WASHINGTON — In the two weeks leading up to Independence Day, Catholics across the country will gather for prayer, fasting and other events to highlight the importance of religious liberty.
In response to the threat against the First Amendment posed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “contraceptive mandate,” the U.S. bishops have called for a “Fortnight for Freedom.” The 14-day campaign will take place June 21-July 4.
“We recommend to our brother bishops that we focus ‘all the energies the Catholic community can muster’ in a special way,” stated the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in its April 12 statement “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.”
“This special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty,” the statement added.
Mass at Baltimore’s historic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, scheduled for June 21 at 7pm, will open the fortnight. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, will celebrate the Mass.
The liturgical calendar during the time period celebrates a series of prominent martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power, including Sts. John the Baptist (June 24), Irenaeus (June 28), Peter and Paul (June 29) and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome (June 30). June 21 is the vigil Mass for the feast of English martyrs Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More. Both men opposed King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. They were canonized together on June 22, 1935, by Pope Pius XI.
A closing Mass will be celebrated July 4 at 12:10pm in Washington at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Mass will be concelebrated by Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput. Archbishop Chaput will be the homilist. EWTN will broadcast both Masses live.
True to the motto of the state of Maine — “I Lead” — the Diocese of Portland took the lead in announcing activities related to the fortnight. “Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or to pray the Rosary at home,” said Portland Bishop Richard Malone in a press release. “It is about whether we can continue to make our contribution to the common good of all Americans without violating our deeply held moral beliefs.”
“This issue affects all Americans. It is not a Catholic issue, a Jewish issue, an Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue,” added Bishop Malone. “It is an American issue.”
A special Mass is being held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland July 2 at 12:15pm. Bishop Malone will be the main celebrant.
Other events will include bell ringing by Portland’s churches and ecumenical discussions on religious freedom.
Other dioceses have made special plans to celebrate the fortnight campaign as well. Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul Loverde is celebrating a Holy Hour for Religious Freedom at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More June 21 at 7:30pm.
“In many ways, this struggle is more a marathon than a sprint,” said Bishop Loverde in a May 2 letter to his diocese’s priests. “I ask you to join me and prayerfully embrace this challenge, not only as a vital struggle over Catholics’ right to full citizenship in this great country, but as a teaching moment for us all.”
Bishop Loverde has encouraged diocesan priests to host talks on religious freedom and to educate the faithful on the issues, and he urged all the faithful to pray a novena for religious freedom.
In the Archdiocese of Denver, Catholics are being asked to fast and pray on each of the fortnight’s two Fridays. Parishes have also been invited to host Holy Hours for religious liberty. An essay contest on religious liberty for high-school students is also being planned.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will celebrate an evening Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul on June 29. Archbishop John Nienstedt is a member of the bishops’ religious-freedom committee. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., is encouraging each of the archdiocese’s parishes to observe a variety of prayer and educational opportunities during the fortnight. “This time period will be dedicated to prayer, study, catechesis and public action about both our Christian and American heritage of liberty,” wrote Archbishop Kurtz. He offered suggestions that can be tailored for individual parishes and encouraged each parish to carry out at least one of the activities.
Archbishop Kurtz’s suggestions included:
Distributing prayer cards from the USCCB featuring the “Prayer for Religious Liberty.”
Incorporating the “Prayer for Religious Liberty” into already scheduled meetings, Eucharistic adoration and elsewhere.
Making electronic resources available to parishes through the archdiocesan website.
Promoting reading and discussion of “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” in parishes among parishioners or as part of “Why Catholic?” groups — parish-based catechetical faith-formation for adults offered through Renew International.
Making a study guide for the document available. n Bulletin inserts through the month of June.
A special section on the archdiocese webpage with resources and information on religious liberty. Many other dioceses plan to participate in the campaign but haven’t yet finalized their official activities.
“There are proposals and initiatives being proposed, but there’s nothing definitive at this point,” said Susan Burritt, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “We’ll be trying to do something with parishes, but there’s been no word on what exactly that will be.”
While the campaign is being embraced by many, it has also drawn skepticism from some within the Church.
“This may backfire. I’m dubious that this is going to be an effective campaign,” Commonweal associate editor Grant Gallicho told Sarah Posner in an interview at Blogging Heads TV. “This could hit with a giant thud.”
Others, more confident, reminded the faithful of the importance of the fight.
“Though the frequency and extent of these threats are troubling, such incursions are not new. Yet just because they are familiar does not mean we can become passive and assume no harm will come from them,” said Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
“In fact, the increasing secularization of our society so evident today increases with every battle that goes unfought.” One activity that is expected across the country is bell ringing, which will take place at noon on July 4 to remind citizens nationwide of the primary place of religious freedom in the history, law and culture of the United States.
A website featuring sample activities planned in dioceses, as well as additional resources, recommendations and other details can be found at Fortnight4Freedom.org.