From Boston to Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, bishops and diocesan officials are finalizing plans for the upcoming Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer, fasting and catechesis intended to raise awareness of the threats facing religious liberty.
Several bishops are hosting holy hours for religious freedom, and are urging their priests to preach on the issue during the Sunday Masses that will coincide with the fortnight, which will run from June 21 — the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More — to the Fourth of July.
Diocesan officials are also planning lectures, various outreach activities and other events designed to highlight the religious freedom issue.
Town hall meeting
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, will host a live town hall meeting June 25 that will be simulcast at 8 p.m. on local Catholic television and radio outlets. Cardinal O’Malley will be joined by a panel of diocesan officials who will field questions from viewers, said Scot Landry, the secretary for Catholic media in the Archdiocese of Boston.
“In the archdiocese, we are taking several steps to bring attention to this very important issue of religious freedom,” Landry told Our Sunday Visitor, adding that the archdiocese’s plans also include having priests lead recitations of the Prayer for Religious Liberty at Masses, publishing bulletin messages and full-page inserts on religious liberty, as well as distributing prayer cards and copies of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ April 12 document, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty.”
The statement includes specific examples of how religious liberty is under attack in the United States, most notably a mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that all employer-provided health insurance plans cover, without deductibles or co-pays, all government-approved forms of birth control, including abortifacients and sterilization.
The USCCB recommends that bishops focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” in bringing attention to the religious freedom issue.
On June 21, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori will open the Fortnight for Freedom by celebrating Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.
Cardinal Wuerl will celebrate a nationally televised Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on July 4, with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia serving as the homilist.
Prayers and patriotism
Other bishops will also celebrate Masses and other liturgical services.
Bishop Paul Loverde of the Archdiocese of Arlington, Va., will lead a holy hour for religious freedom at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More on June 21. Bishop Loverde is also asking his priests to hold two holy hours during the fortnight and to celebrate Mass on Independence Day.
In Maine, Portland Bishop Richard J. Malone will celebrate a special Mass on July 2 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Other possible events include bell ringing by all churches, prominent displaying of flags by faithful Catholics and ecumenical discussions on religious freedom, with all public actions to be conducted in a nonconfrontational manner.
“Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or to pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can continue to make our contribution to the common good of all Americans without violating our deeply-held moral beliefs. This issue affects all Americans — it is not a Catholic issue, a Jewish issue, an Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue. It is an American issue,” Bishop Malone said.
Steven Bozza, director of the Respect Life Office for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told OSV that the archdiocese may organize a conference that would focus on the Christian definition of freedom, conscience and cooperation with evil. Bozza, who teaches a university-level bioethics course, said many of his students lack an understanding of how conscience cannot be coerced into cooperating with evil.
“Their understanding of conscience is typically relativistic,” Bozza said. “They’re with me to a point, but when we talk about the need to obey our conscience in spite of someone’s perceived rights, that’s when conscience takes a backseat in their view.”
Bozza said a conference is in the pre-planning stages and still requires approval. In the meanwhile, the archdiocese is also encouraging parish-based activities, to include petitions for religious freedom during the prayer of the faithful at daily Masses. Bozza said the archdiocese is also urging daily praying of the Rosary for the intention of religious liberty, as well as Eucharistic adoration and fasting on the two Fridays during the fortnight.
Bozza added that the fortnight coincides with a time of the year when many people go away on vacation, spend weekends at the beach and focus their attentions on barbecues and fireworks. He said the fortnight has a “symbolic nature,” and added it was the right thing for the bishops’ conference to propose.
“To me, the end result of the symbolism is more important than the numbers of the crowds that show up to events,” Bozza said.
Lectures and outreach
James Flynn, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver, told OSV that the archdiocese will be kicking off the fortnight with an academic lecture by a political scientist who will center his talk on the relationship between Christianity and American democracy. There will also be lectures on the HHS mandate and an outreach effort to the local Latino community, where the religious freedom issue has not been as well publicized. Meanwhile, pastors are invited to host holy hours, and Bishop James D. Conley, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver, will declare a fast for religious freedom on the fortnight’s two Fridays.
“We’re certainly very excited about all this,” said Flynn, though adding that much of the planning remains fluid.
“We think the Fortnight for Freedom is an extremely important initiative for education on religious liberty, and it is also an opportunity for us to gather together as a faith community,” Flynn said.
“People are asking for leadership from the Church on this issue, and they are grateful for this opportunity to come together in prayer,” he told OSV.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis has taken the initiative on the religious freedom issue. The archdiocese recently announced the launching of a six-month campaign for religious freedom, running from May 27, the feast of Pentecost, to Nov. 25, the solemnity of Christ the King. The U.S. bishops’ conference has also called for the solemnity of Christ the King to be an occasion for bishops and priests to preach on religious freedom.
Katie Pesha, executive director of communications and planning for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told OSV that the campaign will consist of several events, which will be posted online at www.archstl.org/liberty. In addition to parish-based events, officials are also planning an event on the archdiocesan level, perhaps a Mass or special vigil.
“We initiated the religious freedom campaign pretty much right after this issue came to light,” said Pesha, adding that the fortnight will also be a “very important time period to drive people to action.”
“We’re engaged at a very high level when it comes to religious liberty,” Pesha said.
The St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, is preparing a special issue completely dedicated to religious liberty that will be published when the fortnight begins. St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will also recite a daily 3 p.m. prayer for religious liberty on Covenant Radio. The archbishop also is encouraging fasting on Fridays for the protection of religious liberty.
“Religious liberty is our first, most cherished freedom. The threat the HHS mandate poses to the Catholic Church is no small matter,” Archbishop Carlson told The St. Louis Review.
Parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis will receive web-based “action kits” with web banners, a prayer card template, videos, talking points and links to Catholic websites.
To further engage Catholics and the wider community on religious liberty, the archdiocese is also using social media, including a Twitter hashtag of #libertystl. “We’re hopeful it will generate some conversations,” Pesha said.
Brian Fraga writes from Texas.