WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Catholic bishops of the United States are preparing to launch what they have called a “great hymn of prayer for our country” lasting for two weeks in response to encroachments on religious freedom in America.
The “Fortnight for Freedom” will begin with a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in Baltimore on the vigil of the feast of English martyrs SS. Thomas More and John Fisher, celebrated by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. It will end on July 4 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., with D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl presiding and Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput as homilist.
The bishops note that the fortnight is timed to encompass several feast days of “great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power,” including Fisher and More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.
“Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty,” states the Fortnight for Freedom web page.
A “prayer for the protection of religious liberty” on the web page petitions for “strength of mind and heart to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened” and “a clear and united voice ... in this decisive hour in the history of our nation.”
The bishops said dioceses and parishes around the country have scheduled special events supporting the campaign.
The Fortnight for Freedom comes on the heels of a second wave of nationwide rallies against an upcoming mandate by the federal Health and Human Services Department (HHS) that will require employers, including Christian hospitals, charities, and universities, to provide insured birth control to their employees. The finalized mandate will take effect August 1. The June rallies drew tens of thousands of protesters in 160 cities across the U.S.
Last week, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed their condemnation of the HHS mandate, nothing that the rule effectively punishes Catholic institutions for operating in the public sphere.
“The exemption is not merely a government foray into internal Church governance, where government has no legal competence or authority—disturbing though that may be,” wrote the bishops in March. “This error in theory has grave consequences in principle and practice.
“Those deemed by HHS not to be ‘religious employers’ will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions. This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effective proclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world.”
The Obama administration is currently facing at least seven lawsuits over the HHS mandate from dozens of Catholic and Christian institutions, and an eighth backed by the attorneys general of seven U.S. states (Nebraska, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Carolina).
Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, whose own organization would be subject to the mandate, said the uprising was not a crusade, but a battle for America’s own integrity.
“I am not calling for any Vatican takeover of America; I’m calling for an American takeover of America!” said Pavone. “It’s fine to say we stand with our religious leaders, but let’s make it clear that they and we are standing with our Constitution and our great nation, rooted in God’s gift of freedom.”