As the Synod on the Family was in full swing last week, an organization defending the family and life at the UN presented retired Cardinal Renato Martino with the Maximilian Kolbe Medal for his “unwavering bravery” in defense of life.
Cardinal Martino served from 1986 to 2002 as Pope St. John Paul II’s representative to the United Nations in New York.
“I’m very honored to receive this Maximilian Kolbe medal,” the Italian cardinal said, “which recognizes the work I did during 16 years as the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.”
Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), which monitors and defends life at the United Nations and other international institutions, presented the award in the cardinal’s Vatican apartment on Oct. 16. Also present was C-FAM board member, Robert Royal, and the founder of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Benjamin Harnwell, who organised the presentation.
Ruse said the medal “honors the fight Cardinal Martino fought from the day he arrived” at the United Nations.
The Maximilian Kolbe medal is the highest honor awarded by C-FAM and has only previously been awarded once before, to the President of Costa Rica for his defense of life. The award was first announced in May, after which the medal was then crafted, showing an embossed scene of St. Maximilian in Auschwitz, the extermination camp where the Polish Franciscan gave his life in place of a fellow prisoner.
Cardinal Martino, 81, played an instrumental role at two UN conferences in the 1990s — in Cairo and Beijing – during which he led resistance to pressure to approve abortion as a method of family planning. The efforts resulted in the UN adopting Article 8.25 that banned abortion on such grounds.
“It is still in the documents of the United Nations,” Cardinal Martino pointed out, adding that he was simply inspired by the “fight to defend life”.
Ruse, noting that opponents “have tried up to this very day to get rid of 8.25,” said there’s “never been a stronger nuncio on these issues at the United Nations than this man. He never gave up, not just in Cairo but Beijing, Rio and all the small meetings – always.”
Unlike his predecessors, who tended to make “general statements, nice statements,” Cardinal Martino “got into the nitty-gritty of the documents and actually began negotiating, which shocked a lot of people and made a lot of people mad,” Ruse said.
He observed that despite spending “hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man hours”, the pro-abortion lobby “haven’t got anything more into the documents than they got in Cairo.”
“So the battle you won at Cairo has been maintained,” Ruse told the cardinal. “It’s phenomenal.”
Ruse revealed that the very idea to create C-FAM originated with Cardinal Martino. Pro-life NGOs would lobby at conferences such as those in Cairo and Beijing and then go home after each of them ended. This prompted the cardinal to say there needed to be a “permanent office of laymen at the UN, doing this full time,” Ruse recalled. “We did it, but it was his idea.”
Asked what advice he would now give, Cardinal Martino, who now serves as honorary president of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, simply said: “To continue the battle.”
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