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Conscience in Developing Countries

Comments by Cardinal Ivan Dias

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the intervention delivered by Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, at the international congress of the Pontifical Academy of Life on conscience.

The congress, entitled "The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life," was held Feb. 23-24 in Rome.

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The Role of the Christian Conscience in the Promotion of Life in Relation to
Developing Countries

It is advisable to clarify at the outset the terms of this paper. First of all, reference is made to "promotion of life" which, for a Christian, embraces the various dimensions of the human person: the intellectual, spiritual, mental, physical and social dimensions.

The Lord Jesus, who came into the world so that everyone "may have life, and have it in abundantly"[1] invites us to promote it as a whole and to promote its components.

Secondly, the present paper addresses action for "developing countries," but it is principally intended for donor countries so that they may help developing countries to achieve their own overall progress by receiving the yeast of the Christian values of justice and love and service.

I would like to begin with a personal testimony. I come from India, an "emerging" country with a non-Christian majority. Indeed, out of a population of 1.2 billion people, 80% are Hindu, 13% are Muslim and only 2.3% are Christian.

The rest are made up of Buddhists, Jainars, Sikhs, Parsees and Jews. Despite this fact, Christians are responsible for 20% of all primary education in India, provide 10% of health care and literacy programs in rural communities, direct 25% of institutions for orphans and widows, and are responsible for 30% of homes for the mentally and physically handicapped, for lepers and for people living with AIDS.

Most of those who benefit from these services are not Christians, and this is a fine example of the role of Christians in a developing country in the promotion of life. Non-Christians appreciate this genuine witness of Christians, but they are at times scandalized by the behavior of certain governments, bodies and people of the Christian faith who at times impose conditions that are in contrast with Christian values.

For example, there is a famous international bank which grants aid to developing countries on the condition "sine qua non" that they must adopt birth control programs based on artificial contraceptive methods.

This is why the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who admired Jesus Christ and believed that the Sermon on the Mount was the most beautiful sermon ever given in the world, said: "I love Christ, but not Christians, because they do not do what Jesus taught and commanded."

Beginning with such realities, I would like to outline three fundamental principles -- by way of a orientation -- that should guide the role of Christians in the promotion of life in developing countries.

The primacy of charity

The Church, which is a subject for the promotion of human life, through her individual believers and aid bodies, prolongs in history the presence of Christ, the Good Samaritan.

"As our previous reflections have made clear," writes Benedict XVI in his encyclical "Deus Caritas est," "the true subject of the various Catholic organizations that carry out a ministry of charity is the Church herself -- at all levels, from the parishes, through the particular Churches, to the universal Church."[2]

A primary task of a Christian involved in overall development is thus the "witness of charity" and "charity without pretense"[3] which is lived to begin with within ecclesial communities. In fact, Christ says: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."[4]

This witness of love makes the prophetic mission of the Church credible only if it is open to the entire world.[5] Indeed, prophecy, as a proposal of values to be followed and goals to be achieved, is sterile if it is not accompanied by the witness of concrete facts. This is because "faith without works is dead."[6] In this way, prophecy makes witness clearer and witness makes prophecy more credible.

The preaching of the "Gospel of life" becomes persuasive if it is followed by gestures of welcoming and service. Even though, in fact, responses to emergencies continue to have value, the complexity of today's problems means that a broader horizon of action is required. Thus, although it is necessary to respond to what is urgently needed, it is no less essential to remove the obstacles that are often its cause, unless we want to run the risk of institutionalizing situations of acute poverty that wound the dignity of human life, as though such situations were unavoidable and not, as ...

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