A week before the United States celebrates its 242nd birthday, Catholics around the nation will rally around one of their most precious rights — the free exercise of religion.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has set aside June 22 to 29 as Religious Freedom Week. The observance will kick-off locally with a special Mass in the chapel of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 15 Audubon Plaza Drive. Father Patrick Dolan, pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta Church in Fairdale, Ky., will preside at the 5 p.m. liturgy on June 22.
The Archdiocese of Louisville and the USCCB have compiled suggested talking points, homily ideas, videos and other resources for parishes and parishioners to use throughout the observance.
Religious freedom has been in the spotlight for the last several years as people of faith try to navigate cultural changes in the United States that have led to changes in policy and law. The most recent case is that of a Christian baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor June 4.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, who will host the June 22 Mass, have struggled against a mandate over the last several years that required them to provide medical coverage for services that violate church teaching.
“The gift of religious liberty is something not only at the basis of our Catholic social teaching but it’s also foundational to the United States of America,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz during a recent interview. “The voice of faith has had a mighty influence on many of the ideals here in the United States.”
Archbishop Kurtz chairs the USCCB’s committee on religious liberty and has issued statements and recorded video segments on the issue. These videos and other resources for celebrating religious liberty will be released throughout the special week.
He noted that “some of the most flagrant” attacks on religious freedom today are happening in other parts of the world and “we need to find ways to help people.”
Catholics in the United States can also help cultivate the “gift of religious freedom” in the U.S., too. He breaks religious freedom in the U.S. into two points:
- Religious liberty comes with the responsibility of “proposing a vision for the common good,” he said. Catholic social teaching, he said, “needs to be lived 24/7.” He noted that “Dignitatis Humanae,” the 1965 Vatican declaration on religious freedom, talks of Catholics “proposing, not imposing our faith on others and the importance of being part of the public square.”
The archbishop noted, “we don’t want people in the name of religion to promote violence or racism. But there will be times we disagree.”He added that disagreements, as seen in recent Supreme Court cases related to religious freedom, are good for the country.“That’s a good thing in our nation that we have a place where thoughtful discussion and debate will occur.”
- Religious freedom also is about “making space to witness and serve,” he said. The Catholic Church provides unique assistance in the areas of education, adoption and foster care, health care, and migration and refugee services, he noted. “That uniqueness is something we need to make space for.”The Little Sisters of the Poor, for instance, serve the elderly poor.“They want to serve with an integrity of faith,” the archbishop noted. “So they resisted the mandate” imposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.“We need a culture that leaves space for the Little Sisters of the Poor,” he said. “There are people who deliberately go out of their way to receive that service. There are people who like the atmosphere and the principles the Little Sisters stand for.“I believe people have the right to choose that kind of service,” he said, noting, “It’s not to say every nursing home has to do it the way the Little Sisters of the Poor are doing it.”
The USCCB has two websites on religious freedom — www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek and www.usccb.org/freedom. In addition to resources for the week, they offer information about threats to religious liberty.
Prayers and reflections will be posted each day, along with a suggested action. Postings on Twitter will use the hashtag #ReligiousFreedomWeek. All materials will be offered in English and Spanish.
Religious Freedom Week begins on the feast of English martyrs who fought religious persecution — Sts. John Fisher and St. Thomas More — and ends June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles martyred in Rome.
“Serving Others in God’s Love” will be the week’s theme.
A statement about the week from the USCCB cites comments made by Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to the U.S.
He said religious freedom “remains one of America’s most precious possessions.”
“And, as my brothers, the United States bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it,” Pope Francis said.