June 28, 2013

Catholics rally for religious liberty during Fortnight for Freedom

Margie Schmitz, left, and Pat Vesper, both members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, recite a prayer for religious liberty at the end of a June 22 Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Margie Schmitz, left, and Pat Vesper, both members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, recite a prayer for religious liberty at the end of a June 22 Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The voices of Catholics from across central and southern Indiana praying the rosary echoed on June 22 down the cavernous streets of downtown Indianapolis, lined by one tall skyscraper after another.

These Catholics walked together in prayer on the second day of the second annual Fortnight for Freedom. It’s a two-week period of prayer and action from June 21 to July 4 called for by the U.S. bishops in response to threats to religious liberty.

The rosary procession began at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis after a 12:10 p.m. Mass which focused on religious liberty concerns, and ended on Monument Circle where a Fortnight for Freedom rally took place.

The rally was sponsored by a local chapter of Catholics United for the Faith.

Approximately 150 people took part in the Mass, procession and rally. Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, encouraged them during his homily.

“This is a decisive time in our nation,” he said during the Mass. “And we either do or we do not believe that. But if we do, then we take action to, first, pray and then to live that light in our own lives and in taking action, as you’re doing today.”

Father Nagel said he knows personally the importance of religious liberty because of the history of his family. His great-grandfather worked hard in Germany to send his children to the United States because he knew that their religious freedom was being eroded at home.

Two of his great-aunts stayed in Germany, however, and worked to care for the elderly and disabled. They lived long enough to see the people in their care “loaded up into trucks and taken to gas chambers to be killed because their lives were no longer productive, no longer worthy.”

To prevent our country going down that same path, Father Nagel said, it is important for people to stand up for religious liberty.

He also reflected on the two saints whose feast was celebrated that day—Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, two men whose religious freedom was taken away from them when they died as martyrs in 1535 in England.

Father Nagel noted that their great act of self-sacrifice was the culmination of many years of seeking holiness and living virtuously in their daily lives.

“And that’s what we do today, too, in the light of such heroic examples of the martyrs,” he said. “We start with ourselves. We start with love because nobody cares what we say if we don’t first love them. Nobody cares what we pipe out of our mouths unless they can see an example of love lived in our lives, unless they know that we care about them.”

Timothy O’Donnell, director of religious education at St. John Vianney Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, also spoke about St. Thomas More’s spiritual approach to his death during a presentation at the rally.

“St. Thomas More saw in his death redemption,” O’Donnell said. “He wasn’t angry. He didn’t curse the king. In fact, he thanked the king when he stripped him of his title and privileges because of the great spiritual graces that had occurred as a result of him being cast into prison.”

Despite that, O’Donnell said that Catholics in the U.S. today should stand up for the religious liberty of all people when threats to it are emerging.

One of the most clear of these threats, he said, is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate that requires most employers to provide in their health insurance plans for their employees free access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives.

O’Donnell said that secularist tendencies in government and society seek to marginalize “intermediary organizations” like the family, schools and religious organizations that stand between the state and the individual.

The goal of this effort, O’Donnell argued, is to “have nothing stand between the individual and the state, so that [the state] can have total domination, total control.

“They want to trample on our conscience,” O’Donnell said. “They want to kick us out of the public square. They want to diminish and marginalize us. And we’re not going to [let it happen]. We are Catholics. And we’re loyal Americans.”

Also speaking at the rally was Sister Rosemarie Yao, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor who ministers at the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis.

Sister Rosemarie recalled how her order has cared for the elderly poor in Indianapolis since 1872.

“The Little Sisters take a fourth vow of hospitality to the elderly poor,” she said. “This explains why we open our home to the neediest elderly, regardless of race or religion, care for them as members of our own family and accompany them in their journey with compassion and dignity until God calls them to himself.”

Sister Rosemarie went on to explain, however, that her order’s 141-year ministry in Indianapolis is being threatened.

“Today, we are confronted with a federal rule that challenges our very existence,” she said. “As daughters of the Church, we cannot in conscience directly provide or collaborate in the provision of services that conflict with Church teaching. We strongly object to it, and pray that it will be amended to provide a conscience clause.”

Eric Slaughter, a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis who helps lead the Catholics United for the Faith Chapter that organized the rally, exhorted attendees at the conclusion of the event to stand up for religious liberty in their daily lives.

“Our constitution does not guarantee freedom of worship,” Slaughter said. “Our constitution guarantees that government shall not interfere with religion.

“We are called to be Christian Catholics, not only in our church buildings, but in our schools, in the workplace and in the public square. We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are faithful citizens. Viva Cristo Rey!”

(For more information on the Fortnight for Freedom, log on to www.fortnight4freedom.org.)

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