Many people are surprised to learn that my favorite pope of recent times is the retired pope, Pope Benedict XVI. Having said that, let me say unequivocally that I do not think that popes should be the subject of popularity contests! But we all find different people more or less to our liking for any number of reasons.
My personal reasons for finding Pope Benedict so likeable has a lot to do with the many books he authored – especially his series "Jesus of Nazareth" in which he offered an almost line-by-line reflection on the Gospel. My sister, Christine, read one of these books and told me it did a great deal to deepen her faith. I also was deeply affected by the humility Pope Benedict showed when he retired, believing the Church needed a younger and healthier leader at the time.
Although the secular (and sometimes even the religious) media often portray them as very different – and in some ways they are – Pope Francis clearly has great esteem for his predecessor. Anyone who reads Pope Francis' statements will find that he frequently mentions and quotes Pope Benedict's earlier writings. This is especially true when he speaks about the need for Christians to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the environment, and the right to life of every human person.
A story from Pope Benedict's childhood gives us a deep insight into how he came to understand the importance of protecting every human person's right to life. When he was 14, the future Pope Benedict had a cousin of the same age who was born with Down's Syndrome. The Nazi government took that child from his family home – as was their policy – for treatment. Shortly thereafter, the boy was reported as "dead" – killed by the Nazis because he did not fit in their vision for Germany.
By the time you read this, I will have gone with a busload of parishioners to the March for Life in Washington, DC. We will – God willing – have joined tens of thousands of others in a grand pep rally for life. Our message is simple: every human being is created by God with a right to life that no other person can take away. This includes the strong and powerful, the poor and weak, and the innocent unborn.
Tuesday, January 22, is a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. This day is chosen since it is the day when the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in this country, ending any serious protection for the life of unborn children. Since that day, more than 53,000,000 unborn children have been destroyed in the womb, where they should have been the safest. Everyone is asked to say an extra prayer or do an extra good work or an act of penance (like abstaining from meat or some other food you like) that day as a prayer for an end to the destruction of unborn children in our country.
Personally, I believe that this is the most important issue of our times. Maybe I'm naïve, but I honestly believe that if more people really believed in the God-given dignity of every human person, they would treat each other a lot differently. Think about that today – and say a Hail Mary for me!
Have a great week!