Church celebrates religious freedom with ‘Fortnight’

Ric Serrano, president of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants, Jack Ahern and Manny Yrique of Magnalite Distributors help lead the July 4 rosary for the United States of America at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. Yrique developed the rosary for the USA. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)
Ric Serrano, president of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants, Jack Ahern and Manny Yrique of Magnalite Distributors help lead the July 4 rosary for the United States of America at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. Yrique developed the rosary for the USA. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

Freedom, according to Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, does not come from a government. It comes from God.

“A government acts wrongly when it coerces its citizens to violate their consciences or pay a heavy price and penalty for faithfully following it,” he said in his June 22 homily at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, which marked the beginning of the local observance of the Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week celebration of religious liberty focused on how faith enriches public life.

The Fortnight, which was also observed last year and which culminated on the Fourth of July, is one of many responses by the U.S. bishops to the U.S. Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act.

The mandate will require most employers, including religious employers, to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services. It includes an exemption for some religious employers that fit its criteria.

“The HHS mandate coerces Catholics and members of other religions to act against our most deeply held beliefs,” the bishop said. “This is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, federal and state laws, and our long American tradition of religious liberty. We cannot remain silent in the face of this grave injustice.”

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department issued final rules for the mandate on June 28. The HHS extended the deadline for compliance to the mandate for an additional five months.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was concerned about the narrow definition of “religious employers” exempt from the contraceptive coverage requirement.

The cardinal took issue with the religious ministries being excluded from “religious employers” and the treatment of businesses run by those who seek to operate their companies according to religious principles.

Serrano’s Mexican Food Restaurants is one such company. Ric Serrano, president of Serrano’s, said the company had been operating under “crisis mode.” The Affordable Care Act would require companies like Serrano’s to provide healthcare coverage to their employees or face a $2,000 per employee fine.

“It has to change for us to survive it,” he said. “There’s no way on earth we could insure 350 people. It’s just unaffordable.”

Serrano joined hundreds of other concerned Catholics for a July 4th Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. The Mass and subsequent Rosary for the United States of America concluded the local observance of the Fortnight.

“We know more and more that the federal government is infringing on our right to practice our Catholic faith,” Bishop Nevares said in his homily. “Our federal government is promoting the abandonment of Catholic principles. The choice that you and I have is very clear: God and His plan or secularism.”

Manny Yrique, who believes the Blessed Mother led him to discover the Rosary for the USA, noticed the 50 Hail Marys could correspond to the 50 states. His concern for his country led him to promote this rosary beyond Arizona.

“Today we are handed down laws that enslave citizens to the government that is meant to protect them,” Yrique said just before leading the July 4 rosary. “Our Lord did not create us to be slaves. He wants us to love Him by the way we serve each other.”

Through prayer, Catholics can come to see Christ in everyone they meet.

“Our hope for our nation isn’t in anyone that we elect,” Yrique said. “Our hope is in the grace of God.”

Catholic News Service contributed to this story.