.- At his May 16 installation in the “Premier See” of the U.S. Church, new Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori urged believers to proclaim their faith to the nation while standing up for the Church's freedom.
“Let us not shrink from entering the public square to proclaim the person of Christ, to teach the values that flow from reason and faith, to uphold our right to go about our daily work in accord with our teachings and values,” he told the 2,000-strong congregation at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
“By its nature, the profession of faith is a public matter,” said the archbishop, who also leads the U.S. bishops' religious freedom committee.
He indicated that the Catholic faith cannot be confined solely to privately-held beliefs and acts of worship, since it is “meant to be spread far and wide and acted upon, in and through Church institutions and in the witness of individual believers.”
“Let us never imagine that the faith we profess with such personal conviction is merely a private matter,” he said to the congregation.
Instead, he told them, “we must be loyal Americans by being bold and courageous Catholics.”
Known for his religious freedom advocacy during his past appointment as the Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., Archbishop Lori was installed amid ongoing controversy over the federal government's contraception mandate and other moves seen as hostile to religion by Catholics and other believers.
Over 300 priests and bishops, joined by representatives of 150 parishes and 70 Catholic schools, heard Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano proclaim the decree establishing the new archbishop, a 61-year-old Kentucky native, as the leader of the archdiocese's 500,000 Catholics.
Archbishop Lori's installation homily drew inspiration from the public witness of Saint Paul, as well as the missionary journeys of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He recalled Bl. John Paul II's own words, delivered at Baltimore's cathedral during a 1995 visit to the city.
In words delivered on that occasion, and quoted by Archbishop Lori, the late Pope spoke of America's “precious legacy of religious freedom,” telling Catholics “to defend that freedom against those who would take religion out of the public domain and establish secularism as America’s official faith.”
The archbishop also paid tribute to those who led the nation's first Catholic diocese before him – including Archbishop John Carroll, the United States' first Catholic bishop; and Cardinal James Gibbons, who led the Church in Baltimore during a period of anti-Catholic suspicion.
Archbishop Carroll, he said, led a “generation of believers and patriots,” whose legacy “has enabled the Church to worship in freedom, to bear witness to Christ publicly, and to do massive and amazing works of pastoral love, education, and charity in ways that are true to the faith that inspired them.”
Archbishop Lori also recalled how Cardinal Gibbons, Baltimore's archbishop from 1877 to 1921, opposed “those who said it wasn’t possible to be a practicing Catholic and a loyal American.”
He recalled Cardinal Gibbons' description of the U.S. as a country “where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection, without interfering with us in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Christ.”
As he reaffirmed the Second Vatican Council's teaching on the human right to religious liberty, Archbishop Lori made it clear that the U.S. bishops “do not seek to defend religious liberty for partisan or political purposes, as some have suggested.”
Rather, the religious freedom committee chairman said, “we do this because we are lovers of a human dignity that was fashioned and imparted not by the government but by the Creator.”
“We defend religious liberty because we are lovers of every human person, seeing in the face of every man and woman also the face of Christ,” he explained. “We uphold religious liberty because we seek to continue serving those in need while contributing to the common good.”
As he reflected on a variety of public and internal challenges, Archbishop Lori urged the faithful to pray for his leadership and the good of the Church.
He asked the congregation to pray “that, as the Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI, unfolds, I shall not only teach the faith but bear witness to it in a manner that helps to heal the breach between faith and culture.”
“Pray that, in God’s grace, I might foster that unity of faith which makes the Gospel credible,” he urged, “ so that together, we may always warmly invite those who have left the Church … and together may we continue to invite and welcome those sincerely searching for the truth.”