As the month of July begins, we celebrate the birth of our nation thanks to the hands and minds of a group of men who, 237 years ago, wrote a profound document. Their words helped bend the course of history and continue to resonate throughout our world.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
This seems so clear now, but was not the case in 1776, when most people believed that the Creator endowed rights to a king, who exercised rule by “divine right” and decided the rights of individuals.
The Founding Fathers realized that rights were not given to the king but to each individual person by the Creator—and it was up to them to decide which and how many of those rights to cede to government.
At the root of this thinking is a concept central to our faith: upholding the dignity and sacredness of life. And the first unalienable right listed is life!
In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), which he said is “at the heart of Jesus’ message.”
“Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can…come to recognize…the sacred value of human life,” Pope John Paul II wrote. “Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.”
This Gospel of Life and its demand that we defend the dignity of every individual is at the heart of what we do at Catholic Relief Services. We seek to protect life at every stage of its existence.
Supports at the start of life include counseling couples on the proper use of natural family planning, providing prenatal care to expectant mothers and assuring that their newborns have adequate nutrition.
In giving care to the most vulnerable people, to those who are sick or orphaned, and to our hungry and needy brothers and sisters, you—through CRS—are defending and protecting the dignity of life, the unalienable right that is life.
It is only when you are fully fed, when you are healthy and when your children are healthy that you can begin to fully feel the right of liberty. At CRS, we work with the Church in opposing oppression that restricts the liberty of so many around the world. But is there any greater oppression than hunger? Than sickness?
By fighting hunger and sickness, you help people take the first important steps toward liberty. Eventually those steps turn into a pursuit of happiness, a pursuit furthered by economic empowerment, by education, by so many programs your support of CRS brings to poor men, women and children around the world.
It all begins with life—with the unalienable right to life. Webster’s dictionary defines that word —and its synonym inalienable—as “incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred.” Oxford Dictionaries gives this definition: “Unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.”
Jefferson’s word choice makes clear his belief that you cannot give away your right to life, even if you wanted to. It came from the Creator as an essential part of what makes you a human being.
Such a belief in the sacredness of life is central to our faith. And it is central to the work we do together at CRS.
As you celebrate the writing of the document that helped cement your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, please join with us as we work to bring these rights to millions of people around the world.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in 1995, “The Gospel of Life includes everything that human experience and reason tell us about the value of human life, accepting it, purifying it, exalting it and bringing it to fulfillment.”
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, President & CEO
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