26 January 1980

To the participants in a Meeting for midwives

On Sunday, 26 January, John Paul II received in audience  participants  in the specialized  Meeting for midwives, organized by the Catholic  Medical Operators  Association. The meeting, attended by over two hundred midwives, was dedicated to the subject ‘in defence of life and the family’. The Holy Father delivered the following address:

Beloved Sisters,

1. I willingly granted the desire expressed by you, for a special meeting, in which you could bear witness to the devotion that unites you  with the Pope, and receive from him a word of comfort and guidance in carrying out the delicate tasks connected  with your profession.

I know the high purposes  by which Your Association  is inspired and I am acquainted too , with the courageous choices it has made in these years, to remain faithful to the dictates of conscience illuminated by faith. I am glad, therefore, to be able to express  to you personally my cordial appreciation and  to bring you, at the same time,  my fatherly exhortation  to persevere in the resolution  of consistent adherence  to the ethical norms of your profession,  which is not infrequently  subjected  to strong pressure on the part  of those who would like to force  it to carry out acts  which are in direct contrast  with the purposes  for which it was created  and operates.

‘Service for life and the family ‘ was and is, in fact, the essential  raison d’ètre of this profession, as you opportunely stressed in the very subject of your Meeting:  and it is precisely in this noble service that  the secret of its greatness must be sought. It is up to you to watch  solicitously over the marvellous and mysterious process of generation which takes place in the mother’s womb, in order to follow its normal development and to facilitate its happy outcome, with the birth of the new creature. You are, therefore, the guardians of human life, which is renewed in the world, bringing to it, with the infant’s  fresh smile, the joy (cf. Jn 16:21) and the hope of a better future.

Cultivate an awareness

2. It is necessary, therefore, that you should each cultivate within yourself a clear awareness of the very high value of human life: it is a unique value in the whole of visible creation. The Lord, in fact, created everything on earth for man; man, on the other hand – as the Second Vatican council stressed – is “the only creature that God wanted  for his own sake” (Const. Gaudium et Spes, n.24).

This means that, as regards his being and his essence, man cannot be ordained to any creature, but only to God.  This is the deep content  of the well-known passage  in the Bible according to which “God created man in his own image … male and female He created them” (Gen. 1,27).  And this is also what it is desired to recall when  it is affirmed that  human life is sacred . Man, as a being supplied with intelligence and free will,  takes his right to life directly from God, whose image he is,  not from his parents, or from any society or human authority. Only God, therefore, can “dispose” of this extraordinary  gift of his: “I, even I, am he,  and there is no God beside me. I kill and I make alive: I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32,39).

Man, therefore, possesses life as a gift, of which he cannot consider himself the owner, however, for this reason, he cannot feel he is the arbiter of life, whether his own or that of others. The Old Testament formulates this conclusion in one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not kill” (Ex. 20,13), with the clarification that follows immediately afterwards: “Do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked” (Ex. 23,7). Christ, in the New Testament, confirms this commandment as the condition “to enter life” (cf. Mt 19:18), but – significantly – he follows it with the mention of the commandment that sums up every  aspect of moral law, bringing it to completion, that is, the commandment of love (cf. 19:19). Only he who loves can accept completely  the requirements that spring from respect for the life of one’s neighbour.

In this connection, you certainly remember the words  of Christ in the ‘Sermon on the mount’. On this occasion Jesus refers almost polemically  to the “you shall not kill” of the Old Testament, seeing in it an expression of the “insufficient” justice of the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Mt 5:20) and inviting people to look more deeply into themselves, to detect the wicked roots, from which all violence against life springs:  not only he who kills is guilty, but  also he who harbours malevolent  sentiments and speaks offensive words  to his neighbour (cf. Mt. 5:21) There is a verbal violence which prepares the ground  and helps to produce the  psychological conditions  that trigger off physical violence.

He who wishes  to respect life  and in fact, put himself generously in its service, must cultivate in himself feelings of  understanding for the other, participation in its affairs, human solidarity, in a word feelings of sincere love.  ‘The believer can do so more easily, because he recognizes in every man a brother (cf. Mt 23:8) in whom Christ identifies himself to the extent of considering what is done to him as done to himself (cf. Mt 25: 40-45).

Bearing witness for your esteem of life

3. Also the unborn child is a man, and in fact, if a special title of identification with Christ is being among “the least” of his brethren (cf. Mt 25,40), how can we fail  to see a particular presence  of Christ in the human being  in gestation  who among other human beings, is really the most little and helpless, deprived as he is of all means of defence, even  of a voice to protest against the blows struck at his most elementary rights?

It is your task to bear witness before everyone, of the esteem and respect you cherish in your hearts  for human life, to take up its defence boldly, when necessary:  to refuse to cooperate  in its direct suppression.  There is no human regulation that can make legitimate an action that is intrinsically wicked, far less oblige  anyone to consent to it. The law, in fact,  takes its binding value from the function it carries out – in faithfulness to divine Law – in the service of common good; and this, in its turn, is such to the extent to which it promotes the well-being of the person. So before a Law that puts itself in direct conflict  with  the good of the person, which, in fact, denies the person in himself, suppressing his right to life,  the Christian,  mindful of the words of the apostle Peter before the …, “We must obey God rather than Men”, (Acts 5,29), cannot but refuse, politely but firmly.

Your commitment, however, is not limited to this, so to speak, limited  function. It extends  to a whole set of positive tasks of great importance. It is up to you to strengthen in the hearts of parents the desire  and joy in the new life, which has sprung from their love, it is up to you to suggest the Christian  view of it, showing with your attitude that you recognize in the child, formed in the mother’s womb, a gift and a blessing of God (cf. Ps. 126,3; 127,3); it is up to you, further, to be close to the mother to make her aware of the nobility of her mission and to strengthen her resistance to the promptings of human  faint-heartedness. It is up to you, finally, to do everything in your power to ensure the baby a healthy and happy birth.

And how could I fail to recall  also,  in a broader view of your service for life, the important contribution of advice and practical guidance you can offer to individual married couples, who wish to carry out responsible procreation, in respect of the order established by God? To you, too, are addressed  the words of my predecessor Paul VI, exhorting members of the medical personnel to persevere “in prompting on every occasion  solutions inspired by faith and upright reason” and to endeavour to “bring forth conviction and respect for them in their environment” [Encyclical Humanae Vitae, n.°27].

It is obvious that, to carry out all these complex and delicate tasks properly, you must seek to acquire a professional competence beyond criticism, continually updated in the light of the most recent progress of science. It will be this proved competence which, in addition to enabling you to carry out timely and  adequate interventions at the strictly professional level, will win  for you among those who have recourse to you the consideration and the  credit  which will make them ready to accept your advice in the moral questions connected with your office.

Some guidelines

4.Here there are some guidelines by which  you are exhorted  to direct your civil and Christian commitment which presupposes a deep sense of duty and generous adherence to  moral values, human understanding and tireless patience, courageous firmness, and motherly tenderness. Gifts that are not easy, as experience teaches you. Gifts, however, that are demanded  by a profession which, by its nature, is placed at the level of the mission. Gifts, however,  which are normally rewarded by the testimony of esteem and affectionate gratitude which reach you from those who have benefited  from your assistance.

In the light of Mary I invoke on you and on your activity the copious gifts of divine Goodness, while, as a token of special benevolence, I grant you all the propitiating Apostolic Blessing


John Paul II