Universe Column for November 12th 2000.
By David Alton
“No Christian parliamentarian can take part in the process of drafting or promoting abortion laws.” These were the words of Pope John Paul II during his address to the parliamentarians who gathered in Rome for Jubilee Year celebrations.
The Pope had begun by setting out his consistent pro-life ethic. He denounced the failure to assist the poorest nations and the effects of the grinding burdens of debt which beset so many developing nations. The Pope went on to call for statesmen and politicians to show clemency to prisoners, encouraging opportunities for personal reform and change.
Then he called for courage by all who are engaged in public life – urging them to stand firm against laws which destroy the lives of the unborn child, the terminally ill or the dying. Here was the spirit of St.Thomas More, whose banner depicting Holbein’s famous painting of the English statesman, hung high over the entrance of St.Peter’s Basilica.
The Pope’s voice was strong and his message clear. His broken body and physical ailments simply underline the urgency and power of what he has to say.
At one point, Mikhael Gorbachev stood on the platform and addressed the gathering. It would have been difficult not to cast the mind back to 1981 and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul’s life – thought to have been inspired by Bulgaria acting on behalf of the Kremlin.
Yet, here was the former head of the KGB, and former president of the Soviet Union, talking the same language as the Pope, calling for urgent action to help the poor – “lest the revolution in the new technologies pass them by “ – and ending with the assertion that “the greatest of the human rights is the right to life.” Mr.Gorbachev attended the open air Mass the following morning. It was all worthy of the pen of the late Morris West, like pages from his wonderful novel “The Shoes of The Fisherman.”
There was also something particularly Catholic and challenging about the choice of a senior politician from the Argentine who gave the words of thanks to the Pope for creating Thomas More as patron saint of politicians and those in government. In grappling which issues such as the disputed Falkland Islands, More’s consummate skills and determination are in great demand by today’s politicians.
English seminarians from Rome’s English College assisted at the papal Mass and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, presented a group of Members from both Houses to His Holiness.
For English men and women involved in public life here was something about which we could be greatly proud: a saint who had been chosen to be the patron of all involved in public life. Yet surely there must also be sadness that the Parliament over which he presided has enacted some of the most anti-life laws in the world.