Faithful encouraged to give ‘bold witness’ for religious liberties
By Steve Euvino
Northwest Indiana Catholic
ST. JOHN – Growing up with communism in Croatia, Conventual Franciscan Father Stephen Loncar knows something about government intrusion into religion.
“To me, religious freedom means everything,” Father Loncar said after the Fortnight for Freedom Mass June 22 at St. John the Evangelist. “It means you can speak against the government without fear of incrimination or persecution, and you can pray in public.”
The former communist regime in Croatia told citizens “the only god was the communist party. The communists were your mother, father, brother, but this was all a lie,” Father Loncar said.
Looking at current events in the U.S., Father Loncar noted, “We’re not in the clear yet. Things will get worse before they get better.”
The Fortnight for Freedom, which runs through July 4, is an effort to raise awareness about government interference into religious beliefs. This year’s theme is “Freedom to bear witness” as the 10 days included memorials of martyrs who kept their faith despite torture and death, including St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.
As Archbishop William E. Lori, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Freedom, explained, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel means “Catholic institutions are to bear witness in love to the full truth about the human person by providing social, charitable, and educational services in a manner that fully reflects the God-given dignity of the human person.”
Bishop Donald J. Hying celebrated that Monday evening Mass at St. John the Evangelist, after which he led in the praying of the Divine Mercy Chaplet at the 12th Station (Jesus dies on the cross) at the nearby Shrine of Christ’s Passion.
Escorted by the Knights of Columbus and Boy Scouts, Bishop Hying noted how nationwide people are “thanking God for the rights we have been given, not by the state but by God,” and that the first of these rights is religious freedom.
Historically, Bishop Hying said, the Church has faced persecution, from the Roman Empire to the martyrdom of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher in England, to the 20th-century killing of Maximilian Kolbe in place of another at a Nazi concentration camp. Such martyrs, the bishop said, gave “bold witness … they were willing to give up their life, instead of their faith.”
Today, Bishop Hying stated in a letter to the faithful, “Religious freedom is under renewed and intense assault around the globe and here at home. Tens of thousands of people, the vast majority Christians, are being persecuted, excluded from public life, harassed and killed, simply and only because of their faith.”
Here in the U.S., the bishop said, faith-based groups face persecution from the Obamacare mandate requiring employee insurance coverage to include abortion services and artificial birth control; the attempted redefinition of marriage; and other excessive mandates that, in some cases, have put faith-based institutions and private employers in a “quandary of conscience.”
In some cases around the country, Catholic Charities adoption services have been dropped because of the agencies’ refusal to adhere to government regulations on placement of children.
Bishop Hying said this nation is facing a “moment of crisis,” adding every crisis is also an opportunity, including attendance at the Mass and prayer service.
“This is a moment to be vocal and public in protection of our faith,” the bishop said. “Our faith is deeply personal, but never private.”
Throughout U.S. history, Bishop Hying said the Catholic Church has opened schools, hospitals, and social service agencies. When permitted to function in the practice of its faith, he said, the Church works “for the betterment of all.”
Jim Ault, a member of Marian Council 3840 of the Knights of Columbus from Cedar Lake, an organizer of the Fortnight for Freedom service, said many people are still unaware of religious persecution today.
“If people take time to pray and educate themselves, they’re not going to find themselves wondering what is going on,” Ault said. “Slowly the government is picking away at our rights, telling us religion does not mean anything.”
The Church, Ault continued, is about providing moral fiber, through which this country can set public policy. “Obviously,” Ault said, “a lot of people don’t have that moral fiber.”
Jorge Lopez, a knight from Lake Station’s St. Clement Council, said the Fortnight is important because “basically, we need to tell our government our religious beliefs mean a lot to us. We’re hearing from our government that you can worship in your house of worship, but not in public.”
Note: For more information on the Fortnight for Freedom and threats to religious liberties, go to www.usccb.org.