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Fortnight examines religious liberty

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

The Diocese of Sioux City will join the nation, June 21 to July 4, in noting the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ third annual Fortnight for Freedom.

The event is a period of prayer and fasting to raise awareness of challenges to religious liberty, both nationally and internationally.

This event will take place when the church’s liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power – St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.

The theme of this year's fortnight will focus on the freedom to serve the poor and vulnerable in accord with human dignity and the church's teaching.

Bernadette Rixner, secretary for the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, felt the combination of the time and the theme made Fortnight for Freedom necessary.

“The martyrs who have feast days have certainly persevered in the face of persecution,” she said. “It's also good to have this observance around the Fourth of July.”

Rixner felt many of the issues that are addressed in the theme are a basic part of Catholic social teaching.
“Especially the right and responsibility that we as U.S. Catholics have to be involved with forming our government's policies,” she said.

For the Catholic Church, chief among threats to religious freedom is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that most employers, including Catholic hospitals, schools and charities, provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs.

Rosemary Paulsen, chair of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, pointed out people are making choices in regards to their faith and work environments.

“The HHS mandate promotes sterilization, contraception, and abortion rights,” she said. “Not only are religious organizations concerned about the HHS mandate, but people who are standing up for what is right are as well.”
Rixner acknowledged the bishops’ conference and its various departments provide many opportunities throughout the year to use this right and fulfill this responsibility.

“And, during presidential election years, they issue an updated version of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’” she said. “However, to remind us of our privilege and responsibility at this time of year – when we are celebrating that in a special way – seems to me, very effective.”

“Something that we can all do is read ‘Our First Most Cherished Liberty,’ of the Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty,” Paulsen added. “It would help individuals better understand our First Amendment.”

The Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission has sent to parishes the Fortnight for Freedom materials from the conference for use with their congregations.

“Some parishes have sent postcards to legislators at this time,” Paulsen said. “There are many strategies that can be implemented, but I think the basic things things that one can do is pray and fast. Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to enlighten you on our very important freedoms.”

For Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the third annual Fortnight for Freedom is an opportunity to consider the link between religious liberty and service to the poor.

"People who value their Catholic faith will understand that there is an organic connection between what we believe and how we practice our faith in service well beyond the borders of the church," said Archbishop Lori. "We want to be able to practice it unabashedly, whether in church or in the workplace or as part of church ministry. We don't think we should have to compromise our beliefs in order to observe."

As chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Lori has been involved with the fortnight movement from the beginning.

Originally stemming out of a 12-page statement released by the committee in June 2012 titled "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty," the fortnight aims to protect religious liberties from government infringement. The national website fortnight4freedom.org also has information.

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.

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