Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila wrote a surprisingly personal pastoral letter marking the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in which he recounts experiences he had with abortion while working as a hospital orderly.
In his letter, Bishop Aquila admits that he didn’t practice the faith in his first three years in college. During that time, he worked as hospital orderly assisting in the emergency room at a student health center and a hospital. It was here that he encountered the gruesome reality of abortion.
“At that time, some states had approved abortion laws that I wasn’t even aware of. Because of those laws, when I was in college I witnessed the results of two abortions,” he writes.
“The first was in a surgical unit. I walked into an outer room and in the sink, unattended, was the body of small unborn child who had been aborted. I remember being stunned. I remember thinking that I had to baptize that child.”
The second abortion experience was even more shocking.
“A young woman came into the emergency room screaming. She explained that she had had an abortion already. When the doctor sent her home, he told her she would pass the remains naturally. She was bleeding as the doctor, her boyfriend, the nurse and I placed her on a table. I held a basin as the doctor retrieved a tiny arm, a tiny leg and then the rest of the broken body of a tiny unborn child. I was shocked. I was saddened for the mother and child, for the doctor and the nurse. None of us would have participated in such a thing were it not an emergency. I witnessed a tiny human being destroyed by violence.”
The memory haunts him to this day.
“I will never forget that I stood witness to acts of unspeakable brutality. In the abortions I witnessed, powerful people made decisions that ended the lives of small, powerless, children. Through lies and manipulation, children were seen as objects. Women and families were convinced that ending a life would be painless, and forgettable. Experts made seemingly convincing arguments that the unborn were not people at all, that they could not feel pain, and were better off dead.”
The experience left him a changed man. “I witnessed the death of two small people who never had the chance to take a breath. I can never forget that. And I have never been the same. My faith was weak at the time. But I knew by reason, and by what I saw, that a human life was destroyed. My conscience awakened to the truth of the dignity of the human being from the moment of conception. I became pro-life and eventually returned to my faith.”
What has happened in the last 40 years of sanctioned killing of the unborn is that we, as a people, have become coarsened.
“We’ve learned to see people as problems and objects,” the bishop writes. “In the four decades since Roe vs. Wade, our nation has found new ways to weaken the family, to marginalize the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill—we’ve found new ways to exploit and abuse. Today we must recognize that 40 years of sanctioned killing has given the culture of death a firm footing and foundation in our nation.”
Catholics must work to loosen the grip of the culture of death.
“Protecting life is our duty as Catholics, and ending legal protection for abortion is imperative. 40 years have passed and still we have not found a successful strategy to end the legally protected killing of the unborn. But we have also failed to win public opinion. Polling today suggests that 63% of Americans support legal protection for abortion. This is where change must begin. Although we must continue legal efforts, we must also recognize that law follows culture—when we live in a culture which respects the dignity of all human life, we will easily pass laws which do the same.”
The only way to do this is by assuming the task outlined by Pope John Paul II in the Gospel of Life “to love and honor the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.”
“If we want to build a culture of life, we need to begin with charity. Social charity, or solidarity, is the hallmark of a culture of life and a civilization of love. . . . This charity must begin in the family,” Bishop Aquila writes.
“Our families are the first place where those who are marginalized, and whose dignity is forgotten, can be supported. To build a culture of life we must commit to strengthening our own families, and to supporting the families of our community.”
This charity must also support works of mercy, apostolates of social justice and support.
“Supporting adoption, marriage, responsible programs of social welfare and healthcare, and responsible immigration policy all speak to a culture which embraces and supports the dignity of life,” he writes.
“A true culture of life is infectious. The joy which comes from living in gratitude for the gift of life—and treating all life as gift—effects change. When Christians begin to live with real regard for human dignity, our nation will awaken to the tragedy of abortion, and she will begin to change.”
Finally, he encourages all to remember and rely upon the power of prayer.
“Our prayer and sacrifice for an end to abortion, united with Christ on the cross, will transform hearts and renew minds. In prayer we entrust our nation to Jesus Christ. In doing so, we can be assured of his victory.”
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