Archbishop John G. Vlazny leads the Fortnight for Freedom Holy Hour at St. Mary Cathedral in Northwest Portland.
Jon DeBellis Of the Catholic Sentinel
Sue and Eugene Vandecoevering, members of St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton, were two of the more than 200 people who filled the pews at St. Mary Cathedral last week for a Holy Hour prayer service as part of the U.S. bishops’ ‘Fortnight for Freedom.’ The effort is a call for Catholics and people of all religious faiths to focus on prayer, education and action in defense of religious freedom.
“We are here because the issue is an important one,” said Sue. “The fear of not knowing what more can come out of decisions like this demands our attention. We want to protect what we currently have.”
The Fortnight for Freedom, which was held from June 21 to July 4, is a response by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the federal mandate, promulgated in February that requires almost all private insurance plans, including those of many official Catholic organizations, to cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. Archbishop John G. Vlazny said that the issue is really about letting Catholics have the freedom to be who they are — servants.
“Serving others is not just a recreation for Catholics — it’s a requirement,” said the archbishop. “We do what we do because we are Catholic, not because those we serve are Catholic. We do it because we care. We have a right to define who we are as a church.” The archbishop said that historically, the government has protected religious freedom because the country’s citizens thought religion was a good thing.
“The collective view of religion has changed,” said the archbishop. “We’re less religious than we were a few decades ago.”
John DeZell, a retired attorney and member of Immaculate Heart Parish in North Portland, says he’s been praying three rosaries a day for religious freedom, and has been impressed with both the U.S. bishops and American Catholics’ concern about the issue.
“Our founding fathers came here to escape religious tyranny, and I’m thankful to the archbishop for gathering us here tonight in prayer to remind us of its importance, said DeZell. “Prayer is so important. That’s why I’m here.”
During the Fortnight, services were held at churches throughout the archdiocese. There were ecumenical services in many vicariates.
In addition to events in dioceses around the country, more than 2,000 Catholics from all regions of the Archdiocese of Washington gathered at a large rally June 24.
Church officials across the country have been communicating to the faithful that the fight over the federal conscience mandate is not about contraceptives,” but about a violation of religious freedom.
Issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal mandate requires most religious employers to provide insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortifacients free to their employees.
To be exempt, a religious organization must have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” employ “persons who share its religious tenets,” serve “persons who share its religious tenets,” and be a nonprofit organization.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress in early 2010, and President Barack Obama signed it into in law in March 2010.
On Aug. 1, 2011, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the mandate and the narrow, four-pronged religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate.
The Catholic bishops and other religious leaders attempted to negotiate with the administration, filing comments and trying to persuade federal officials to reject the mandate all together or at the very least broaden the exemption.
The U. S. bishops’ statement on religious liberty states: “We are Catholics. We are Americans . . . Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complimentary. That is the teaching of the Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land.”
“Together we’re trying to stand firm in one spirit to struggle together for what we truly believe,” said Archbishop Vlazny. “There’s clearly been a decline in respect for religious liberty. Our government seems to be blind to the religious dimension of so many activities of the church.”
Archbishop Vlazny pointed out to those in attendance that being Catholic is not merely a religious affiliation, but a call to service.
“Catholic Charities does adoptions because the gospel tells us to care for the weak and vulnerable. Catholic universities exist because the gospel teaches us to teach all,” said the archbishop.
“Most important for us in our daily lives, in whatever way we can, we need to show that we serve God,” said the archbishop. “Certainly society will never care much about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God.”