WASHINGTON — Catholics must come together to protect the work of the Church’s charities and services, said the U.S. bishops’ president as the annual "Fortnight for Freedom" came to a close on Friday.
“We must remain free to serve these most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers, without risk of government sanction,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., during a July 4 Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Archbishop Kurtz joined the principal celebrant of the Mass, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, in closing the third Fortnight for Freedom — a period of prayer, education and action to promote a greater respect for religious liberty, both in the United States and abroad.
The first fortnight was held in 2012, amid threats to religious freedom stemming from the Health and Human Services' mandate, which requires employers to provide and pay for insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions, even if such actions violate their firmly held religious beliefs.
On June 30, during the fortnight, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require “closely held” corporations — companies whose stock is controlled by five or fewer individuals — to violate their religious principles in order to obey the mandate.
The U.S. bishops’ conference encouraged Catholics around the country to attend and arrange events and Masses around the country highlighting the importance of religious freedom.
During the closing Mass, Cardinal Wuerl recalled two Masses he said during the fortnight in St. Mary’s City and on St. Clement’s Island in Maryland; St. Clement’s Island is the site of the first English-language Mass celebrated in the British colonies, in 1634.
“It was at these two historic sites where the first Catholic settlers arrived and established a community that was the birthplace of religious freedom in this part of the world,” the cardinal explained to participants at the fortnight's closing Mass.
“Their purposeful founding of colonial Maryland on grounds of religious freedom, a place where all could live together in harmony, each being free to live their faith without restraint, in many respects anticipated the founding of our nation on the principle of liberty for all, which Americans celebrate today.”
In his homily, Archbishop Kurtz praised the impact that people of faith have had on the United States “precisely because we have used this freedom to serve others.”
Praising the public work and “faith in action” of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are also challenging the HHS mandate, the archbishop noted that the sisters’ service is “intimately personal.”
“Their work is an expression of their love of God and God’s love of others shining through their lives,” he commented.
He also praised the work of Catholic Charities, saying that the organization’s work was done with integrity and “without ever violating the core beliefs that motivated that service.”
Such “faith-filled service is good for America,” the archbishop continued.
Archbishop Kurtz also called to mind the “real threats to religious freedom throughout the world and overseas,” asking for prayers for those suffering from religious persecution.
However, the limitation of religious freedom is “even at our doorstep,” he continued, pointing back to the Little Sisters of the Poor. “They cannot make a choice either to stop serving those in need or to compromise the faith that is their very reason and power to serve.”
He urged Catholics to “protect their ability to serve with love and integrity,” saying the Church “cannot stand by and allow anyone to force us to separate our acts of service from the living faith” or to “facilitate immoral acts that go against our clearly demonstrated living faith.”
The archbishop added, “We need a robust and healthy religious freedom in our nation.”