Pope JP II to America: ‘Woe to You If You Do Not Succeed in Defending Life’

John-Henry Westen | January 22, 2015 | 10:11am EST
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Pope John Paul II reiterated the Catholic teaching that abortion is murder and Catholics cannot cooperate in it in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)

I remember vividly the August of 1993. I was part of a massive gathering of over half a million youth from all over North America in Denver, Colorado with Pope John Paul II.  The saintly old Pope’s message was electrifying for us, but it held a rather startling prediction for America which many of us missed until we read it later: “Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life" said the pontiff.

Now, over 20 years later and with more than 20 million American unborn children killed by abortion since Saint John Paul II's warning, it is past time to wonder about that prediction. Are we experiencing those times of "woe" that Pope John Paul predicted? Certainly, we can see that the nation's cherished gifts of life, faith, family and freedom are under attack today.

Perhaps it is significant that it is not just a deceased Pope that has made these warnings. Only last June Pope Francis, in speaking about Christian persecution, mentioned that Christians aren't just facing attacks in the Middle East. He spoke of an "elegant" forcing out in the West, or "white glove" persecution, which the Pope said, is “persecution” nonetheless.  In another speech that same month, the Pope warned that “in the name of a false concept of tolerance,” those “who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences” end up being persecuted.

Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI made predictions – perhaps the most specific of the last three pontiffs – and offered solutions for the building crisis.

Speaking to the bishops of America in January of 2012, Benedict XVI warned: “It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”

“The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life,” he added.

Pope Benedict’s assessment of the threats to America were ominous. “To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths (on life and family),” he warned, “They represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God.”

With many governments in America attempting to restrict and hinder the lifesaving work of crisis pregnancy centers, we can see that curtailing happening today. It is seen again by the prevention of those who would show the graphic truth about abortion from doing so on university campuses. When schools are forbidden from informing parents of their children’s want for abortion, and when business owners are forced to cooperate with same-sex "marriage," is it not possible that freedom has been lost in America?

To Benedict, solutions did not just come from the clergy, though he often stressed the need for bishops to have “the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset" by “stand[ing] firm in the truth.” Instead, changing the culture of death has to come from those sitting in the pews.

According to Benedict, there is a "need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture..." He spoke of the need to have "the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”

I was 22 years old on that day in Cherry Creek State Park, and with hundreds of thousands of other youth I pledged myself to the public struggle for life, faith, family and freedom.  But while the moral challenges facing America have gotten worse, there is a new generation of young people who are being inspired to defend life, promote truth and expand the Church, regardless of the earthly consequences.

After all, God has already won. Our challenge is to make sure as many souls as possible join Him in that victory.

John-Henry Westen is a co-founder of Voice of the Family, an influential worldwide coalition of pro-life and pro-family groups, which defends life and family in the media. He is also a co-founder of, a leading daily news website on life and family issues.

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