Defending and protecting human life means rejecting abortion, caring for the sick, offering a decent welcome to immigrants, valuing the contributions of the elderly, encouraging families to have children and caring for the environment, the bishops of Italy said.

"We are called to welcome life before and after its birth, in every condition and circumstance in which it is weak, threatened and in need of what is essential," said the bishops' statement for their 2019 pro-life day.

The permanent council of the bishops' conference issued the statement in December in anticipation of the Day for Life, which will be marked Feb. 3.

"We are called to care for those who suffer because of illness, violence or marginalization with the respect that is due to every human being when he or she is fragile," the bishops said.

"One also cannot forget the risks caused by the indifference to and attacks on the integrity and health of our 'common home,' which is our planet," the bishops said. "True ecology is always holistic and protects life from its first moments."

In a country still recovering from the economic crisis, where the birthrate has plummeted, where the population is aging and where young adults struggle to find work, the bishops said the wisdom of the elderly and their experience in dealing with "earthquakes, both geological and of the soul," can help the country recover if there is "a solid alliance between generations, as Pope Francis reminds us with insistence."

"The lack of stable and dignified work extinguishes the young's enthusiasm for the future and aggravates the demographic decline," which also is due to a widespread assumption that life is better with fewer or no children, the bishops said.

"Cultural and political forces" need to join together and institute programs to encourage Italians to have children and to "recognize the family as the generative womb of our country," the bishops said.

Of course, "the defense of the innocent who is not yet born must be clear, firm and passionate," the bishops said. While abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978, the bishops said that it "is not a lesser evil, but a crime."

And being truly committed to life, they said, Catholics must act to alleviate "the suffering of women, men and children whose lives depend on finding refuge in a safe land," but encounter increasingly stringent immigration and asylum policies.