Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 6, 2016 / 12:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).

As church leaders rallied U.S. Catholics to defend their faith against an increasingly antagonistic society and government, the relics of Blessed Oscar Romero and St. Junipero Serra made an appearance at the Los Angeles cathedral. “We are living in challenging times. Our society and our culture are becoming more and more secularized,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said July 1. “Sadly, also sometimes, our government is becoming more antagonistic. Sometimes we see policies that are trying to make us compromise our beliefs or deny the commandment that Jesus gives us to love and serve our neighbors,” Archbishop Gomez said during Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

The Mass was a part of the U.S. bishops-organized Fortnight for Freedom. The June 21-July 4 event focuses on the defense of religious freedom in the U.S. and raises awareness of religious persecution around the world. Archbishop Gomez prayed for “the grace to take up our cross and to follow Jesus Christ. To be witnesses to freedom and truth and the mercy and love of God.”   Concerns over religious freedom in the U.S. have grown in recent years.

Federal, state and local laws and policies increasingly burden Catholic organizations and individuals. Some laws require Catholic organizations to provide health plan access for drugs and procedures that violate Catholic ethics. Other laws and policies have hindered or closed Catholic adoption agencies that place children only with married mothers and fathers. Catholic schools have also come under political and legal pressure.

The “Witness to Freedom” tour of the relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher is being held in conjunction with the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom. In Los Angeles, the relics of Blessed Oscar Romero and St. Junipero Serra joined the relics of the two English martyrs at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels July 1. Archbishop Gomez described St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher as “martyrs for conscience and witnesses to freedom.”

Bl. Oscar Romero was “a martyr for religious liberty” and a witness to the faith.  He said St. Junipero Serra was “the great missionary founder of Los Angeles and California.” The archbishop noted that Pope Francis has called Serra “one of the founding fathers of the United States.” Archbishop Romero was assassinated May 24, 1980 while saying Mass at a San Salvador hospital. He was a vocal critic of the repressive Salvadoran government and spoke out on behalf of the poor and victims of oppression. Pope Francis beatified him in May 2015.

The Los Angeles cathedral hosted two relics of Oscar Romero: a handkerchief with his blood from the day of his assassination, and a microphone he used to celebrate Mass every Sunday at San Salvador’s cathedral. His relics were available for veneration on Friday. The Los Angeles archdiocese said June 28 that Blessed Oscar Romero “advocated for Christian love, reminding the people that they were loved by God and that fighting back with Christian charity was the way to victory during the 12-year long civil war in El Salvador.”

The persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria was on the mind of Archbishop Gomez. He prayed that the saints intercede for them “to give our brothers and sisters courage and hope.” “What we are experiencing today — in our country and in the world — is something that the martyrs and saints have always taught us. And that is: that discipleship has a price. The freedom to follow Jesus Christ is not free,” he said. To follow Jesus means to share in his mission to spread “the good news of God’s mercy and salvation.”

Archbishop Gomez closed his homily with prayers. He prayed that the Virgin Mary may “help us all to discover a new love for Christ and a new respect for religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”