Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Religious leaders from a variety of faith backgrounds are speaking out against the declining role of religion in society, as well as threats to religious freedom for all faith groups.
“Our biggest challenge is coming from those who want to challenge the role of religion in society,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president for federal affairs and Washington director of Agudath Israel of America.
“We live in a world now where threats to one religion could certainly affect others,” he told CNA.
Rabbi Cohen was one of numerous religious leaders to attend the 2013 National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program, the event featured presentations and discussions by Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Latter-day Saint, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, Muslim and Sikh speakers.
The speakers join a growing number of religious freedom advocates who have voiced fears over increasing threats to religious liberty within the United States. The second Fortnight for Freedom – announced by the U.S. bishops with the participation of those from a variety of faith backgrounds – is currently underway as a special time of prayer, education and action on behalf of religious freedom, particularly in the areas of health care, marriage, immigration and social aid.
Among the concerns raised by the bishops and members of other faiths is a new mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to require employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their firmly held religious beliefs.
Rabbi Cohen explained that while the HHS mandate does not require his community to violate their beliefs, “nonetheless, we have weighed in very strongly” on the issue “because it might create general principles, general perceptions of religion that could affect all religions.”
“If there’s hostility towards religion, that’s going to result in bad regulation, and if there’s bad regulation, that in turn is going to result in more hostility towards religion,” he explained.
“That has an effect on the American psyche.”
The rabbi also noted that “a lot of the rhetoric that surrounds that dispute is one of compromise,” in which the government will provide some accommodations if religions give up some of their terms.
“That belittles the right of religion, but also the role of religion,” he said.
The Very Reverend Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, echoed the Rabbi Cohen’s statements, telling CNA that “I think that there is a clamp-down on religious liberty in this country, but it’s so incredibly simple that we aren’t catching the signs.”
“If one religious identity’s freedoms are taken, then all suffer,” he added.
He warned, however, against over-correction, such as moves by the Russian Orthodox Church to establish Russian Orthodoxy as the official state religion.
“There is a problem when the Church relies on the fist of Caesar to protect it rather than the loving hand of Jesus,” he cautioned, although he noted that “the government should guarantee us our freedom to express ourselves.”
Shaykha Reima Yosif, who started an organization to empower Muslim women through the arts, noted the threat in the U.S. posed by “small groups trying to dictate what is religion, and small groups trying to infringe upon people maintaining their particular religious identity and practicing their faith in their own way.”
The disrespect of religious freedom leads to discrimination as well as other ill effects on society, she explained, saying that “we are really debilitating the economic wellbeing of society” with restrictions on religious practice.
San Bernardino, Calif., Jun 22, 2013 (CNA) -
A new film sprung from the recently launched Imagine Sisters movement in the U.S. hopes to portray the beauty and joy of religious life and inspire young women to consider religious vocations.
“Light of Love,” which will be released in September and available free of charge, aims to to further spread the message that one sister can change the world, according to the film's director.
Dan Rogers, who is also a seminarian with the San Bernardino diocese in southern Calif., says the movie offers women what the 2006 movie, “Fishers of Men,” offered men – vocational information and support.
“I saw 'Fishers of Men' when I was in high school and I loved it,” Rogers told CNA June 18. “But we quickly realized there was nothing like 'Fishers of Men' for women.”
Rogers recalled that after the movie for seminarians was released, producers tried to create a following and support system for men who were discerning.
But “Light of Love,” he noted, is different.
“We kind of reversed that,” Rogers said. “Instead of watching a movie and then starting the support system, we have a movie that if someone watches it and enjoys it, all of the resources are already in place.”
Those resources include a presence of the Imagine Sisters movement on six social media sites – facebook, pinterest, Vine, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
The film will include interviews and glimpses into the lives of five sisters from five different orders: the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart in Los Angeles; the Franciscan Sisters of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother in Steubenville, Ohio; the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Ill.; the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara in Washington, D.C.; and the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco in New Jersey.
“The orders in the film are slightly smaller that some of the bigger ones, like the Nashville or Ann Arbor Dominicans, who already have bigger followings,” Rogers said. “We wanted to show orders that have a lot of young sisters, but also ones that maybe didn’t have quite as much publicity.”
Rogers also said that he wanted to show the kinds of lives sisters lead, since they are somewhat of a mystery to the general population.
“Most people have no idea that sisters will play Frisbee, or that they’re really exciting and fun,” Rogers said. “And they are so holy because of their prayer life and service and it’s such an interesting life, but people have never really seen that.”
Also different about “Light of Love” is that it will be available for viewing and downloading completely free of charge. “Cost was a barrier we wanted to remove,” Rogers said.
The Imagine Sisters movement behind the film started after an event at Loyola University in Chicago.
“There were some people who were excited about nuns,” Rogers said, “And so we hosted an event where a bunch of different sisters came and got a lot of students excited about sisters.”
After seeing the success of the event, Rogers and a few friends got together, and the Imagine Sisters movement was born. Rogers has a background in web design and multimedia, and the team shared a passion for spreading the love of Christ via the joy of religious sisters to the world.
“Our generation…we don’t have the presence of sisters around as much as maybe our parents or grandparents did,” Rogers said. “So we want to get as many good things out about sisters as possible.”
In just over a year since the movement started on Pentecost 2012, Imagine Sisters has gained over 13,000 followers on Facebook and thousands of followers on their other social media sites.
“I think people like that we’re fun, and we’re authentic,” Rogers said. “We just post videos and stories and pictures of smiling sisters.”
So far the team of Imagine Sisters is small, with only three members who are completely volunteer. Soon though, they hope to transition to have some full-time employees, Rogers said.
By the fall, students will be able to contact Imagine Sisters about hosting campus events and showing the movie for free. Rogers said the team also hopes to create more downloadable resources, such as tips for starting discernment groups on campuses.
Rogers own interest in sisters was sparked after meeting a young sister while in college at Loyola.
“I met a young sister and I was like, ‘Man, nuns are cool,’” Rogers said. “And I have the honor and the blessing now to work with sisters all the time.”
“When you meet sisters they have no money, no possessions, they wear the same clothes every day and they live with tons of other people and they serve poor people every day, but they do it with such joy that it’s contagious,” Rogers said. “And that’s why this movement has been successful.”
In order to produce the film and make it available for free, the team still needs to raise about $8,000. Tax-deductible donations can be made through the film’s website at: http://lightoflovefilm.com/donate/.
“We hope people see the value in making this film available for free,” Rogers said. “Donations to this film could help spur vocations for the Church.”
The film will be presented by Lighthouse Catholic Media and produced by Los Angeles based media companies Lumen Vere and Altius Studios. Its release date is planned for Sept. 8, which marks the day 19th century French nun Thérèse de Lisieux took her final vows.
“Hopefully some young women will see this film and say, ‘Wow, I had no idea God was calling me to do with my life,’” Rogers said.
Baltimore, Md., Jun 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Opening the 2013 Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore emphasized the unique contribution that religion brings to society, warning that it must be protected and allowed to flourish.
“Faith enriches public life not only by the magnitude of its services but by the qualities of mind and heart, by the values and virtues, it brings to the task,” said Archbishop Lori.
He warned that while religious organizations and individuals provide vital services for the common good, “our government is taking from what belongs to God by state-sponsored attempts to force the Church to compromise her own teachings as the price to be paid for serving the wider community.”
Archbishop Lori, who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, delivered the homily at a June 21 Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the nation’s oldest Cathedral, in downtown Baltimore, Md.
The cathedral was packed with members of the faithful who had come from both Maryland and from other states across the country to attend the opening Mass of the Fortnight for Freedom. They welcomed the archbishop’s homily with a standing ovation.
The Fortnight for Freedom – currently in its second year – is a two-week period of prayer, education and action for a greater respect for religious liberty both in the U.S. and abroad.
Growing threats to religious freedom prompted the U.S. bishops to call for the first Fortnight for Freedom last year. Among these threats is the upcoming Aug. 1 deadline when religious organizations must comply with the controversial HHS mandate, which requires employers to facilitate insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions, even if such cooperation violates their firmly-held religious beliefs.
Other religious liberty concerns raised in past months include attempts to redefine marriage and threats to freedom of religious activity in the realms of health care, humanitarian aid and immigration.
Archbishop Lori explained that “the Church does not have two wings: a ‘faith and worship’ division on the one hand, and a ‘service’ division on the other.” Rather, he said, “what we believe and how we worship gives rise to public service.”
Acts of service such as education, health care and aid to the poor are not a separate branch of the Catholic faith, he stressed, but “these activities are part of our baptismal DNA as Catholic Christians.”
“No wonder we shudder, no wonder we react so strongly, when governmental authority tries to slice and dice our Church by separating in law and policy our houses of worship from our charitable, healthcare and educational institutions on the score that the latter are somehow less religious than our churches.”
In the attempt to impose various restrictions on faith-based action and belief, “Caesar is taking from what belongs to God,” Archbishop Lori said.
In its infringements on religious freedom, “our government is not only taking what belongs to God; it is also taking from what belongs to human dignity and the common good,” he continued.
“For by imperiling religious freedom, all human rights are put at risk.”
The archbishop explained that rights such as “the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly - are linked, and these rights are not granted to us by the State but by the Creator.”
Faith is a source of values that lead to deeds which benefit the common good, he stated.
“Through faith we understand that every person is called to share God’s life,” Archbishop Lori observed. “Through faith we see more readily what a truly just and humane society should be and we receive the strength we need to build a true civilization of truth and love.”
Therefore, he stressed, religious belief benefits the public square “not only by the sheer magnitude of the humanitarian services it offers but by its witness to Christ Jesus, its witness to those moral truths and values without which democracy cannot flourish.”
The archbishop also explained that the maintenance of religious freedom is important not only to Christians in America, but to all believers of all faiths across the entire globe.
“We continue to live in an age of martyrs – when believers, not just Christians, are being persecuted for professing and practicing their faith – when believers are tortured and killed because they are believers, in places like Iran, Iraq, China and Nigeria.”
“Let us keep the flame of faith and the flame of freedom burning brightly not only for our children and our children’s children,” Archbishop Lori entreated, “but also for the sake of these persecuted believers who see in our form of government and in our great land a beacon of hope.”