On May 8, I was asked to speak at the March for Life. The day started with the Alberta bishops leading a well-attended Pro-Life Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica. Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Mackenzie Diocese gave the homily, spoke of the new life of the Easter season, and the strong family and community values of the aboriginal peoples of his diocese.
After Mass, people gathered at the Legislature for prayers and some talks. Then everyone started walking together through downtown streets to Churchill Square by City Hall. At Churchill Square, we stopped again for prayers and some more talks. I was one of the speakers at Churchill Square.
I started by talking about my work with the archdiocesan Office for Social Justice, and spoke about how much of my work addresses issues of respect for human dignity and the sacredness of human life such as homelessness, poverty and protection of human rights.
The Churchill Square location was significant because of the Homeless Memorial Monument, a block away, where each year in May people gather to remember and pray for the approximately 40 people experiencing homelessness who died over the previous 12 months.
Within six blocks from Churchill Square, more than 1,000 children, youth, women and men bed down each night in emergency and short-term shelters. Many of these have to sleep on mats on the floor. More sleep on nearby streets and in the river valley, and line up for food each day at local shelters, missions and soup kitchens.
The experience of homelessness and hunger in a wealthy society like ours here in Alberta is an assault on human dignity and a serious risk to life itself.
I mentioned that as I seek to face and respond to violations of human dignity associated with hunger, poverty and homelessness, I am called to go deeper – deeper to the spiritual core of my faith to encounter the God in whose image and likeness we are all made, and to (re)commit to protection and promotion of all human life.
This must certainly include direct threats to life itself, including abortion and euthanasia.
Our commitment to protect and promote human life must be deep and far-reaching, touching all aspects of human living. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), affirms "that the defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right, it involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development."
This approach means that our understanding of social justice must be big enough to include abortion and euthanasia, and that our pro-life concern must include our neighbours on the street experiencing hunger and homelessness.
Today, we place this commitment to protect and promote human life within the wider context of respect for the integrity of all creation. Significantly the Alberta bishops used "life" language in the title of their ecological statement, Celebrate Life: Care for Creation.
The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes takes this comprehensive pro-life approach when it condemns a number of crimes and attacks against human life explicitly mentioning murder, abortion, euthanasia, prostitution, subhuman living conditions and disgraceful working conditions (n. 27).
Thirty years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago called this approach "a seamless garment; a consistent ethic of life" – "one which stands for the protection of the right to life and the promotion of the rights which enhance life from womb to tomb" joining "the humanity of the unborn infant and the humanity of the hungry."
He insisted that it was necessary "to preserve a systematic vision that individuals and groups who seek to witness to life at one point of the spectrum of life not be seen as insensitive to or even opposed to other moral claims on the overall spectrum of life."
At Churchill Square, people joining together from different backgrounds, faith stances and life situations in the March for Life provided a visible and public call to live lives of authentic solidarity – a solidarity that acknowledges that our lives and fates are truly interdependent and interconnected.
Only by joining together, can we make real progress towards truly protecting and promoting human life at every stage.
(Bob McKeon: firstname.lastname@example.org)