the founder of California and one of the spiritual founders of America.
It’s kind of awesome to think about it — Father Junipero Serra will be the first American saint canonized on American soil. He is also the first Hispanic saint from this country. And he will be canonized by the first Pope from the New World.
And in my prayer and preparation for the Pope’s visit, I have been reading and reflecting a lot on the words and witness of Father Junipero.
And it strikes me that at the dawn of the first evangelization of our country, we find in Father Junípero and his fellow missionaries — a passionate commitment to human life and human dignity.
In his writings, we find deep love for the Native peoples he had come to evangelize. We find beautiful writing on the environment and the natural world, and important reflections on social justice and human rights.
Father Junípero was a defender and protector of the Native peoples, and especially women — who were subject to systematic violence at the hands of the Spanish military.
At a time when many still denied the “humanity” of the Native peoples, Father Junípero drew up a “bill of rights” that was a radical call for justice and the promotion of integral human development.
Father Junípero is also important in the history of the Gospel of life. Because I believe he was the first person in the Americas — and maybe in all of the universal Church — to make a theological and moral argument against the death penalty.
It’s a great story, and I will leave you with it.
It goes like this: In 1775, the Natives attacked the San Diego Mission. They burned the whole place down and they tortured and killed one of the Franciscans there, a good friend of Fray Junípero.
Of course, the military wanted to arrest the Natives and execute them.
But Father Junípero wrote repeated letters urging the authorities to spare the killers, even though they were guilty of the crime. In his appeals, he said some truly remarkable things about human dignity, human rights and the mercy of God.
Let me leave you with one quote: “Let the murderer live so he can be saved, which is the purpose of our coming here and the reason for forgiving him.”6
My friends, this is our “purpose” too in the new evangelization. We are called to follow in the path of the missionaries and saints of the Americas and to proclaim the Gospel of life, which is the heart of message of Jesus. This is the beautiful challenge, the beautify duty we have. We are called to save lives and to spread God’s mercy and forgiveness, his healing and peace.
So let us to continue in our mission — to build the new culture of life in our times. Let us work to open people’s eyes to the beauty of creation, to the beauty of every human life, and to the source of all life in the love of our Creator.
And may Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas and Mother of Life, watch over all of us in her tender love!
Thank you for listening!
1. Evangelium Vitae, 1.
2. Evangelium Vitae, 95.
3. House of Hospitality, Chapter 10.
4. On Pilgrimage, 247-249.
5. Catholic Worker (December 1972).
6. Writings, 3:407, 3:35-37. Beebe and Senkewicz, 323-342.