Even with some relief at the federal level regarding religious freedom, Americans, Catholics especially, must continue to pray and be vigilant to protect these liberties at the state and local level, said Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares at the annual Fourth of July Mass.

The liturgy at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral closed Phoenix’s observance of the nationwide Fortnight for Freedom. The faithful remained after Mass to offer a Rosary for the United States of America.

“Thanks be to God, much of the affront to religious freedom that the Obama administration was continuing to provide against the Church has now been suspended by President Trump,” Bishop Nevares said, noting the power of prayer. “Prayer is all important in this battle that we are in defending all our religious freedoms and religious liberty.”

However, he said, “the affront to our religious liberty and religious expression is not over. It might be paused from the federal government, but now it is being carried at the state and the city, county and local levels.”

The bishop recalled a presentation from Alliance Defending Freedom founder Alan Sears, who along with his wife Paula was recently invested into the papal Order of St. Gregory the Great, that provided a list of several of these cases of people’s religious liberty being attacked:

  • The Johansson family, whose son was taken from them when they landed in Switzerland because he was homeschooled, which is illegal in that country
  • Nadia Eweida, a British Airlines flight attendant who was forced to remove her crucifix while on the job
  • Stephen Tennes, a Catholic farmer from Michigan, who was prohibited from selling his products in a farmers’ market after he refused to host a same-sex wedding at his orchard
  • Elaine Huguenin, a New Mexico photographer, who was sued for refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding
  • and closer to home, Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka, the co-owners of Phoenix-based Brush and Nib Studio, who refused to produce invitations for a same-sex wedding.
A woman dressed in American flag-themed clothing worships at the annual Fourth of July Mass. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

“The Huguenins are now compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspired their lives. Why? Because it is a price of citizenship to go against your own conscience,” Bishop Nevares said. “Breanna and Joanna could face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail for every day they decline to produce and sell such art to the same-sex couple,” he added.

Bishop Nevares also noted how gender dysphoria is being promoted among the youth, referencing a children’s book targeted to kindergarteners and drugs that postpone puberty so youth can decide their sex.

“So, something that is normal, something that contributes to the dignity of the human person, something that is the design of Almighty God, is now being withheld from our young people, their gender, so that they can decide what gender they want to be,” he said.

“St. John Paul II said when he came to America in 1987, ‘You are in a culture war,’” he said. “My brothers and sisters, the war is just beginning and it’s not going to go away. We need to be strong and we need to be convinced of our Catholic principles and our Catholic faith. We need to be men and women willing to sacrifice for these great rights.”

The bishop asked how the faithful should respond to attacks on religious liberty. “If Jesus says prayer can move mountains, it can surely move the hearts of the secular society today in which we live,” said Bishop Nevares. In particular, he added, is the importance of prayer in the home, “that we pray with our children, and pray with our spouses for our children.”

Secondly, he said, “we need to be active participants in the voting process.” Most of us vote in presidential elections, he added, but give little thought to “lesser government officials” such as school board members and legislators, “yet they also have influence upon our culture and our Christian values and principles.”

“So, let us be active contributing Catholics and active contributing voters on each and every election that comes up so that we may once again be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Fourth of July mass and Rosary at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral on Tuesday, July 4, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.

After Mass, the bishop joined the faithful in praying the Rosary for the United States of America. They offered the intentions for each decade for the three branches of the federal government, state and local governments and the military services. Representatives from the Knights of Columbus, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Cursillo movement, the retired police officers’ community and the veterans’ community took turns leading each decade. The faithful prayed for every U.S. state as they fingered each red, white or blue bead.

Manny Yrique, who came up with the Rosary and organized the event, said he was pleased with the participation and said that every individual is called to make a difference.

The faithful join in praying the Rosary for the United States of America following the annual Fourth of July Mass. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

“A woman from Indiana came and I gave her a rosary and told her to take it back to her parish,” he said. “We can change the world, but we have to do it one person at a time.”

Brandon Trichel from All Saints Parish in Mesa brought his family to the Mass because, he said, there’s no better way to celebrate freedom than to celebrate Christ.

“Christ is truth. There is no truth without Him and no freedom without truth,” he said. “It’s so sad in today’s society, people think they’re free, free to express themselves, but they’re in bondage.”

Josine Olakkengil, a parishioner at the cathedral, brought her family to the Mass because she said it is important to celebrate with other Christians. An immigrant from India, she said she’s especially thankful for the freedoms her family enjoys in this country.

“That community is important. In India, many of the people we lived around were Hindus,” Olakkengil said. “There’s a lot of persecution of Catholics and Christians, so compared to that, we have a lot of religious freedom here. But I heard of the infringements of these rights in the bishop’s homily and we need to pray that these rights are preserved.”