.- The U.S. bishops have announced a five-part pastoral strategy that is aimed at creating a movement dedicated to penance and prayer for a renewed culture of life, marriage and religious freedom.
“It's not meant to be another program but rather part of a movement for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty, which engages the New Evangelization and can be incorporated into the Year of Faith,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
In a Dec. 6 statement, he explained that the pastoral strategy is “meant to be simple” and is essentially a call “to prayer and sacrifice.”
Approved by the bishops at their November meeting, the prayer campaign includes Rosaries, holy hours of Eucharistic adoration, fasting and a second Fortnight for Freedom event next summer.
According to a statement by the bishops’ conference, the campaign was “prompted by the rapid social movements and policy changes currently underway.”
Among these policies is the federal mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and drugs that can cause early abortions.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the mandate by religious and secular employers who argue that it violates their right to religious freedom by forcing them to facilitate products and procedures that they find to be morally wrong.
Growing concerns have also been voiced in recent months about an escalating push at both the federal and state level to redefine marriage.
As part of the new pastoral strategy, the bishops are calling on families and individuals to pray a daily Rosary, particularly for the protection of life, marriage and religious freedom in the United States.
In addition, recognizing “the importance of spiritual and bodily sacrifice in the life of the Church,” the bishops are encouraging Catholics to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays for the intention of preserving life, marriage and religious liberty.
Cathedrals and parishes throughout the U.S. are urged to hold a Eucharistic Holy Hour for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty on or near the last Sunday of every month from the Feast of the Holy Family on Dec. 30 through the feast of Christ the King in November 2013.
The bishops also recommend that the Prayers of the Faithful at daily and Sunday Masses “include specific intentions for respect for all human life from conception to natural death, the strengthening of marriage and family life, and the preservation of religious liberty at all levels of government, both at home and abroad.”
Finally, the bishops announced that a second Fortnight for Freedom is being planned for the end of June and beginning of July 2013.
The first Fortnight for Freedom, held June 21-July 4 this year, included Masses, prayer rallies and other events aimed at prayer, education and action to promote and defend religious freedom.
The second fortnight will “emphasize faith and marriage in a particular way in the face of the potential Supreme Court rulings during this time,” the bishops’ conference said.
It will also “emphasize the need for conscience protection” with the approach of the Aug. 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the federal contraception mandate, as well as other threats to religious liberty in the realms of immigration, adoption and humanitarian aid.
A webpage created by the bishops’ conference to offer resources for the pastoral strategy described the fortnight as “a visible, vibrant reminder of the God-given nature of religious liberty” as well as the right to live out one’s faith in the public square and the professional world.
Modern threats to the Church “call for increased awareness and formation, as well as spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful, so that we may all be effective and joyful witnesses of faith, hope and charity,” it explained.
Archbishop Cordileone said the bishops hope the effort will encourage solidarity among “all people who are standing for the precious gifts of life, marriage, and religious liberty.”