Jeanette De Melo is the editor in chief for the Register. She recently became co-host to Register Radio along with Thom Price and Dan Burke. Before joining the Register staff in 2012, she served as the Archdiocese of Denver’s communications director, spokeswoman and general manager of the Denver Catholic Register, El Pueblo Católico, and the archdiocesan website. Prior to this position, she was the associate communications director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where in addition to managing media relations, she co-produced a weekly archdiocesan television program.
Register Radio this week was all about the Fortnight for Freedom.
The first guest was Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the diocese of Springfield, Ill. He described the significance of the timing of the 14 days of prayer, fasting and action set up by the U.S. Bishops and celebrated across the nation. Bishop Paprocki spoke to me from the Catholic Media Convention in Denver, where he sat on a panel discussion on Religious Liberty and gave the homily for the opening mass June 19.
The Fortnight for Freedom begins on the eve of the feast of the holy martyrs Sts. Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher. He said in his homily, “As these two courageous saints were executed for refusing to obey an unjust law that contradicted their Catholic faith, these great martyrs provide much-needed inspiration in our efforts to protect religious freedom.”
This two-week period, called a fortnight, began on June 21, and ends on July 4. The “main thrust” said the bishop is on prayer, “our most powerful weapon.”
Said Bishop Paprocki: “The significance of this fortnight as an appropriate time to pray for religious liberty can be seen simply by looking at the liturgical calendar for this two-week period:”
- June 22 is the memorial of Sts. Thomas More and John Fischer, martyrs.
- June 24 is the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded by King Herod for telling the king that it was wrong for him to have divorced his wife so he could marry his brother’s wife.
- June 28 is the memorial of St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr, who gave his life defending the fullness of the Christian faith. His greatest work is Against Heresies. As a bishop, he understood that he held a particular charism and responsibility to witness to the fullness of truth.
- June 29 is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, both of whom died as martyrs in Rome during the persecution of the Emperor Nero for their public witness of faith in Jesus Christ.
- June 30 is the memorial of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, honoring those many Christian who were tortured, crucified and burned alive in 64 A.D. in Nero’s gardens on the Vatican Hill.
- July 3 is the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, who evangelized Syria, Persia and India. He also died as a martyr for the faith.
There are other saints’ feast days during the fortnight who were not martyrs but who nevertheless bore great witness to the Christian faith: June 21 is the memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga; June 26 is the feast of St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei; June 27 is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, bishop and doctor.
Bishop Paprocki told a powerful story of how prayer can be effective in transforming people and circumstances:
“John Paul had just been elected in 1978 and then he made his fist trip back to Poland in 1979 so it was still during the years of soviet domination in Poland and the soviet block countries. Communist officials didn’t want him to come but Catholicism was so strong … that he did come. He gathered with over a million people in Warsaw’s victory square in June 1979.”
“The people of Poland, he suggested, had been chosen for a great role, to understand, humbly but surely, that they were the repository of a special ‘witness of his cross and his resurrection.’ He asked, then, if the people of Poland accepted the obligations of such a role in history. In response, the crowd began chanting, ‘We want God! We want God!’”
And then he went to Krakow and had and even bigger crowd, estimated between two to three million people.
There in his homily he said:
“Is it possible to dismiss Christ and everything which he brought into the annals of the human being? Of course it is possible. The human being is free. The human being can say to God, ‘No.’ The human being can say to Christ, ‘No.’ But the critical question is: Should he? And in the name of what ‘should’ he? With what argument, what reasoning, what value held by the will or the heart does one bring oneself, one’s loved ones, one’s countrymen and nation to reject, to say ‘No’ to him with whom we have all lived for 1,000 years? He who formed the basis of our identity and has himself remained its basis ever since.”
“The Holy Father continued, ‘As a bishop does in the sacrament of confirmation so do I today extend my hands in that apostolic gesture over all who are gathered here today, my compatriots. And so I speak for Christ himself: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’
“I speak too for St. Paul: ‘Do not quench the Spirit!’
“I speak again for St. Paul: ‘Do not grieve the Spirit of God!’
“You must be strong, my brothers and sisters! You must be strong with the strength that faith gives! You must be strong with the strength of faith! You must be faithful! You need this strength today more than any other period of our history.”
The stories of the saints and the powerful witness of Blessed Pope John Paul in Poland in 1979 show the real threats to freedom and the dynamic power of prayer.
Threats to religious freedom are happening today, though they seem small compared to historical examples. In Bishop Paprocki’s diocese, the state of Illinois passed a bill in 2010 legalizing civil unions. As a result Catholic Charities’ adoption services were told they would no longer have a contract to provide adoptions unless they provided adoptions to same sex couples. The diocese claimed their religious freedom was being violated and that children deserved a home with a mother and a father whenever possible. The state refused to provide the contract and now the Church in the Springfield diocese no longer provides adoption services.
Listen to the show to here more about the threats to freedom and the power of prayer and Christian witness.
Prayer and Action in Minnesota
In the second half of the show I spoke to Jason Adkins, the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference held a June 2-3 “First Freedom Academy” to educate and train priests on religious-liberty concerns and discussion points. And during the two-week fortnight, the archdiocese will host “First Freedom,” an educational forum, Mass and Holy Hour led by Archbishop Nienstedt, and conduct a June 29-30 “Project Life and Liberty Postcard Campaign.”
Adkins, the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, told the Register in a June 6 story that Church leaders in the region “believe that religious liberty will be the principal issue in the public square.”
“We need to raise awareness, and the best way to do that is through our priests,” said Adkins. “Every bishop tapped two priests to come to the event and go back to their diocese and be a leader on this. We brought in national experts to help them understand the state of this issue, from constitutional questions to the ecclesiastical context.”
Priest from around the providence, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota attend the First Freedom Academy to “really helped them understand the deeper issues from a const legal context but also from the standpoint of political theory and the ecclesiastical and theological context but also how these affect our social ministries, so the boots on the ground context,” said Adkins.
“At the end of the day most of our Catholic people get their information on these issues from their priests and their parishes,” said the conference director as he explained the need for priests to be educated on the issues of religious freedom.
The First Freedom Academy brought top rate scholars, such as Helen Alvare to give the lessens. Alvare gave a lecture on what Adkins called “First Amendment Law for Dummies.”
It’s been a rough period for Church leaders in Minnesota, where the state legislature approved the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” despite a two-year Church-led campaign of education and prayer.
But Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and other Minnesota bishops have not retreated from public engagement on the intertwined issues of life, marriage and religious freedom.
Adkins described the ways the legalization of same-sex unions will affect the people in the pews.
He also talked of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’s efforts at evangelization through the Rediscover program.
Listen to the show to hear more.