Catholics throughout England and Wales are to be called to nine days of prayer at the intercession of Pope St John Paul II as part of their collective attempt to help to defeat the new assisted suicide Bill.
The Bishops of England and Wales are drawing up a “novena” to the saint after they saw that peers will debate the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher at Second Reading in the House of Lords on his feast day of October 22.
The novena will conclude on the morning of the debate after nine days of prayer.
Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster, lead bishop for life issues, said: “Jesus told his disciples to pray at all times and not lose heart.
“Providentially, the discussion of Baroness Meacher’s Bill in the House of Lords falls on the feast of St John Paul II.
“The novena, asking the intercession of St John Paul II, who spoke courageously about the infinite worth of each human person and witnessed to the cross in his final illness, calls upon Catholics and all who share our view that assisted suicide is wrong, to pray with perseverance that this Bill will be defeated.”
Bishop Sherrington said that Pope Francis has continued to speak out against euthanasia and assisted suicide with the same conviction as his predecessor, whom he canonised in 2014, making it absolutely clear to Catholics that such practices are gravely wrong.
Pope Francis, he added, described physician-assisted suicide is part of a “throwaway culture” which offers a “false compassion” and treats a human person as a problem.
The last time the bishops invited all Catholics to pray a novena was in early 2020 when England was rededicated as Mary’s Dowry.
In October 2019, parishes, prayer groups and school were also asked to join a “Novena with Newman” in the nine days leading up to the canonisation of St John Henry Newman by Pope Francis.
On that occasion, the novena involved daily mediations on the writings of the saint as well as prayers articulating specific entreaties.
Each day of prayer concluded with a prayer of intercession and an Our Father, Hail Mary and a Glory Be.
At present, the bishops have no details about what the novena to St John Paul will contain and say only that resources will soon be made available.
It is highly likely, however, that the bishops will draw on the deep body of teaching on the sanctity and inviolability of human life handed down by a pope whom many consider to be one of the most important figures of the 20th century.
St John Paul, who had direct experience of life under both Nazism and Soviet Communism, repeatedly warned western democracies of the “culture of death” that he saw growing up among them.
Most significantly, on the feast of the Annunciation in 1995 he published Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of life), a 48,000-word encyclical denouncing abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and other threats to innocent human life.
According to George Weigel, his biographer, the encyclical “broke new ground in historical analysis, doctrine, moral teaching, and the practical application of moral norms to the complexities of democratic politics”.
St John Paul notably argued that democracies risked self-destruction if moral wrongs were defended legally as rights.
He described as “tyrant states” those which permitted the killings of the innocent and accused them of betraying “the long historical process … that once led to the discovering of the idea of human rights”.
He quoted St Augustine of Hippo in support of his specific objection to assisted suicide, which he also described as “an injustice which can never be excused”.
John Paul said such an act “appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages”.
As the second millennium drew to a close he warned repeatedly that “the century of tears” could be succeeded by “a new era of barbarism” rather than “a springtime of hope” unless the moral truth revealed in human dignity informed popular culture and the use of advanced technologies.
In 2001, Pope St John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he died on April 2 2005 after a prolonged bout of public suffering.
Calls for his canonisation immediately ensued, with many Catholic commentators referring to him as “John Paul the Great”.
The English and Welsh bishops wrote to the laity earlier this month urging Catholics to actively oppose the Private Member’s Bill, principally by prayer and action, including writing urgently to peers with personal testimonies.
The Meacher Bill seeks to allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients considered as having only six months left to live, with the consent of two doctors and a High Court judge.
Opponents argue, however, that such proposed safeguards are symbolic, unworkable and meaningless and will be removed over time, particularly as they are open to legal challenge on grounds of discrimination.
They say the new law will serve principally as a beachhead for swingeing and incremental reforms that could lead to full euthanasia.
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