What are the preeminent life issues?

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By Father Luis Granados, dcjm

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae, an old question reappears in our conversations: Can we still talk about preeminent life issues? Are abortion and euthanasia significantly different from other sins? As we will see, St. John Paul II considered them particularly serious and deplorable. By striking the fundamental relationships of the family – the sanctuary of life – these acts break the basic trust of our society and become the highest expression of the strong oppressing the weak.

In Evangelium Vitae St. John Paul II invites us to love, respect and promote life. The encyclical focuses on two offenses against life: abortion and euthanasia. Two solemn declarations condemn them as intrinsically evil, as the deliberate and direct killing of an innocent human being (EV, 62 and 65). But some argue today that it would be better to focus on other ethical issues like immigration, social injustice or environmental sins, which they claim are just as wrong.

By drawing particular attention to the seriousness of abortion and euthanasia, St. John Paul II doesn’t intend to neglect other aspects of life which deserve careful consideration. However, among the many sins against life, some are graver than others. What makes these two offenses graver than sins against the environment or immigrants, for example?

First of all, in the case of abortion and euthanasia, we are dealing with the direct and intentional killing of the innocent. As such, we are dealing with the irreversible end of the life of the victim and, for that reason, also with the destruction of the heart of the murderer. Other sins against life may involve the injustice of not receiving proper means or protection for living (food, housing, legal documents…), but here we are dealing with life itself.

The second reason is the consideration of the victim: an innocent and fragile human being. In abortion, we have the baby in the womb, the most vulnerable and innocent among the vulnerable, while in euthanasia, we have the elderly and the disabled. In other sins against life, we may have guilty or innocent people, but never someone as vulnerable and as in need as the embryo and the elderly.

Thirdly, the greater gravity of abortion and euthanasia is manifested when we consider the murderer. The physician, the father and the mother, those appointed by God as its keepers, are those who destroy the baby, and are subsequently  morally destroyed. Children are called to honor their elderly parents, but in euthanasia, it is sometimes the children who decide to kill them. In both cases, the relationship between generations, the basic bond that builds our society, is destroyed.

Abortion and euthanasia are graver sins because they corrupt the human heart in a deeper way. They extinguish the most basic relationships within the family and therefore in our society. That’s why St. Teresa of Calcutta said that “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion,” and we could add, euthanasia. Both are a war waged against children and the elderly. What they damage is not only the good of individuals but also the common good.

Finally, abortion and euthanasia are the type of sins that can never be justified. They are intrinsically evil. “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church” (EV, 62). In other sins against life, like immigration, we enter into the realm of prudential decisions: How many immigrants should our country welcome? Under which conditions? But in the case of abortion or euthanasia there is no such deliberation. We are dealing with an action that is always evil: always and in every circumstance (Veritatis Splendor, 52).

What about sins against the environment? In these cases, we are usually talking about indirect actions. Whereby we choose good actions (like flying frequently in order to visit a sick relative or to provide for my family) that may indirectly cause damage to our planet in the long term. We are, of course, responsible of the effects of the actions, sometimes also indirect, but our responsibility is limited to the consequences we can reasonably foresee (and in the measure of our action, not in the measure of the whole effect). The gravity of these sins is significantly smaller than in the case of abortion and euthanasia.

The coronavirus epidemic is helping us be more aware of the preciousness and weakness of human life, especially of the elderly. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer” (Spe Salvi, 38). The coronavirus teaches us about the fragility of our life and our relationships. In moments of sickness we renew our fundamental faith in the One who heals all our diseases. There is, however, something even worse than the coronavirus. That is the afflictions that come not from outside, from the calamities of the world, but from our own evil, free actions. On this 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II passes the baton of the building of a culture of life to us.

COMING UP: Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

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In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)