Religious Freedom Week

The week we are ending at this moment was designated “Religious Freedom Week” by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Although most of the week has past by now, the daily topics suggested by the bishops make for good food for thought and prayer as we approach July Fourth. 

The bishops’ overall theme was “Strength in Hope,” quoting from Vatican II’s document on the laity, Apostolicam actuositatem, where in No. 4 it states, “[the laity] generously dedicate themselves wholly to the advancement of the Kingdom of God and to the reform and improvement of the temporal order in a Christian Spirit. Among the trials of this life they find strength in hope, convinced that ‘the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us’ (Rom 8:18).”

The week began with the memorial of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More last Saturday. The bishops wrote, “Pray that we might have the wisdom and the courage to be good servants of our country, though always servants of God first. [Reflect] on what it means to be both American and Catholic. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher show us what patriotism means for Christians. [W]hen forced to choose between the king of England and Christ, the King of the Universe, they adhered to Jesus and His Church.”

The next day, last Sunday, was the feast of Corpus Christi. The bishops asked us to pray and advocate for our fellow Christians in the Middle East, that they “be freed from violent persecution.” Besides offering our prayers and sacrifices for them, the bishops invite us to “[c]onsider joining efforts to support Middle Eastern Christians with a donation to the Knights of Columbus, Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Near East Welfare Association.”

On Monday, the birthday of St. John the Baptist, probably in reaction to the way in which he died (at the behest of the corrupt King Herod, who had him beheaded, even though he knew it was wrong to do so), the bishops ask us to pray for “faithful public servants. In recent years, Catholic nominees to the federal judiciary have faced questions about their faith. In one exchange, a nominee was told, ‘The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.’ Other nominees have endured questions about their membership in the Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the country. Contact your senators today and urge them to reject religious tests for nominees for public office!”

Tuesday the bishops asked us to look to Myanmar (Burma), where the Muslim minority, known as the Rohingya, have been suffering extreme violence at the hands of the government. “The Catholic Church in Myanmar has worked actively to mediate between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya ... Act: Reach out to Muslim neighbors and members in your community to express solidarity with their efforts to build a culture that recognizes and respects the rights of all people. Support Catholic Relief Services and other Catholic organizations that seek to build bridges of understanding between different faith communities and to counter intolerance and extremism.”

Wednesday the theme was “freedom to serve in foster care and adoption.” The bishops then discussed the increased need for foster parents, due to the opioid crisis, but at the same time many “state and local governments have shut people of faith out, because faith-based providers seek to serve in accordance with their convictions about the nature of the family and what is best for children. The [proposed] Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act  prevents faith-based child welfare service providers from being targeted by government discrimination. The act would prohibit the federal government and any state that receives certain federal funding from discriminating against child welfare service providers on the basis that they decline to provide a child welfare service that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The bishops ask us to advocate with our members of Congress that they support the CWPIA.

Thursday the bishops reminded us of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Nigeria. “Violence can stem from economic, political, and social reasons but because the population is almost evenly divided between Christians (in the south) and Muslims (in the north), such violence is interpreted as religious. Current fighting between Fulani herdsmen (Muslim) and farmers (Christian) has exacerbated religious tension. Support Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services, USCCB’s Solidarity Fund for Aid to the Church in Africa, and other organizations that are helping the internally displaced, providing livelihood training and healthcare, and offering peace-building between those of different faiths.”

Today (Friday) is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The theme for the day is “Religion, A Public Good.” The bishops wrote, “Pray that the religious dimension of the common good will receive due recognition in our political culture, and for the conversion of the hearts of those seeking to remove religious symbols from public life.” In their reflection, written before the Supreme Court came down with its 7-2 decision last week in favor of not removing a World War I memorial in Bladensburg, Md., featuring a cross, the bishops wrote, “These efforts [against the cross] are part of a larger effort to ban religious symbols from public spaces. This is an affront to American pluralism, a pluralism in which the religious impulse of all people is respected and reflected in our public spaces.”

Tomorrow (Saturday), the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the bishops ask us to advocate for the religious freedom of prisoners (both of these saints were imprisoned, and later executed, by an empire which did not respect religious freedom). They wrote that the “throwaway culture can manifest itself in how our society treats people in the criminal justice system.” After discussing some violations of the religious liberty of Jews and Muslims imprisoned in our country, the bishops reminded us, “Catholic teaching on religious liberty is rooted in the dignity of the human person. For American culture to be one of life, not a throwaway culture, our criminal justice system needs to recognize the dignity of all people. Find out how you can support Catholic prison ministry.” 

As we celebrate Independence Day next week, please use some of your free time to pray and reflect on how you can work to promote religious liberty, here and abroad.

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