The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a two-week period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom. The 14-day period begins June 21, the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and ends July 4.
In April, in the midst of the uproar over the HHS mandate requiring religious organizations to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients, the USCCB’s ad hoc committee for religious liberty issued a statement signed by Cardinal Wuerl as well as 14 bishops and archbishops — including Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix — examining the topic of religious freedom and calling for the “Fortnight.”
Dioceses around the country are planning special Masses and events to coincide with the “Fortnight for Freedom.”
Bishop Olmsted will celebrate an 8:30 a.m. Mass June 22 on the Feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher at St. Thomas More Parish, 6180 W. Utopia Road. The bishop will celebrate Mass at 9 a.m. June 24 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Ave.
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares will also celebrate Mass June 24, marking the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist at St. John the Baptist Parish, 5407 W. Pecos Road, Laveen.
The following Friday, June 29 — on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Bishop Nevares will celebrate a 7 p.m. Mass at St. Paul Parish, 330 W. Coral Gables Drive. He will celebrate two Mass the following Sunday, July 1, at San Francisco de Asís Parish at St. Pius X Center, 2257 E. Cedar Ave. in Flagstaff. The 10 a.m. Mass will be in Enlgish and the Noon Mass will be in Spanish.
The auxiliary bishop will celebrate Mass on July 4, marking Independence Day, at 8:30 a.m. at Ss. Simon and Jude. Mass will be followed by a recitation of “The Rosary for the United States of America.”
The statement called on Catholics to intensify their prayers for “a new birth of freedom in our beloved country. We invite you to join us in an urgent prayer for religious freedom,” the statement read in part.
The April 12 statement cited several examples of religious liberty under attack. Beyond the HHS mandate, the statement decried immigration laws passed by some states that deny the Church the right to exercise what it called Christian charity and pastoral care of undocumented immigrants. It also cited foster care and adoption services in San Francisco, Boston and elsewhere where Church groups lost their licenses because they refused to place children in the care of same-sex couples or unmarried cohabitating couples.
The U.S. bishops’ statement emphasized that religious freedom is not merely the right to worship, but also includes the right of religious Americans to contribute to the good of society without compromising their beliefs.
“Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas,” the statement read in part.
John Crossin, OSFS, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said that the ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ should also be seen as an ecumenical event. In a letter to diocesan leaders, Crossin encouraged ecumenical prayer services during the 14-day period.
“Many of our ecumenical and interreligious partners also have concerns about religious freedom both in this country and abroad,” the letter stated. “As part of the Fortnight, we want to invite you to join with interested local partners to raise awareness of religious freedom.”
To read the entire statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” visit www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious liberty .