Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted answers questions on EWTN radio during the Family Celebration Sept. 8-9. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
EWTN's Raymond Arroyo led a religious liberty forum Sept. 8 at the Phoenix Convention Center. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted released the third edition of his booklet “Catholics in the Public Square” during EWTN’s Family Celebration Sept. 8-9 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The Arizona Catholic Conference gave away thousands of copies at the event and sent others to local parishes. All told, there are now more than 250,000 booklets in the hands of Arizona voters offering clear, concise answers to living a fully-engaged Catholic life.

“Religious liberty in itself is our first freedom. It’s crucial that we’re able to be free,” the bishop said during a Sept. 8 roundtable discussion broadcast on the Catholic network. The forum helped Catholics understand key issues, especially heading into election season.

Michael Warsaw, president and CEO of EWTN, also took part in the whirlwind two-hour panel discussion. EWTN was among the first to file a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring health insurance plans to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

An updated “Survey of Religious Hostility in America,” released in August by the Liberty Institute and Family Research Council, presents more than 600 incidents of religious attacks and hostility in the United States. Most of them occurred within the last 10 years, according to an executive summary. They’re happening in the public arena, at school and against churches and ministries.

Thousands gathered for EWTN's Family Celebration. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The most direct attack, the bishop said, is through the HHS mandate. By requiring religious employers to provide services through insurance that directly violate their consciences, the mandate greatly jeopardizes the ability to freely practice the faith, the bishop said.

Alan Sears, CEO and general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, called it a perilous time. His firm has 1,500 lawyers in three countries and at the United Nations. He called the threats before the courts now unprecedented. There are some exemptions, including the Amish community, but they’re too narrow to adequately protect all religious institutions.

“This is about the government defining what the faith is, who the faithful are and how and when we can practice the faith,” Sears said. The nearly 2,000 people in the crowd often matched such comments with applause.

Marci Moffit, president of the Catholic Medical Association, offered a physician’s perspective. Many physicians question leaving the practice of medicine or taking drastic measures in order to still practice without violating their consciences.

Moffit cited an Ahwatukee doctor who resorted to accepting only cash payments so that he won’t have to deal with health plan services that violate Church teaching.

Remaining obedient to God and listening to His voice is key, especially when there don’t seem to be any good alternatives, the bishop said.

Sears agreed. He acknowledged that sometimes the stakes are high, but it’s important to have people who will prayerfully say, “We will not comply.”

It’s not just reproductive issues threatening religious liberty. Sears and others were quick to bring up the redefinition of marriage. He cited one case where a photographer was sued for a violation of human rights for refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding and another where a company wouldn’t print a T-shirt supporting same-sex relationships.

Raymond Arroyo, host of “The World Over,” an international news magazine on EWTN, moderated the roundtable discussion. He asked about cures for these moral ailments.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrates Mass Sept. 9 at the Phoenix Convention Center. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Olmsted said the political process is a start. So is education. After all, Arizona Catholics were almost evenly split at first on the issue of gay marriage in 2006. By election time, after a voter’s guide and other educational material, it was 82 percent against it.

It’s equally important, however, the bishop said, to live the Catholic faith at home and to grow in a life of prayer. He also commented on the benefits of fasting to help fight evil during a lengthy Q-and-A.

“There’s a power that comes in joining our whole body with our convictions,” the bishop said in direct response to a listener’s question. “Fasting is especially important to give us a freedom — a freedom to grow in detachment from our comforts.”

Crowds at EWTN’s Family Celebration also learned the difference between negotiable and non-negotiable issues, how to live their faith as a young adult Catholic, how to steer friends away form morally corrupt choices and more. The celebration brought crowds from across Arizona and at least 26 other states.

Raymond Arroyo challenged the crowd to think about the legacy they’re leaving behind. In a one-hour address mixed with tangible advice and humorous impersonations, Arroyo reminded attendees that creative expressions of the faith and leading by example will go much further in the work of evangelization than words ever will.

“The thing that often brings people to any faith is the living, breathing example,” Arroyo said.

Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God and Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, host of “EWTN Live” and “Threshold of Hope,” also gave addresses. Mother Miriam, among other things, offered practical advice for families. Beyond prayer, she suggested reading Catholic literature, such as a papal encyclical, as a family.

She also reminded parents that they have stewardship over their children’s souls and highlighted tips from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s first book, “Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics.”

Three sets of local guests shared their joys of embracing a simple approach to Catholic living on a special “Life on the Rock” show Sept. 8. The Poor Clare Sisters of Perpetual Adoration recapped their Arizona journey and plans for building a monastery with full enclosure in Tonopah.

Teenagers from nearby St. Henry Parish in Buckeye were guests alongside Fr. Billy Kosco. They shared their approach to youth ministry and their witness of staying Catholic in high school.

Catholic young adults involved with St. Paul’s Outreach at Arizona State University offered a similar college take. The model creates separate men and women households rooted in faith and fellowship.

“Community life really prepares you for vocation, whatever that is: married life or priesthood. We’re striving for something greater,” said Daniel Tansill, a St. Paul’s Outreach alum.

Whenever he told houseguests about their mission, they were overly supportive.

Fr. Pacwa and others said that things could change as long as there is open dialogue and action in defense of the truth. Secularism, like Nazism, Romanism and anything else that tried to stand against God’s truth will fall apart, he said.

Gregg Richard, a parishioner at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in Anthem and member of the Neo-Catechumenal Way at St. Joseph Parish in Phoenix, was happy to attend both days and briefly meet the faces he sees on EWTN so often.

“These folks are true and they help me in my path to follow God and try to get to heaven,” he said.