The U.S. bishops have announced a third Fortnight for Freedom to encourage prayer and awareness of religious liberty, with a particular focus on how it enables service to the poor and vulnerable. “This is a time when Catholics can unite themselves in prayer to the men and women throughout history who spread the Gospel and lived out Jesus’ call to serve the ‘least of these’ in even the direst of circumstances,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Archbishop Lori noted that the June 21-July 4 initiative includes the Catholic feasts of saints like John Fisher, Thomas More, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul and the first martyrs of Rome who “remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power.” This is the third consecutive year that the Fortnight for Freedom has been conducted as a period of prayer, education and advocacy for religious liberty. As in 2012 and 2013, this year’s event will include two nationally televised Masses. Archbishop Lori will celebrate an opening Mass at the Baltimore Basilica on June 21 at 5:30 p.m. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington will celebrate a closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on July 4 at noon, with U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., serving as homilist. The national activities will be supplemented by diocesan-level prayer initiatives throughout the United States. Past efforts have included special rosaries, Masses, prayer vigils and holy hours, as well as study groups, movie nights and community service events. In the last two years, some dioceses have hosted public gatherings, ecumenical prayer rallies, talks and panel discussions on religious liberty. Others have encouraged private devotion, fasting and contributions to spiritual bouquets during the two-week period. The U.S. bishops have prepared fact sheets to highlight current domestic and foreign religious freedom concerns. Domestic concerns include the federal HHS mandate that requires most employers, including many Catholic organizations, to provide employees with health coverage for sterilization, contraception and drugs that can cause abortions, despite their religious and moral objections. Violators of the mandate face heavy penalties. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue an important ruling on the mandate as it affects religious individuals running for-profit businesses this June. The bishops have also noted threats to religious organizations and businesses caused by the redefinition of marriage and laws that consider objections to “gay marriage” to be illegal discrimination. Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Illinois have been shut down because they cannot in good conscience place children with same-sex couples. In addition, businesses have faced lawsuits for declining to serve same-sex “wedding” ceremonies. State immigration laws have also threatened charitable outreach and pastoral care to undocumented immigrants, while Catholic medical personnel and others who object to abortion have faced pressure to participate in the deadly procedures, the bishops’ conference explains. Foreign religious freedom concerns include the threat to historic Christian communities in war-torn Syria and the danger to religious minorities, including Christians, in Pakistan. The bishops have also highlighted threats posed by the terrorist Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria and by religious conflict in the southeast Asian country of Myanmar. The U.S. bishops’ conference has prepared materials to help dioceses and parishes take part in the Fortnight for Freedom, including guides for special prayer services, a list of frequently asked questions about religious liberty, and a study guide on the Second Vatican Council’s “Dignitatis Humanae,” its declaration on religious freedom. The Fortnight for Freedom website is www.fortnight4freedom.org.
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