.- The strong protection of Americans’ religious freedom requires a long-term commitment to formation and education, particularly of young people, the U.S. bishops' leader on religious liberty issues said.
"We are prayerfully resolute in pursuing the project of defending and fostering religious liberty, in the short and mid-term and in the long-term," said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the ad hoc committee on religious liberty.
Protecting religious freedom, he said Nov. 12, "requires long-term foundational and formational work."
The archbishop made his remarks in a report on the activity of his committee to his fellow bishops, who are meeting for their annual fall assembly in Baltimore. He urged them to pursue efforts in this area "as pastors who are engaged in the process of the New Evangelization."
He highlighted the conference's recent efforts to support religious liberty, including the Fortnight for Freedom event over the summer and a Pilgrimage for Life and Liberty that included both a Mass and the launch of a novena.
The bishops' conference has also reached out through media and public relations efforts aimed at Catholics beyond the pews and at the general public. These educational overtures include brochures, a text messaging campaign and a new website to collect various resources, which were produced in both English and Spanish.
In addition, the bishops have identified the upcoming Solemnity of Christ the King as an appropriate opportunity to reflect on religious freedom and encourage its defense.
Looking at the immediate future, Archbishop Lori observed that the "political landscape is the same, but so also is our resolve to eliminate the HHS mandate and most especially the four-part definition that it contains of what constitutes religious activity."
He noted that lawsuits and legislative efforts to counteract the mandate continue, and the bishops' conference is also monitoring and participating in the ongoing rule-making process regarding the treatment of religious groups under the mandate.
At a broader level, Archbishop Lori said the bishops need to focus on the long-term goals of providing "education and formation as part of the New Evangelization."
He noted a need for "greater formation, especially to reach young people, to open their hearts to their heritage as Americans and to what the faith teaches about religious liberty."
As part of an effort to educate the youth, a religious liberty curriculum has already been developed for schools and religious education programs, he reported, and there are possibilities for other initiatives such as essay contests.
In these educational efforts, "we are stressing that this is not a Catholic issue, but an American issue," the archbishop explained.
He also pointed out that there is "a reciprocal relationship between the New Evangelization and religious liberty," because religious freedom allows the Gospel to be proposed and is also part of its message.
Archbishop Lori urged his fellow bishops not to be discouraged as the process of defending religious liberty continues to unfold.
Recent days have shown more clearly than ever that "defending religious freedom, like defending life and marriage, are not short term projects," he said.
He encouraged his fellow bishops to renew their resolve to see themselves as "not as part of a fleeting effort, but rather as part of a movement to defend, to promote and to foster life, liberty and marriage."