Ahead of Ireland’s referendum on the country’s abortion laws, Bishop Brendan Leahy penned a letter to the diocese of Limerick promoting respect for human life.

“The possible repeal of the eighth amendment and introduction of a liberal regime of abortion in Ireland…is a pivotal moment for our society and how we cherish life in this country,” stated Bishop Leahy of Limerick in a pastoral letter, according to the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“I invite you to be missionaries for the cause of life. It is a noble cause to uphold the sacredness of human life,” he continued.

The Irish government announced on Jan. 29 that a referendum will be held to decide the fate of the constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which classifies abortion as a criminal act. Repeal of the amendment could permit abortion throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The vote is set for late May or early June.

In his letter, which was read at all of the Masses in the Diocese of Limerick over the Feb. 3-4 weekend, Bishop Leahy acknowledged the difficult task in speaking about the upcoming referendum.

“While I too find it difficult to talk about it, nevertheless the Gospel and my conscience convince me that I am obliged to speak,” Leahy said.

The Irish bishop also asked the faithful to not become distracted with the politics and discussions surrounding the amendment and legislation, saying the top priority should instead be the mothers and their babies.

“It is right to attend with empathy and care to the difficult situations of women faced with challenging circumstances around pregnancy,” Leahy said.  

“We do indeed need to love both mother and baby in pregnancy, but I believe that in our public commentary at the moment we are often forgetting the unborn baby,” Leahy continued, saying “make no mistake about it. It is a baby.”

Leahy continued to encourage the faithful in the Diocese of Limerick to champion the cause of life within Ireland and pray for overall respect of human life.

“It really is important for us to affirm that what’s in the womb are babies that are just not born yet. They are not potential persons but persons with potentials; they are developing humans,” Leahy said.

“Let’s continue to pray for one another.”