VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To fight a throwaway culture that pressures women to view abortion as the only alternative to a difficult pregnancy, the Catholic Church must be ready to assist, accompany and care for expectant mothers and their families, said U.S. Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell.
The cardinal, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, opened a Vatican conference on protecting life May 23.
Catholics, Cardinal Farrell said, must have a more "pastoral orientation" to fulfill the Christian obligation to "take care of another in a loving and caring manner in accordance with our view of human life: that every man and every woman is created in the image and likeness of God."
"One of the greatest challenges to every mother is the thought that the child in the womb may be diagnosed with a grave illness," he said. "It is at such moments that the church and indeed all people of good will must be prepared and ready to assist the mother and her family as a loving mother that the church is always called to be."
The conference sponsored by Cardinal Farrell's office was designed to offer "reflection and formation from a scientific perspective and with pastoral concern" for unborn and newborn children threatened by or suffering from serious illness or disability.
It also aimed to promote "a genuine welcoming culture" for those diagnosed with fetal pathologies.
The two-day conference, titled "Yes to Life: Caring for the Precious Gift of Life in its Frailness," featured experts in the field of prenatal care and medicine as well as religious men and women who offered their perspectives on creating a welcoming and caring environment for expectant mothers and their families.
In his opening address, Cardinal Farrell said that the purpose of the event was "to promote a pastoral approach" in which the church community goes out "in search of these families and helps them in this moment of disorientation, this moment of disability, illness and the possible loss of children."
"We must ensure that these people never feel alone, never feel abandoned by us," he said.
The cardinal also emphasized the need for greater cooperation between those in the medical and religious profession to defend "the unique experience" of motherhood that "is a mysterious and profound bonding between a mother and her child right from the time of conception."
"This bonding is forever, whatever may happen. It is a relationship that must be safeguarded, protected and accompanied so that it can be lived as a path of welcome and love," he said.
Cardinal Farrell said that saying "yes" to life, especially when it is most vulnerable, is neither a symbolic nor abstract theme, but rather a real and concrete challenge that "does not involve only a few women or a few rare cases around the world."
"God is the father and creator of all things: science, medicine and faith," the cardinal said. "And all three of these elements must come together in the world in which we live today."