Message for the 10th Sunday for Life
“God alone is Lord of Life and Death”
Dear brothers and sisters,
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Sunday for Life, which was established by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea with the aim of building a culture of life, protective of human dignity and its inviolability. This year the Church also celebrates the 25th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life, Evangelium Vitae. In this meaningful year, the Catholic Church in Korea confesses “God alone is Lord of life and death” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n.112). In this respect, I would like to address some issues found in our society.
1. People around the world are having a painfully difficult time due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. I am extremely grateful to those who work hard to prevent and contain COVID-19, and I pray that together we may successfully get through this challenging time. May the Lord’s peace and comfort be with those who have contracted COVID-19, their families, those who have lost their lives from the virus and their bereaved families. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to acknowledge the primacy of human life and health above all other values. In fact, it is our duty to safeguard every human life from the very moment of conception to natural death. Hence, the Church is dedicated to protecting and caring for human life and health, based on the belief that “human life and death are in the hands of God, in His power” (Evangelium Vitae, n.39). Indeed, the sole source of life and death is God, not any human being.
2. The Church continues to teach that human life begins at the moment of conception. Unfortunately, on April 11, 2019, the Constitutional Court in Korea ruled that the current ban on abortion was unconstitutional. Accordingly, it ordered South Korea’s National Assembly to revise the related legislation by the end of 2020. Regarding this change, I would like to make it clear that the aforementioned decision can never justify abortion as a morally acceptable action. Instead of seeking a way to legalize abortion, our society should make an effort to defend human embryos and fetuses by implementing an appropriate law. It is also important that we find ways to change the social atmosphere surrounding abortion; to implement the renewal of societies where abortion is prevalent; to protect embryos, fetuses and pregnant women; to educate men and women that they take responsibility for life; and to encourage medical staff to follow their consciences and refuse to perform abortions accordingly.
3. Gene editing, a procedure which interferes in the initial phase of human life, is considered, by many, as a breakthrough in scientific technology. There are few objections voiced to using this new technology to prevent or cure diseases. However, this technology raises many difficulties and controversial issues: it may encourage eugenics, lead to the creation of designer babies, promote and justify discrimination against women and people with disabilities. It may also widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our materialistic society. Unfortunately, our over-reliance on technology to manipulate human genes, rather than focusing on nurturing humanity’s natural talents and instincts for hard work, can have a powerfully destructive effect on society.
4. Various medical technologies such as embryo research, In vitro fertilization, gene diagnosis and editing, emergency contraception, and abortion pose us with a fundamental moral question: when does human life begin? Human life develops from the very moment of conception, the union between a sperm and an egg. Therefore, what is the purpose of redefining the timing of human existence based on arbitrary human law, while all the time ignoring the natural law? We also worry whether such technologies ultimately serve humanity for the good or undermine it by instrumentalizing human life for our own convenience.
5. Human life should be respected from the moment of conception until natural death. From this position, the Church attends to the issue of suicide which is prevalent in our society. Towards anyone contemplating taking their own life, our society should provide sincere care and compassion. In order to prevent suicide, our society should explore a multifaceted approach: offer skilled counselling, improve people's poor living conditions, and provide social security.
6. Increasingly, many people in our society support euthanasia, the act of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering. Such support is demonstrated through demands for the legalization of euthanasia. However, human pain and death are a part of the journey towards salvation, which entails participation in Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. We should not remain indifferent to those in need, but ought to accompany them with love and care. As for dying patients and their families, it is important to offer physical, psycho-emotional, and spiritual supports through hospice and palliative care. This approach can help people overcome excessive fear of pain and death, and the temptation of euthanasia. Euthanasia is based on the belief that people are free to choose the time of one's own death.
“To defend and promote life, to show reverence and love for it, is a task which God entrusts to every man” (Evangelium Vitae, n.42). Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to those who are committed to preventing COVID-19 and saving lives. I pray that not only our nation but also the whole world may overcome this crisis and find peace and security.
“You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever” (Ps 16,11).
May 3, 2020
+ Matthias Ri Iong-hoon
Bishop of Suwon
President of the CBCK Committee for Bioethics