The Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has urged members of the Church to become "missionaries for the cause of life" in the run-up to the abortion referendum later this year.
In a pastoral message for 2018 released on Saturday, the archbishop said Catholics should ignore the “strong pressures to remain silent” and speak to their relatives, friends, colleagues, and public representatives about the importance of “cherishing the precious gift of life at all times from conception to natural death”.
A referendum on whether to retain the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits abortion, is set to take place this summer.
The Oireachtas committee examining the Amendment completed its work in December and its recommendations were forwarded to the Oireachtas, paving the way for the vote.
The committee recommended that the Amendment be removed from the Constitution and that abortion should be available without restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
In the message on Saturday, the archbishop said: “All human life is sacred. All human life is precious. This is why the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life is always gravely wrong.
“Article 40.3.3 [the Eighth Amendment] is a declaration of equality and respect for human life – it represents, at the very foundations and substructure of our laws, a conviction that all human life is equally worth cherishing.
“To repeal this Article will leave unborn children defenceless, and completely at the mercy of whatever abortion laws are introduced in Ireland – both immediately and as will inevitably be further broadened in future years.”
The archbishop added: “Both [women’s and babies’] lives deserve protection from the tragedy and irreversible decision of abortion.
“It is falsely claimed that wide access to abortion will mark Ireland out as a ‘modern’ country, placing the needs of women ‘at the centre’.
"Abortion ends the human life of an unborn girl or boy. It deceives women – and men – by creating a culture where the decision to end the life of an unborn child is portrayed as simply a matter of individual 'choice'.
“We should focus our energies and resources on making Ireland the most welcoming country in the world for a woman and her baby in the womb.
“Ireland now has an opportunity to give even stronger witness that we value all life equally: we care for the weakest and smallest, the strongest and healthiest, the youngest, the oldest, and the whole wonderful and beautiful spectrum of life in-between.”
The leaders of Ireland’s Christian churches had not mentioned the referendum in their joint New Year’s message.