This is the first Independence Day we have celebrated since last fall’s visit of Pope Francis to the United States. On that trip, the pope engaged with our history and national traditions, most notably in his historic address to Congress and his Sept. 26 address on religious liberty, given on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.
In that Philadelphia address, given at the “birthplace of the United States,” Pope Francis affirmed the foundational values of our nation, that all men and women are created equal and endowed by God with certain inalienable rights, which the government exists to protect. He noted that “these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, reappropriated and defended.”
He said we reaffirmed who we are with “the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement and gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at further waves of new Americans.” And remembering this tradition of remaining true to our founding principles, he said, has an essential value for the ongoing well-being of a nation:
“When a country is mindful of its roots, it keeps growing, it is renewed and it continues to embrace newcomers, new individuals and new peoples. All of us benefit from remembering our past. A people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future. Remembrance saves a people’s soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or to use it for their own interests.”
And it was here Pope Francis affirmed the value of religious freedom, “a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own. The ideal of interreligious dialogue, where all men and women, from different religious traditions, can speak to one another without arguing. This is what religious freedom allows.”
Religious freedom is not limited to worship spaces, he noted, because religion “is not a subculture,” but is “part of the culture of every people and every nation.” And religious traditions serve society by calling it “to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good and compassion for those in need. At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and all human rights.”
This positive role of religion in society, Pope Francis said, exists in the face of “various forms of modern tyranny” that “aims at one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions.”
This Independence Day is a chance for all Americans to reflect on these words from Pope Francis and continue to reaffirm and defend our foundational rights. With the Fortnight for Freedom (June 21-July 4), the bishops of the United States have taken the last several years as an opportunity to urge Catholics living in the United States not to take our first freedom, religious freedom, for granted. In the tradition of ending slavery and rooting out every kind of prejudice, we can also encourage discussion on the way our country welcomes migrants as a way to be mindful of our roots, grow as a nation and reject any new ideological tyranny that may be on the rise.
Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor