ROME – Pope Francis in a letter to his top body on life issues said the world must recover its sense of humanity in the face of global challenges such as war, conflict and a loss of human dignity and rights, proposing the use of new technologies as a means of developing a response aimed at the common good.
The letter, titled Humana Communitas, or “The Human Community,” was published Jan. 15 and marks the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which was launched by St. John Paul II in 1994 and is currently headed by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.
It was presented to journalists the same day along with the theme of the academy’s coming Feb. 25-27 general assembly, which will focus on “Robotics: People, machines and health.”
In the letter, Francis said the human family was “God’s dream even from before the creation of the world,” and spoke of the need to overcome indifference with fraternity, while promoting the good of the human person through advances in new technologies, while also being aware of the risks.
He reaffirmed Church teaching of marriage between a man and a woman, saying the relationship between a man and a woman “is the primary place where all creation speaks with God and bears witness to his love.”
Francis also told the academy to continue promoting life at every stage, saying that in a world scarred by war and conflict, their task is to “welcome and defend human life.”
Pointing to John Paul II’s defense of the unborn, his opposition to the death penalty and his concern for the quality of human life, Francis said the academy’s work from its inception has been “to promote and protect human life at every stage of its development,” and he urged the body to reaffirm its condemnation of abortion and euthanasia “as extremely grave evils that contradict the Spirit of life and plunge us into the anti-culture of death.”
“These efforts must certainly continue, with an eye to emerging issues and challenges that can serve as an opportunity for us to grow in the faith, to understand it more deeply and to communicate it more effectively to the people of our time,” he said.
Part of the academy’s work, he said, is to promote a new sense of “humanism” from both a scientific and faith perspective, interacting with different religions and cultures – an approach reflected in the academy’s new statutes, issued in October 2016, and in Francis’s revamp of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in 2017, giving the body a new name and a more interdisciplinary aspect to their curriculum.
“The ever-quickening pace of technological and scientific innovation, and the phenomenon of globalization have multiplied interactions between cultures, religions and different fields of study, and among the many dimensions of our human family and the earth, our common home,” the pope said in his letter, adding that the emphasis on a new humanism is a remedy for current obstacles the human family faces.
Among these obstacles, he said, is the fact that at the moment, the quality of family relationships and social coexistence “appear seriously diminished. Mutual distrust between individuals and peoples is being fed by an inordinate pursuit of self-interest and intense competition that can even turn violent.”
Prosperity is being placed over wellbeing, and sensitivity to tragedies caused by war and violence is diminishing, he said, noting that there is an “anti-culture” of indifference growing in the global community which is “hostile to men and women and in league with the arrogance of wealth.”
“How could it happen that, at the very moment of history when available economic and technological resources make it possible for us to care suitably for our common home and our human family, in obedience to God’s command, those same economic and technological resources are creating our most bitter divisions and our worst nightmares?” he asked, adding that people are increasingly aware of “the spiritual dejection, or even nihilism, that subordinates life itself to a world and a society dominated by this paradox.”
Noting how many people feel a lack of meaning in their lives, the pope said humanity is often “demoralized and disoriented,” and to a certain extent, “closed in on our ourselves.”
It is up to Christians, he said, to fight back against division and indifference “not simply for their own sake, but for that of everyone. And they need to do so now, before it is too late.”
“Our goal must be a new and universal ethical perspective attentive to the themes of creation and human life,” he said. “We cannot continue down the mistaken path followed in recent decades of allowing humanism to be deconstructed and considered simply as another ideology of the will to power.”
Rather, “we must resist such ideologies, however strongly urged by the market and by technology, and choose humanism.”
The Church, Francis said, must not only recognize the difficulties at hand, but it must also conduct an examination of conscience asking whether ecclesial communities are able to respond to the global crisis, or if they are too focused on their own problems.
“It is time for a new vision aimed at promoting a humanism of fraternity and solidarity between individuals and peoples,” he said, and stressed the importance of building fraternity.
Francis also warned about the impact of emerging new technologies and global business models which, rather than promoting the human person, put them more at risk by prioritizing profit over the common good.
However, pointing to the work of the academy, he urged them to continue following developments in bioethics and new “emergent” and “convergent” technologies such as communication technologies, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and robotics, in order to study the possible benefits.
He also urged the academy to engage in the ongoing discussion of human rights, which flared up last year with the 70th anniversary of the 1948 publication of the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights.
These human rights, he said, “are central to the search for universally acceptable criteria for decisions.”
Francis closed his letter urging engagement with these new technologies, but cautioning that that the “extraordinary resources” offered by scientific and technological research should not “overshadow the joy of fraternal sharing and the beauty of common undertakings.”
“We should keep in mind that fraternity remains the unkept promise of modernity,” he said, adding that “the strengthening of fraternity, generated in the human family by the worship of God in spirit and truth, is the new frontier of Christianity.”