Pope plugs religious freedom efforts of U.S. Catholics

As the battle for religious freedom rights in the United States heats up, Pope Benedict XVI has offered it a boost of encouragement. 

In a message to the Knights of Columbus at the start of their national meeting Aug. 7-9 in Anaheim, Calif., the pope also urged a refocusing on catechetical and spiritual formation programs so that American Catholic laity will be prepared to be authentic witnesses and apostles of the Gospel, even when and where there are attempts to silence the Church’s voice. The message was signed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and released by the Vatican press office. 

By coincidence, it came just a few days after the Health and Human Services mandate went into effect Aug. 1. Because that mandate requires employers — even those with conscience objections — to facilitate abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization, it has become a focal point of efforts to protect religious freedom. 

“The challenges of the present moment,” the message said, “are in fact yet another reminder of the decisive importance of the Catholic laity for the advancement of the Church’s mission in today’s rapidly changing social context. ... 

“As [Pope Benedict] stated to the bishops of the United States earlier this year, the demands of the new evangelization and the defense of the Church’s freedom in our day call for ‘an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society (Ad limina address, Jan. 19). ... 

“The forthcoming inauguration of the Year of Faith, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, is meant to deepen this sense of ecclesial responsibility and mission in the entire People of God.” 

The Vatican message noted that “concerted efforts are being made to redefine and restrict the exercise of the right to religious freedom,” and said the Church in the United States was facing “the unprecedented gravity of these new threats to the Church’s liberty and public moral witness.” 

The message praised the Knights — and by extension all those engaged in the same work — for “defending the right of all religious believers, as individual citizens and in their institutions, to work responsibly in shaping a democratic society inspired by their deepest beliefs, values and aspirations.” 

With more than 1.8 million members, the Knights last year donated more than $158 million and 70 million hours to various charitable causes. The Knights’ chaplain, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, also heads the U.S. bishops religious freedom campaign. 

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