'Witnesses to Freedom' theme of church's fortnight for religious liberty

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller


WASHINGTON (CNS) — “Witnesses
to Freedom” is the theme of the U.S. bishops’ fifth annual Fortnight for
Freedom, which opens June 21, the vigil of the feast of Sts. Thomas More and
John Fisher, and closes on Independence Day, July 4.

The opening Mass will be
celebrated at 7 p.m. (EDT) in Baltimore at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin
Mary, with Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori as the principal celebrant and
the homilist. Archbishop Lori is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

The closing Mass will be
celebrated at noon (EDT) the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
in Washington. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington will be the principal
celebrant, and Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik will be the homilist.

“Zubik” is the
name given to the court case brought by many Catholic and other religious
entities, including the Pittsburgh Diocese, to challenge the federal
requirement that all employers, including most religious employers, provide employee
health coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients even if they are morally opposed to such coverage.

The legal challenge,
which the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to the lower courts May 16, has been
a flashpoint in the U.S. church’s fight on religious liberty issues.

The Fortnight for Freedom
is “based on love of country and of liberty,” according to the USCCB.
The aim is to “encourage Catholics, other Christians and all people of
goodwill to set aside two weeks to reflect on religious freedom,” it said.

The annual observance
also gets to the heart of what Pope Francis said during his visit last
September to the United States, the USCCB said, noting the pope “encouraged
us to nurture, promote and defend the precious gift of religious freedom.”

This year the USCCB —
along with Jesuit-run Stonyhurst College in the Diocese of Lancashire, England
— is coordinating a U.S. tour of relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher to
promote respect for religious liberty. Both were executed by King Henry
VIII for their Catholic beliefs.

The relics will go to
Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Denver, Phoenix, Los
Angeles and Washington.

In addition, the USCCB is
highlighting the Christian witness of 14 women and men — one each day of the
fortnight observance, including:

— Blessed Oscar Romero,
the slain archbishop of San Salvador.

— The Little Sisters of
the Poor, the order at the forefront of the court fight against the
contraceptive mandate.

— The Martyrs of Compiegne,
France. The 16 Carmelites were guillotined during the French Revolution for defying
the government’s suppression of their monastery.

— The Coptic Christians
who were killed by Islamic State militants last year.

“Reflecting on the
lives of these great men and women can show us how we might serve as witnesses
to freedom today,” said the USCCB statement on the 2016 Fortnight for

“It is remarkable to
see the witness of so many martyrs throughout the history of the church who
love the land and people of their birth, even as they are being persecuted,”
it said. “We can emulate this in our work today to promote religious
freedom in the U.S., as it is of a piece with our efforts to contribute to the
good of all Americans.”

Information about the
fortnight and various resources to help plan local observances are available
online at www.Fortnight4Freedom.com.

The USCCB suggests
several ways parishes can celebrate the fortnight, including by holding a
prayer vigil for religious freedom, organizing a study group on religious
freedom issues and hosting a parish picnic to celebrate religious freedom.

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article