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Benedict XVI's Address on the Human Embryo

Congress Convoked by Pontifical Academy for Life

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 10, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the text of Benedict XVI's address to the participants in the 12th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which focused on the topic "The Human Embryo in the Preimplantation Phase."

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Clementine Hall
Monday, 27 February 2006

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate
and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I address a respectful and cordial greeting to everyone on the occasion of the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the International Congress on: "The human embryo in the pre-implantation phase," which has just begun.

I greet in particular Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragn, president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, as well as Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, whom I thank for the kind words with which he has clearly presented the special interest of the themes treated on this occasion, and I greet Cardinal-elect Carlo Caffarra, a long-standing friend.

Indeed, the study topic chosen for your Assembly, "The human embryo in the pre-implantation phase," that is, in the very first days subsequent to conception, is an extremely important issue today, both because of the obvious repercussions on philosophical-anthropological and ethical thought, and also because of the prospects applicable in the context of the biomedical and juridical sciences.

It is certainly a fascinating topic, however difficult and demanding it may be, given the delicate nature of the subject under examination and the complexity of the epistemological problems that concern the relationship between the revelation of facts at the level of the experimental sciences and the consequent, necessary anthropological reflection on values.

As it is easy to see, neither sacred Scripture nor the oldest Christian Tradition can contain any explicit treatment of your theme. St. Luke, nevertheless, testifies to the active, though hidden, presence of the two infants.

He recounts the meeting of the Mother of Jesus, who had conceived him in her virginal womb only a few days earlier, with the mother of John the Baptist, who was already in the sixth month of her pregnancy: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leapt in her womb" (Luke 1:41).

St. Ambrose comments: Elizabeth "perceived the arrival of Mary, he (John) perceived the arrival of the Lord, the woman, the arrival of the Woman, the child, the arrival of the Child" ("Comm. in Luc." 2: 19, 22-26).

Even in the absence of explicit teaching on the very first days of life of the unborn child, it is possible to find valuable information in Sacred Scripture that elicits sentiments of admiration and respect for the newly conceived human being, especially in those who, like you, are proposing to study the mystery of human procreation.

The sacred books, in fact, set out to show God's love for every human being even before he has been formed in his mother's womb.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jeremiah 1:5), God said to the Prophet Jeremiah. And the Psalmist recognizes with gratitude: "You did form my inward parts, you did knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for you are fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are your works! You know me right well" (Psalm 138[139]:13-14).

These words acquire their full, rich meaning when one thinks that God intervenes directly in the creation of the soul of every new human being.

God's love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother's womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26) in each one.

He makes no distinctions because he perceives in all of them a reflection of the face of his Only-begotten Son, whom "he chose ... before the foundation of the world. ... He destined us in love to be his sons ... according to the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:4-6).

This boundless and almost incomprehensible love of God for the human being reveals the degree to which the human person deserves to be loved in himself, independently of any other consideration -- intelligence, beauty, health, youth, integrity, and so forth. In short, human life is always a good, for it "is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory" ("Evangelium Vitae," No. 34).

Indeed, the human person has been endowed with a very exalted dignity, which is rooted in the intimate bond that unites him with his Creator: a reflection of God's own reality shines out in the human person, in ...

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