Curtail our culture of violence by addressing abortion

Archbishop Aquila

Many people are worried about the increasing levels of violence in our country, and over the past week, three states passed laws that address a key contributor to our culture of violence. I am speaking about what Saint Mother Teresa called the “greatest destroyer of peace today” — abortion.

This past week, three states moved ahead with bills that recognize this reality by limiting abortion. I applaud these laws, which attempt to deliver justice to the most vulnerable among us — defenseless, unborn children. Every child has the right to life and should not have this right cast aside by his or her mother or father, regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception. We must not accept the illogical argument that unborn children do not have the same human rights as those of us who are born. It is an easy step to say that other classes of people have lesser rights if we accept this flawed reasoning.

When St. Mother Teresa addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, she boldly decried abortion. She told the assembled lawmakers, “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child ….”

Instead, mother and fathers, she said, should be helped to love, which involves being “willing to give until it hurts,” including by respecting “the life of their child.” The Christian community should be the first in line to help expectant mothers and fathers, but all of society has a stake in this matter.

Many people today rightfully lament the plague of gun violence that has taken the lives of so many innocent people. We have reacted with horror to the tragedies that have cut short young lives, but we have not examined the reasons this is happening. There are many complex factors behind the violence that has gripped our country and many other places in the world, but one factor that must not be overlooked is what our laws and society teach people, especially the young. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

Abortion violently takes the life of an unborn child, and it introduces death into our hearts and the heart of our society. Murdering an adult does the same thing. To a lesser degree, turning away someone in need harms us and those we disregard. Big and small, sin impacts us and everyone else. We must ask, “What are we teaching our people when we allow the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the defenseless unborn to be harmed?” Laws that sanction this only reinforce what Pope Francis calls “a throwaway culture.”

Rather than enabling mothers and fathers to choose not to love their children, our states and country should be leading the way in providing parents every opportunity to welcome them with love. At its core, the issue of abortion is about either choosing to love — to give until it hurts — or to not love.

One person who understood this in a profound way was Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche Community, who died on May 7 at the age of 90. Vanier never married but dedicated his life to giving the gift of friendship to the intellectually disabled.

Vanier realized that, “Essentially, they wanted a friend. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.”

What Vanier discovered in his work with the disabled is also true of the unborn and of any person. We need to love others and to be loved by others; without this exchange, we wither, and society is weakened.

“I strongly believe,” Vanier wrote, “that God is hidden in the heart of the smallest of all, in the weakest of all, and if we commit ourselves to him, we open a new world.” Unless the laws of our society value the smallest of all, we will continue to teach the next generation that only certain people deserve love and dignity, while others can be killed.

Pope Francis noted in a recent interview when questioned about abortion and civil law, “My question comes before civil law, before Church law, to the human: Is it just to eliminate a human being to solve a problem? Is it just to hire an assassin to solve a problem? Everything else stems from that. That is the basic question.”

The basic question is: Do we respect the dignity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death? A culture that has embraced abortion up to the time of birth has only deteriorated to accepting physician-assisted suicide on the other end of life. Essentially, society communicates with its laws that life has little meaning or value. Therefore, it is certainly also blind to the inherent God-given value of every human life.

May God give our country the grace it needs to turn away from the evil of abortion and accept all life as a gift from him, regardless of the circumstances. May the hardened hearts of those who support abortion up to birth, be open to the truth of the dignity of human life and the unborn child.

COMING UP: The Vatican’s Choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?

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In mid-May, Chinese leader Xi Jinping unveiled a plan to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and impose draconian new “national security” laws on the former British colony. Putatively intended to defend Hong Kong from “secessionists,” “terrorists,” and “foreign influence,” these new measures are in fact designed to curb the brave men and women of Hong Kong’s vibrant pro-democracy movement, who have been aggravating the Beijing totalitarians for a long time. With the world distracted by the Wuhan virus (which the Chinese government’s clumsiness and prevarication did much to globalize), the ever-more-brutal Xi Jinping regime evidently thinks that this is the moment to crack down even harder on those in Hong Kong who cherish freedom and try to defend it.

This latest display of Beijing’s intent to enforce communist power in Hong Kong coincides with the most recent persecution of my friend, Jimmy Lai.

Jimmy and I have only met once. But I have long felt a kinship with this fellow-Catholic, a convert who first put his considerable wealth to work in support of important Catholic activities and who is now risking all in support of the pro-democracy movement in Kong Kong. Arrested in February, and then again in April, Jimmy Lai has been charged with helping organize and lead “unauthorized protests.” That he was in the front ranks of pro-democracy demonstrations is true. The question is, why do the Chinese communists regard peaceful protest in support of freedoms Beijing solemnly promised to protect as treasonous?

In late May, the thugs in Beijing tightened the ratchet of repression another notch: Jimmy Lai’s case was transferred to a court that could give the 72-year old a five-year sentence, or even consecutive sentences. But what else could be expected from a regime that was already trying to bankrupt Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, by pressuring both Chinese and international firms to stop buying advertising space there? Shamefully, far too many have kowtowed to those pressures, and a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article reported that Apple Daily is now cut off from 65% of the Hong Kong advertising market. Meanwhile, Beijing, while trying to reassure the business community that everything will be just fine, warns business leaders (as well as diplomats and journalists) not to “join the anti-China forces in stigmatizing or demonizing” the new national security laws.

The Xi Jinping regime may be less stable than it wants the world to think it is. Secure regimes do not increase repression, as Beijing has done for several years now. Moreover, labeling all criticism of the Xi Jinping government as “anti-China” is not the play a regime confident about its legitimacy and stability would make. Such tactics seem clumsy; they bespeak sweaty nervousness, not calm self-assurance.

The attempt to break the Hong Kong democracy movement is one facet of a broader campaign of repression that has not spared Chinese religious communities on the mainland. One million Muslim Uyghurs remain penned in Xinjiang concentration camps, where they are being “educated.” Protestant house churches are under constant threat. And repressive measures continue to be taken against Catholics and their churches, despite the almost two-year old (and still secret) agreement between the Holy See and Beijing. That agreement, which gave the Chinese communist party a lead role in the nomination of bishops, looks ever more like one in which the Vatican gave away a great deal in return for hollow promises; Chinese Catholics who do not toe the party line as the Chinese communist party defines that line are still persecuted. The effects of this sorry affair on the Church’s evangelical mission in the China of the future – hopefully, a post-communist China – will not be positive.

Around the world, voices have been raised in support of Hong Kong’s brave pro-democracy demonstrators. Has the Holy See’s voice been heard? If so, I missed it and so did many others. Are strong representations in favor of religious freedom and other basic human rights being made by Vatican officials behind the scenes in Beijing and Rome? One might hope so. But if the Holy See’s current China policy is in fact a reprise of its failed Ostpolitik in central and eastern Europe during the 1970s, those representations are more likely tepid and wholly ineffectual.

With one of its most courageous Catholic sons now in the dock and facing what could be life-threatening imprisonment, the Vatican now faces a defining choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?