Chicago, Ill., Apr 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Easter Sunday will mark not only the celebration of Christ's resurrection, but will also serve as an opportunity to express religious freedom, says a Catholic legal expert.
“We just want to keep making the point out in public that religion is not something that should be kept private,” said president and chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, Tom Brejcha.
The Thomas More Society, a pro-bono public interest law firm dedicated to defending pro-life, religious freedom and traditional marriage cases, is in its fifth year of helping sponsor an Easter display and prayer service in Chicago's Daley Center Plaza.
This year, beginning on Holy Thursday, a 14-foot tall cross and a 10-foot tall image of Divine Mercy will be shrouded in purple linens right alongside the towering Chicago Picasso sculpture in the square that is routinely home to political protests and rallies.
“If you can get up on your soapbox and spout your politics, likewise you can get up there and preach your faith,” he told CNA April 3.
A public prayer vigil beginning on Holy Thursday will run until Divine Mercy Sunday on April 15.
On Easter Sunday, the linens on the cross will be changed to white and the image of Divine Mercy will be unveiled as part of a daybreak ecumenical prayer service beginning at 6:30 a.m.
While private liturgies are important, Brejcha said, “religion is not something that should be kept private or within the confines of a church building.”
Although the group has been involved in helping sponsor a nativity display in the plaza each year, they decided to add an Easter display the spring following a battle to allow a private group to play trailers for “The Nativity Story” during a Christmas festival in the plaza in 2007.
“There was a little rumbling at the time, but again, we reminded them about the permanent injunction and religious speech not being discriminated against and our permit was approved.”
In 1989, the City of Chicago and the American Civil Liberties Union tried to deem a nativity scene in front of City Hall unconstitutional because the display was stored in a government building when not in use.
Jennifer Neubauer, a private lawyer who later served as chairman of Thomas More Society, secured a permanent federal court order which denied discrimination against religious speech in public.
“We use that (court order) all over the place for privately-funded, privately-sponsored groups,” Brejcha said.
He emphasized that because this ruling was settled in federal court, private citizens across the nation have the right to publicly express their religion and that his organization would be “happy to help anyone” who wants to set up a religious display in their area.
“I think there ought to be a nativity scene or an Easter cross, or Divine Mercy icon in every public square, not only in Illinois, but all over the country.”
Baltimore, Md., Apr 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A month after the state of Maryland approved a bill to legalize “gay marriage,” local initiatives to block the legislation through a November referendum are fully underway.
“People are very passionate about this issue,” said Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. “We are working hard to win this.”
McCoy told CNA on April 3 that the alliance has worked “feverishly” over the past few weeks to develop petition drives and train people to run them.
The alliance is leading a referendum campaign, joining with the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Maryland Family Alliance and other national and local groups of different political and religious backgrounds to defend the dignity of marriage.
On March 1, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a bill to legalize “gay marriage” in the state of Maryland.
The legislation had previously been passed by the House of Delegates, in a process that critics described as coercive and heavily influenced by special interest groups.
It was then rushed through the Senate, where it was narrowly approved by a three-vote margin after only 48 hours of deliberation.
Maryland is the eighth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
However, an amendment included with the bill to allow for its passage delays it from taking effect until Jan. 2013.
This allows time for marriage supporters to bring the law to a vote of the people through a referendum in November.
In every state where the issue has been put before the citizens, marriage has been upheld as the union of one man and one woman.
McCoy explained that current efforts are focused around “getting signatures for marriage.”
Almost 56,000 signatures will be needed to put the measure on the ballot in November, although the alliance believes that it was easily collect far more than that.
After having its petition cleared by the Board of Elections, the alliance began working to ensure that people are “well-informed” about the issue and have the opportunity to make their voices heard.
More than a dozen sites throughout the state are being used to distribute petitions, and county coordinators are helping to schedule training sessions, which have prepared more than 1200 people to conduct petition drives in the last few days alone.
These training sessions will continue, and petition drives will be held in full force after Easter.
McCoy said that the response so far has been both positive and energetic.
“Around the state, people are engaged,” he said, explaining that the overwhelming response during the debate over the legislation has carried over after its passage. Thousands of voters requested petitions within days of the bill’s approval.
“It is clear that while the opponents of marriage have been seeking influence from an elite group of politicians and supporters, the average citizens of Maryland continue to believe in the time-tested, unalterable definition of marriage,” commented Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
In a statement when the referendum campaign was announced, she explained that the conference believes its partnership with the efforts of the Maryland Marriage Alliance places it in the best position “to win for marriage in November.”
McCoy said that work will continue in coming weeks to make sure that the measure is included on the ballot in the fall.
“We want to ensure that the people of Maryland have the opportunity to vote on this issue,” he said.
Rome, Italy, Apr 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI said that although families around the world today are facing many challenges, Jesus' death on the cross serves to provide hope for them.
“In times of trial and tribulation...the family is not alone,” the Pope said during his brief concluding remarks after celebrating of the Way of the Cross the evening of Good Friday at the Roman Colosseum.
“Jesus is present with his love, he sustains them by his grace and grants the strength needed to carry on, to make sacrifices and to overcome every obstacle.”
This year Pope Benedict entrusted the meditations for the 14 stations of the Via Crucis to an Italian married couple, Danilo and Anna Maria Zanzucchi, members of the Focolari movement and founders of the “Famiglie Nuove” (New Families) ministry.
Bellow is the full text of the Pope's remarks:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Once more in meditation, prayer and song, we have recalled Jesus’s journey along the way of the cross: a journey seemingly hopeless, yet one that changed human life and history, and opened the way to "new heavens and a new earth" (cf. Rev 21:1). Especially today, Good Friday, the Church commemorates with deep spiritual union the death of the Son of God on the cross; in his cross she sees the tree of life, which blossoms in new hope.
The experience of suffering and of the cross touches all mankind; it touches the family too. How often does the journey become wearisome and difficult! Misunderstandings, conflicts, worry for the future of our children, sickness and problems of every kind. These days too, the situation of many families is made worse by the threat of unemployment and other negative effects of the economic crisis. The Way of the Cross which we have spiritually retraced this evening invites all of us, and families in particular, to contemplate Christ crucified in order to have the force to overcome difficulties. The cross of Christ is the supreme sign of God’s love for every man and woman, the superabundant response to every person’s need for love. At times of trouble, when our families have to face pain and adversity, let us look to Christ’s cross. There we can find the courage and strength to press on; there we can repeat with firm hope the words of Saint Paul: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom 8:35,37).
In times of trial and tribulation, we are not alone; the family is not alone. Jesus is present with his love, he sustains them by his grace and grants the strength needed to carry on, to make sacrifices and to overcome every obstacle. And it is to this love of Christ that we must turn when human turmoil and difficulties threaten the unity of our lives and our families. The mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection inspires us to go on in hope: times of trouble and testing, when endured with Christ, with faith in him, already contain the light of the resurrection, the new life of a world reborn, the passover of all those who believe in his word.
In that crucified Man who is the Son of God, even death itself takes on new meaning and purpose: it is redeemed and overcome, it becomes a passage to new life. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:24). Let us entrust ourselves to the Mother of Christ. May Mary, who accompanied her Son along his way of sorrows, who stood beneath the cross at the hour of his death, and who inspired the Church at its birth to live in God’s presence, lead our hearts and the hearts of every family through the vast mysterium passionis towards the mysterium paschale, towards that light which breaks forth from Christ’s resurrection and reveals the definitive victory of love, joy and life over evil, suffering and death. Amen.