My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
January 22, 2023, marks fifty years since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. For fifty years there has been a march in Washington D.C. This year's march will be held on January 20. The theme is "Next Steps: Marching in a Post-Roe America."
Much has changed in one year. On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. The Dobbs ruling sent decisions on abortion back to the states. The fight for unborn children continues. As I have noted in previous years, the church remains firm in its defense of the unborn. The catechism of the Catholic Church notes: "Human life is sacred because from its beginning, it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end; no one can, under any circumstances, claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being." (ccc #2258)
Elsewhere the catechism states: "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person -- among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." (ccc, 2270). Simply put, the right to life of an unborn child is the civil rights issue of our time.
So what is the message of the church? The message is, and remains, a message of mercy. To quote Pope Francis in his book, "The Name of God is Mercy. The church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God's mercy. I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out; to go out from the church and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope. I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this 'church that goes forth.'". Pope Francis is echoing the call of Pope St. John Paul II who stressed the role of mercy in his encyclical The Gospel of Life. He notes: "I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision.
The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same father and his mercy, you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children, or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life."
These are moving words. To quote again from Pope Francis' book written during the Jubilee of Mercy: "I hope that the Jubilee will serve to reveal the Church's deeply maternal and merciful side, a church that goes forth toward those who are 'wounded', who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love."
There are many who have been wounded by what Saint John Paul II has dubbed "the culture of death". The church gives a counter witness. The church administers the medicine of mercy and builds a culture of life. Thank you for all of your efforts to build a culture of life here in the Diocese of Norwich. Saint Gianna Berretta Molla once said: "We must be living witnesses of the beauty and grandeur of Christianity". Let's follow her example and be living witnesses of the beauty and grandeur of life!
With every best wish, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Michael R. Cote
Bishop of Norwich