Cherrin Moore, Lindamarie Richardson, Susan Igel and Pearlie Harris, all from South Carolina, pray during the opening Mass at the annual gathering of the National Council of Catholic Women in Chicago Nov.10. Nearly 700 Catholic women from across the Unit ed States were expected to attend NCCW's Nov. 9-12 convention. Representing more than 4,000 groups and 4,000 individual members, the organization seeks to bolster spirituality, leadership and service among Catholic women. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catho lic New World)

MELBOURNE, Fla. (CNS) — The president of the National Council of Catholic Women said she sees “a reawakening of women now that they’re seeing how much our church needs us,” especially with regard to efforts to protect religious freedom.

Women are “stepping forward and speaking about our values. Unfortunately, for so long women thought they should not be speaking on these issues,” said Judy Powers.

“For Catholic women, we would prefer to speak for something — for life, for our values, for marriage, as opposed to speaking against. We prefer to be a force for God’s love,” she added.

Powers made the comments in an interview for Catholic News Service while she was in Melbourne for the recent convention of the Orlando Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.

Regarding threats to religious freedom, she referred to those laid out in a 12-page document titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” which was released April 12 by the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Cited first in the document was the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that most health plans must include contraception, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.

Among other examples of “religious liberty under attack” the bishops named:

— Immigration laws in Alabama and other states that “forbid what the government deems ‘harboring’ of undocumented immigrants — and what the church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to those immigrants.”

— An attempt by the Connecticut Legislature in 2009 to restructure Catholic parishes.

— Discrimination against Christian students on college campuses.

— Government actions in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the state of Illinois that have “driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services” because the agencies would not place children with same-sex or unmarried heterosexual couples.

“Now is the time to stand with the bishops against the HHS ruling and for the protection of marriage, parental notification laws and the points of the Religious Liberty document,” continued Powers, who is from the Diocese of Palm Beach.

She urged women to “find out who their legislators are and communicate with them”; read the U.S. bishops’ “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” document, available online at, to be informed voters going to the polls in November; and to participate in the “fortnight for freedom” June 21-July 4, a campaign in support of religious freedom called for by the ad hoc committee.

“The other practical thing which we do best is to pray — living God’s agenda not ours,” added Powers, who added.

At a banquet after the closing Mass at the convention of the Orlando Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, Orlando Bishop John G. Noonan spoke of his recent trip to Cuba. He led a contingent of pilgrims there during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island nation March 28-30. The pope had called for full religious freedom and greater respect for human rights.

“There is no hope in their eyes, no joy in their hearts,” Bishop Noonan said of the group of young people he had met there. “They never heard of our pope coming. They never saw the pope in their lives. We talked to them about their future and there was no future. They were told what they would do.”

“Our religious freedom is a great gift,” the bishop added. “And we are not to be afraid to speak up in truth and justice for what is right. The language of the Gospel is right and we are called to speak the truth. We will not compromise on the truth.”

He also told the gathering of 200 women and guests that “it always amazes me what you do, but what touches me most is when we go to Tallahassee for Catholic Days at the Capitol and I see hundreds of women dressed in red speaking out and making a difference in the Legislature.”

He was referring to an annual two-day event where Florida Catholics gather in Tallahassee to attend briefings on issues and meet with their elected officials.

— By Laura Dodson, Catholic News Service