.- 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.”