Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo was one of these champions as the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, a post he held from 1990 up until his death on April 19, 2008.
Before he died, the cardinal gave an interview to Juan Manuel Estrella, which remained unpublished until now.
This interview published by ZENIT shares the words of the prelate as he reflects on the work to defend the family, the providential nature of "Evangelium Vitae," and the roles of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in this realm.
Q: How and why did the Servant of God John Paul II institute the Pontifical Council for the Family, a few years after having been elected Successor of Peter?
Cardinal López Trujillo: The day of the assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square, John Paul II erected the Pontifical Council for the Family in the morning.
That is why I have said that our council had a sort of baptism of blood. Its creation was, without a doubt, a clear fruit of the Synod of the Family and, specifically, of the Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio," which was the first he wrote based on the synodal propositions and which, very enriched, represented a sort of Magna Carta not only on the family but also on our council.
It is worthwhile remembering that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the General Relator. We could say it was the first "teamwork" between John Paul II and today's Benedict XVI.
I had the honor of being elected one of the relators of the minor circles, specifically the Hispanic-Portuguese circle, and I worked very closely with him.
The family dicastery was born from the Pontifical Council for the Laity, in which there was a commission that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla belonged to; he was very experienced in this subject as archbishop of Krakow, both in the theological as well as the pastoral dimensions. He had an institute for the family that operated in the archbishopric's palace itself, which offered courses beginning in the month of April, taking advantage of the spring and part of the summer. Our council, hence, was in seed and gestation.
So fundamental is the question of marriage and the family and so fundamental its defined importance for society that it went beyond the possibilities and limits of the Council for the Laity.
Its own areas, in keeping with "Familiaris Consortio," are immense: the family and life.
Many are the subjects entrusted to it by the Successor of Peter and it made its first public launching, ad extra, faced to the world, people and humanity's common good, in keeping with something stressed by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Questions such as the family as a social subject, with its peculiar sovereignty and also its political tasks, show the vast field that has been confirmed as central, in an "ad extra" pastoral program and not just "ad intra," conceived as something intra-ecclesial.
Our council was an intuition of the Pope, as was the institute that bears his name and, much later, the Pontifical Academy for Life, which is not a dicastery of the Roman Curia and which is at the service of the dicastery for Health Care Ministry and the dicastery for the Family.
My attention was caught by how the commission for the family in France now links clearly to society, and in its coordination scheme gives it a new name, something like "the family and the societal," which is difficult to translate.
Experience has shown that John Paul II's intuition was a great step forward.
Q: What year were you called to preside over the dicastery? Why did the Servant of God, John Paul II, think of you? Do you think it was because of your participation as Secretary General in the 3rd CELAM [the Latin American bishops' council] Conference?
Cardinal López Trujillo: I began my service in November of 1990. The Holy Father asked me to come to Rome to discuss the issue and I returned to my archdiocese already committed, as I understood that I could not refuse this collaboration, although it represented a change and a challenge for me; and the Pope did not hide from me the difficult task of the dicastery.
At the moment of my acceptance I myself did not imagine the size of the challenge or its difficulties and possibilities. Cardinal Edouard Gagnon had laid a good basis.
The call to serve in the Pontifical Council for the Family was a surprise for me and an interesting challenge.
To collaborate with the Pope is always a privilege and a change. To come to Rome from a large diocese [Medellin, Colombia], with a numerous curia (around 400 people, as we concentrate in it the institutions of the local Church), to a small dicastery was a contrast at the beginning. Outside we had many collaborators, thank God.
I don't know the reason why the Holy Father appointed me. I have never asked for anything. I knew the Holy Father first as secretary general and later as president of CELAM and of the episcopal conference of Colombia and I had many opportunities to visit him
I did so with greater frequency because I belonged to several dicasteries. I had done some work on the family. For example, I established the episcopal vicariate of the family, and I started an institute of the family in the Pontifical Bolivarian University of Medellin.
In CELAM we created first a secretariat of the family and later the corresponding commission.
I thank the Pope for the trust placed in a poor bishop created cardinal by him, knowing his love for the "cause" of the family and life, which so distinguished his formidable pontificate.
He dedicated so much effort, time and determined enthusiasm to it, which was really contagious.
Q: The encyclical letter "Evangelium Vitae" was published in the year 1995. What was your participation in it? Did Pope John Paul II ask you to collaborate directly?
Cardinal López Trujillo: As is well known, "Evangelium Vitae" originated in an Extraordinary Consistory of the College of Cardinals, which requested that the Holy Father address -- with a high-level Papal document, which in fact was an encyclical -- the proclamation of God's gift of human life, as good news worthy of being proclaimed, defended, and fully assumed in a culture of life.
This took place after having examined the situation in the world that offered negative, worrying, threatening features, which reflected a culture of death as a widespread aggression underway, above all against the category of the weakest and poorest. This was the origin of "Evangelium Vitae."
The Pope took such a decisive question into his hands and personally consulted bishops worldwide.
The personal response of the bishops in this historical consultation, to my knowledge unprecedented in the last pontificates for an encyclical, was studied with due seriousness.
In this study our council had the honor of receiving the confidence of the Successor of Peter of supporting him in the study of the answers that provided, so to speak, the primary material for "Evangelium Vitae." Then John Paul II followed, under his personal care, the different stages and contributions of those who collaborated, in close dependence on the Pope, in the elaboration.
Our Pontifical Council for the Family was very active and close in collaboration with the substitute of the State Secretariat, in the whole process and in the moments of greatest significance.
Together with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith we offered our collaboration in the course of the years of preparation on the subjects and points that were personally followed by the Holy Father. I was also present in the consultation of some thirty bishops of the world gathered in Rome for some issues.
Much care was taken to weigh the different questions and, together with Cardinal Ratzinger, I had the task of presenting "Evangelium Vitae" to the media. The lessons of what happened with the encyclical "Humanae Vitae," whose contents were assumed by John Paul II, were useful.
In an advanced moment of its preparation, given the doubt that some would introduce the idea of the sufficiency of the "Letter to Families" and that a new document might be unnecessary, I supported the Pope in his renewed decision that the encyclical was necessary and obeyed a clear desire expressed first by the College of Cardinals and later by the concert of the bishops of the world.
We coordinated the first comments in the Pontifical Council for the Family, though they were published by the Academy for Life, which had just been established. "Evangelium Vitae" is clearly part of the theological domain of the family, otherwise the mission and understanding of marriage and the family would be drastically reduced.
Great was our joy when this encyclical was published, after appropriate preparation and a difficult gestation.
Today we have this precious instrument to which the Pope committed himself personally.
The repercussion was immense, and a beautiful legacy, which Benedict XVI, who collaborated closely with its preparation, receives and proposes to encourage without beating about the bush, as we see, together with the priority of the family.
"Evangelium Vitae" is providential, especially today in the parliamentary realm, with so much progress in science but with an "absolutism" lamented by Cardinal Ratzinger, which pretends not to know the limits and to ignore moral principles and values.
God is canceled from social life and this does not happen with impunity, as there is an attempt against the principles of truth of every society.
The sense of law is turned upside down and arrives at the height of confusion that dehumanizes man, by converting crime into law, as denounced in "Evangelium Vitae," or as Cardinal Ratzinger said, when the state arrogates to itself abusive prerogatives.
Democracy is overturned and "accepting in fact that as the rights of the weakest are violated, accepted also is that the right of force prevail over the force of law" (L'Europa de Benedetto nella Crisi della Cultural, ed. Cantagalli, pp. 68-69).
Q: As president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, what message for the family do you draw from the precious and fruitful legacy of the Servant of God John Paul II? Can John Paul II be defined as "the Pope of Life?" Have you ever described him thus?
Cardinal López Trujillo: His teaching and his life, linked in such admirable consistency, are a gift for the Church and for humanity.
His fidelity to his mission was a message to the world.
Often certain Vatican "experts," not always lucid and objective, have attempted to introduce an opposition between John Paul II's openness to human rights, to the cause of the liberty of peoples, to the social realm, on one hand, and on the other, the Pope closed and intolerant on issues of the family, life, sexual morality, which gave no space to abortion, to contraception, and did not yield to pressures (impossible to be successful) on divorce, divorced persons who remarry, etc.
With little penetration in the exigencies of the faith and in obedience to the Church, they create the confusion of thinking that on these subjects options to the letter can be made. They are not optional but obligatory.
The Pope did not seek to spare himself incomprehension and being accused, including by some fanciful theologians and groups with a minimum of ecclesial attunement.
It was a wonderful lesson: The worldwide tribute of the faithful and of non-Christians and non-believers were not seduced by this artificial dichotomy.
The multitudes saw in him a man in love with the integral truth as a servant of Christ. People felt questioned by the Bible.
The life and death of this faithful servant were and are an evangelization.
In the World Meeting of Families in the Year of the Family I greeted him as the "Pope of the family and of life." I think this struck deeply in many.
It is true that the Pontiff, who had come from Poland, was outstanding in so many fields, and that expressions can be multiplied that do not exhaust the wealth of his ministry.
However, his extraordinary contribution to the Gospel of the family and life was certainly his stamp.
Never before had a Pontiff proclaimed so vigorously and assiduously this Gospel that resonated everywhere in the world. The whole of his teaching is monumental and a sure path, not only for Catholics.
We must receive with gratitude the teaching for which the Pope spent himself, without trimming it or engaging in comfortable limitations.
The Pontifical Council for the Family has sought to be faithful in this, without curtailing energies and difficulties.
Several times he told me that we should go against the current. In this sense, he entrusted a difficult dicastery to me, always situated in the eye of the hurricane, on almost all the topics, because many do not understand that behind the appearances of rigor and incomprehension there is an abundance, immense as the Iguazu Falls, of the search for respect for human dignity, true love, which springs as a gift from the heart of God who loves us and saves us in the truth.
And truth is configured with the profiles of the face of Christ. Therefore, it is a truth made life in the Incarnate Word.
We believe this message is called to change those who make room for the Gospel in their life. And this is possible despite the confusion of so many governments and parliaments, which will be attracted by the splendor of the truth.