(Editor’s note: Updated July 5)
Yesterday, on Independence Day, in his homily for the closing Mass of the U.S. bishops’ “fortnight for freedom,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the time is now for Catholics to stand up and speak out about the foundational right to religious freedom in this country.
“We live in a time that calls for sentinels and public witness. Every Christian in every era faces the same task,” he said. “But you and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now. We need to ‘speak out,’ not only for religious liberty and the ideals of the nation we love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person –- in other words, for the truth of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.”
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, main celebrant of the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, said the fortnight not only brought Catholics together to demonstrate their support religious liberty but it also “has been a time for us to count our many blessings and to celebrate both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.” Read the cardinal’s newest blog posting titled “Remembering who we are as Catholics and Americans,” in which about the closing Mass and the fortnight observance.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for the fortnight in March in their Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty’s statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” and asked dioceses to plan Masses, prayer services, educational events and other activities from June 21 to July 4.
The statement outlined several instances of “religious liberty under attack.” Foremost among the U.S. bishops’ concerns is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that employers, including most religious ones, provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, which Catholic teaching considers “morally objectionable.”
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori launched the observance as the main celebrant of a June 21 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. “We must never allow the government — any government, at any time, of any party — to impose such a constrictive definition on our beloved church or any church,” said the archbishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom.
Fortnight events in U.S. dioceses ranged from an Independence Celebration Walk & Picnic in Des Moines, Iowa, a motorcycle “Rosary Ride for Religious Freedom” in Colorado Springs, Colo., and nonpartisan voter registration drives after Masses in Atlanta parishes, to a religious liberty conference in Covington, Ky., parish movie nights in Omaha, Neb., featuring religious-liberty themed films, and an outdoor Faith and Freedom Mass in a park band shell in Savannah, Ga. Links to what U.S. dioceses did over the fortnight can be found on the USCCB website