Catholics in the United States are being encouraged to pray each day this week about an issue related to religious freedom.
The theme of the U.S. bishops’ Religious Freedom Week - which runs from June 22-29 - is “Solidarity in Freedom,” where one bishop each day singles out a threat to religious freedom and asks for prayers from Catholics.
“Religious freedom is for all people,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, in a video posted on the conference Twitter account on Monday.
June 22 is the feast day of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, two English martyrs. The week concludes on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Prayer themes for each day include conscience rights for health care workers, Iraqi Christians, Catholics in Nicaragua, adoption and foster care, church vandalism, Catholic ministries during the pandemic, and the Equality Act.
“As Pope Francis has recently taught in Fratelli Tutti, solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community,” Cardinal Dolan explained. Religious freedom, he said, “allows the Church, and all religious communities, to live out their faith in public and serve the good of all.”
Dolan said that religious freedom is one of the cornerstones on which the United States was founded, adding, “It’s not a coincidence that we observe this celebration as we approach Independence Day, the fourth of July.”
He also urged Catholics in the United States to pray for persecuted Christians worldwide.
“We also want to pray for our fellow Christians in places like Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Iraq, who face aggressive persecution,” said Dolan.
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington said in a June 21 statement that Religious Freedom Week is a chance to highlight “the right to serve the common good, as our faith compels us, through various religious charities and ministries.”
Burbidge credited people of faith for bringing hope to their communities during the pandemic, as they “selflessly served those in need.”
In his diocese, Burbidge said that local Catholic Charities and parishes “delivered unprecedented amounts of food and emergency assistance to those experiencing financial difficulty.” He added that “a record number of families turned to Catholic Charities as they opened their homes to adoption.”
“And, in the darkest days of the pandemic, our Catholic schools led the way in safely reopening so students could thrive with in-person learning,” he said. “The impact within our communities is immeasurable, and, by the grace of God, it continues.”
The Diocese of Arlington opened its schools to full-time in-person learning several months before local public schools opened to any in-person learning at all. Despite chiding from local politicians that the diocese was acting irresponsibly by opening schools, the diocese did not see any hospitalizations or deaths of staffers or students due to the coronavirus.
It is important, said Burbidge, to “remain steadfast in our commitment to live virtuously and carry out acts of service,” as it is the “sad reality that real threats to religious freedom exist.” He cited the Equality Act, a proposed bill that he said “attempts to remove the truth of human sexuality from the public square by redefining gender.”
“This act threatens to remove conscience protections for physicians, counselors and others, while simultaneously harming vulnerable populations,” he said. “It leads to confusion, especially among young people, and introduces a significant risk to women and girls who seek protection in shelters and other safe places.”
The bishop encouraged Catholics to address challenges to religious freedom “with steadfast conviction, renewed zeal, and unparalleled optimism.”
“We have the truth, and we must be bold enough to stand up and proclaim it, no matter the cost,” he said.