Teaching about life: Perhaps it happens best without words Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Pope Francis embraces Vinicio Riva, 53, during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican November 6, 2013. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA)

There have been many pictures of Pope Francis embracing people. Perhaps the most poignant image I’ve seen was when the Holy Father hugged a severely disfigured man during a general audience at the Vatican on November 6 (that picture is included here).

The man, Vinicio Riva, suffers from neurofibromatosis, a disease which results in painful benign tumors. In a Catholic News Service (CNS) article, Riva said Pope Francis didn’t hesitate at all in embracing him. He said, “I’m not contagious, but (the pope) didn’t know that. But he did it, period: He caressed my whole face and while he was doing it, I felt only love,” he said.

Preach without words

Some people have criticized Pope Francis for not mentioning pro-life issues such as abortion specifically enough in his public speeches. The pope has been very clear that he is committed to the defense of human life at all stages. He has frequently denounced what he calls a “throwaway culture,” which is more concerned about profit and greed than the value of human life.

Rather than using words, I think Pope Francis has been following his namesake, St. Francis, who was purported to say, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Obviously we often do need words to preach the Gospel and to teach the pro-life message, but perhaps we teach best without words by the example of our own lives.

Pope Francis teaches about the value of human life by how he embraces people of all ages and conditions. He especially singles out babies and disabled persons whom he meets, giving them a big hug and often stopping to talk with them. His actions speak much louder than any words.

Following the Holy Father’s example

We can certainly follow his example in our own lives by showing our love and concern for all people we encounter, especially the sick, disabled, elderly, pregnant women, and families in need in our families and communities.
We can provide our volunteer and financial support to organizations that assist those in need and support the pro-life cause, include Catholic Charities, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the  Catholic Multicultural Center, the Women’s Care Center, Pregnancy Helpline, Care Net Pregnancy Center, Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Right to Life, and Vigil for Life.

As we mark the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on January 22, it is important that we show how we value every life and are willing to put our beliefs into action. If people see what we do, perhaps they, too, will understand the importance of protecting life at all stages.

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words” is a good principle for all of us to follow!