For several days I’ve sat at my desk, attempting to write about the third Fortnight for Freedom beginning on June 21. This year’s theme is “Freedom to Serve”. Where do I start? I want to convey my deep concerns about the chipping away of our personal freedom to practice and publicly witness our faith. I want to raise a sense of urgency about the marginalization of the Church in the public square. I want to talk about how restrictions on religious freedom are impeding the ability of Church-related organizations to provide social services such as adoption. I want to applaud Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for his steadfast witness to the truth about marriage even as he is subjected to daily excoriation in the press and from some local, state and national politicians and special interest groups.
Any day now the U.S. Supreme Court will announce its decision regarding the HHS contraceptive mandate in cases affecting private individuals who run for-profit businesses. The decision will undoubtedly have an immense impact on the ability of individuals to follow their religious convictions in their professional lives (that includes you and me!). Will that decision uphold individual rights of conscience, or will it lead to further eroding of religious liberty?
But while I contemplate these very real and serious issues in our country, I realize that we still live in the land of the free. Last September anti-Christian suicide bombers killed 81 parishioners and injured 130 more, including many women and children, at All Saints Catholic Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. My heart breaks for those fellow Catholics who risk their lives to receive the Eucharist; for our Christian brothers and sisters in Nigeria who live in fear of Boko Haram; for Meriam Ibrahim, the woman imprisoned in Khartoum, Somalia with her two infant children, sentenced to death by hanging because she is a Christian; for the ancient, historic Syrian Christian communities that face persecution and annihilation; for Catholic priests and bishops still imprisoned in China…the list goes on.
Religious freedom is one of our most precious and fragile human rights. Currently very few of our state and national political leaders feel obliged to listen to the Church’s voice regarding life, marriage and liberty issues. The political “muscle” to change that pattern must come from an active, informed and engaged laity. As the old saying goes, when politicians feel the heat, they see the light!
There are abundant resources available for personal and parish use on the USCCB website,www.Fortnight4Freedom.org, including fact sheets, prayers, a beautiful litany, and daily reflections on Dignitatis Humanae (Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty). If you’d like a weekly reminder to fast on Fridays for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty, text “FAST” to 99000. And, of course, you can sign up any time to be a part of the Catholic Legislative Network www.cacatholic.org .