Under Pope Francis' banner, women 'speak for themselves'

Elise Italiano

Papal Inauguration Mass in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis on March 19, 2013. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/CNA

The entire world seems to be enthralled with Pope Francis.  News sources are in agreement that Catholics and non-Catholics are hanging on to just about every word he says, looking for meaning, direction, and inspiration.  While in Rio de Janiero for World Youth Day, 3 million youth and millions of people around the world heard him deliver this instruction:

“I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love.  I have confidence in you and I pray for you.  Have the courage to ‘swim against the tide.’”

I’m taking my cue from Pope Francis: On Thursday, Aug.1, 2013, I will join a few hundred women in a rally in front of the White House to advocate for the protection of religious freedom and the ability to witness to this true responsibility and love of which Pope Francis speaks.  The rally, run by Women Speak for Themselves (WSFT), is in response to the Aug. 1 deadline – recently moved to January – given to religious employers to comply with the Health and Human Services mandate to provide insurance to employees that covers morally objectionable services such as contraception, abortion drugs, and sterilization procedures. WSFT is a movement comprised of over 40,000 women across the nation who stand together in support of institutions which seek to offer alternative health care, social services, and education according to their religious traditions.

Opposition to the mandate has been dismissed as a threat to women’s freedom and health, characterized as a “War onWomen.” The Catholic Church, one of the largest providers of health care and social services in the United States, is being cornered into complying with the mandate or face the prospect of astronomical fines which would threaten the services the Church provides. The message from the government is clear: Get on board with our view of what women need or get out of the business of helping them.

Pope Francis himself, in his recent encyclical Lumen fidei, insists that religious faith is essential to the promotion of the common good of any society, including health care and social justice:  

“Precisely because it is linked to love, the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law, and peace. The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our lives together…Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope.”

Catholic institutions are not seeking to limit the freedom of those who participate in things which we understand to be morally problematic. What we are asking for is the space to provide education, health care, and social services in accord with our conscience so that we can enrich the common good – something that our nation, until recently, has celebrated and welcomed.  For centuries, Americans have seen thousands of Catholics build and run schools and hospitals to take care of the poor, under-educated, and marginalized.  To restrict the ability of Catholics to continue this vital work would be a disservice to the entire nation. Our witness has always been one that does not seek to provide options that serve as band-aids to physical and interior wounds – like contraception, abortion, and sterilization – but instead provides comprehensive and holistic attention and care for those who, according to Pope Francis are craving “the gaze of Jesus.” 

On Thursday we will be asking our representatives to let us continue our rich history and tradition of serving the needs of our fellow citizens.  Under the direction of the Holy Father, I will stand at the White House lawn with confidence, joy, and renewed conviction to swim against the tide.

Learn aboutWSFT at http://womenspeakforthemselves.com/

Topics: Abortion , Contraception , Culture , Current Events , Politics

Elise Italiano teaches bioethics in Washington, DC and is a contributor to Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, edited by Helen Alvaré. She is a volunteer with Catholic Voices USA.

View all articles by Elise Italiano

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