ROSARIO, Argentina — While the concept of a “seamless garment” approach to pro-life issues running from cradle to grave was first popularized in the United States, it’s been on full display in Latin America this week, with initiatives in Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela calling for the protection of human life in various stages and circumstances.

On July 1, Mexico will hold presidential elections and throughout the year replace an estimated 3,000 public servants, including nine governors, members of Congress and the Senate, and over 1,000 mayors. Catholic bishops there are urging voters to prioritize issues such as the defense of traditional marriage and the poor.

Pope Francis’s own Argentina this week began debating a proposal for “legal, free and safe” abortion, with a greenlight for the discussion given by President Mauricio Macri, despite the fact that he’s repeatedly said he’s against it. Catholic leaders there are in the vanguard of the opposition.

And in Venezuela, the situation has become so dire that according to a recent study 88 percent of local hospitals lack basic medications such as antibiotics and patients are requested to bring their own IVs because healthcare centers don’t have them. Bishops in the country are pressing the government to respect human dignity.

In all three cases, bishops are calling for a mobilized laity.

Mexico, defending ‘fundamental truths’

In a country with the second largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil, Mexico’s bishops are urging Catholics to vote in upcoming national elections by taking into consideration the “fundamental truths” revealed by Christ, but accessible to “human reason,” and which, they said, help make “everyone’s life more dignified and free.”

Issues flagged by the bishops include:

  • “The respect people deserve since the moment of conception  until their natural death.”
  • “The importance of heterosexual and monogamous marriage.”
  • “The right to live “according to our conscientious options in religious matters.”
  • The “ethical and social centrality of the poorest and excluded of our society.”

A statement released on Monday was signed by Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega, Archbishop of Guadalajara, and Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, auxiliary of Monterrey, leaders of the local bishops’ conference. In it, they wrote that the Christian faith “transcends concrete political proposals and gives freedom to the faithful to choose conscientiously according to the principles and values that they’ve discovered in their faith experience.”

Taking into consideration the present-day reality, where “fundamental values pale,” the bishops urged the faithful and “people of goodwill” to pray for the elections so that they take place peacefully. They also condemned voting for “the lesser evil,” because the Church’s teaching doesn’t allow for “moral evil” ever to be chosen. Voters should instead look for the “possible good,” they said, discerning which of the options can be better.

“Doing the ‘possible good’ means to promote the common good, peace, safety, justice, respect of human rights, integral human development and real solidarity with the poorest and excluded,” they wrote.

In every party, they continued, there are people who are more committed to the common good, and the responsible thing is to look for the best person for each role, not voting as a block or selling one’s vote to the highest bidder.

Argentina, defending the unborn

According to close observers, a bill legalizing abortion would not have enough votes in Argentina’s Congress today to be adopted. Nevertheless, bishops are urging laity to participate in the ongoing national debate and to give a pro-life witness in rallies taking place this week.

The bill, which is being debated in the Senate, would force public hospitals to perform abortions on girls as young as 13 without consent of either the parents of the young woman or the father of the unborn baby. It’s the first abortion bill to be presented in over 12 years with actual expectations of reaching the floor.

Every March 25, the feast of the Annunciation — nine months before Christmas day and when Christians traditionally believe Mary conceived the Christ child — Argentina marks a “National Day of the Unborn Child.” This year it coincides with Palm Sunday, and the local bishops conference is urging faithful to attach a message to a traditional olive branch saying, “Every life counts.”

Palm Sunday, the prelates wrote, marks the beginning of the week in which “we contemplate the mystery of the full life manifested in the Risen Christ. We are called to participate in this mystery and commit ourselves to it.”

With this in mind, the bishops urged every parish to join in the symbol as a gesture that expresses “our desire to care for and respect life as a gift.”

In a statement released on Tuesday, they also expressed their support for laity who are participating in rallies organized across the country “that invite us to express the defense of the life to be born.”

Quoting a letter Pope Francis recently sent to Argentina, the bishops said they hope those participating in the pro-life events would be “channels of the good and beauty, so that they can make their contribution in the defense of life and justice.”

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The bishops are also asking for parish priests to read a special prayer of the faithful that includes intentions for the protection of the unborn and of expectant mothers who are “alone and confused by their pregnancies.”

As a footnote, twice in recent days Francis made implicit references to the abortion debate, once in his letter, and once during the opening session of a youth meeting taking place in Rome in preparation for the upcoming synod of bishops on the youth, that will see prelates from around the world meeting in the Vatican this October.

Speaking to the young people on Monday, the pope recalled a meeting he attended during his trip to Paraguay, in 2015, where young people debated teenage pregnancies.

“I tell you that not even in Argentina’s Senate did I hear the reflections of these kids,” Francis said. “Because they’re educated to think concretely, with the heart and the head.”

Venezuela, a meal for everyone this Easter

As an economic, political and social crisis in Venezuela continues to worsen, with nine in ten families not having enough to eat, bishops are urging parishes to organize a “fraternal meal” for Easter Sunday among other Holy Week activities to help the poor and needy.

In a statement released on Monday, the bishops called for the intensification throughout Lent and Easter of “visits to the sick, the elderly, the deprived of freedom, the poor neighborhoods and communities in need.”

Seeing the exodus of Venezuelans fleeing to neighboring countries, the bishops urged Catholics and people of goodwill to accompany those who “feel the sadness of the departure of their loved ones to other nations.”

An estimated one million people have left Venezuela in the past three years, prompting the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to release a three-page report asking the region to treat the population as “refugees,” not mere economic migrants.

UNHCR also recommended that countries receiving Venezuelans not deport, expel or forcibly return them “in view of the current situation in Venezuela.” Instead, countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Chile are urged to guarantee Venezuelans residency and the right to work, even if they entered the country illegally.

According to the bishops, Venezuela has become a “strange land,” that despite having “immense wealth and potential,” including one of the world’s largest oil reserves, “has fallen into disrepute due to the pretense of implementing a totalitarian, unjust, inefficient, manipulative system.”

“Political leadership has not been, and is not, up to the task” when it comes to the problems facing Venezuelans, the bishops write. “It seems that the quality of life of the Venezuelan is not the priority of those who govern us. They are insensitive to so much pain, suffering and death.”