The “Fortnight for Freedom,” a national campaign led by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), concluded on July 4th with a closing mass held at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.
The campaign, designed to emphasize both the Christian and American heritage of religious liberty, was initiated primarily in response to the HHS mandate, part of President Obama’s health care law, that is set to go into effect on August 1st. The mandate forces all private employers, including Catholic schools, hospitals, and social agencies, to provide free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees in their health insurance plans.
The closing mass, celebrated with a congregation that included Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the papal nuncio, was led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., and a homily followed from Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who referred to his city as “the cradle of our country’s liberty and the city of our nation’s founding.”
In his sermon, Archbishop Chaput said that the relationship between religious faith and secular authority — as represented, in the day’s gospel scripture, by God and Caesar — is important. “Real freedom isn’t something Caesar can give or take away,” the archbishop said. “He can interfere with it; but, when he does, he steals from his own legitimacy.”
Speaking directly about the Supreme Court’s ruling last week which upheld the president’s health care law and, consequently, the HHS contraception mandate, Archbishop Chaput said that the high court’s ruling did not change perennial truths regarding whether the faithful owe their primary allegiance to God or the state.
“The purpose of religious liberty,” Chaput said, “is to create the context for true freedom. Religious liberty is a foundational right… But it can never be sufficient for human happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.”
Thousands of Catholics from Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia attended the closing mass at the basilica, many of them standing outside its doors when seats inside were already filled. The mass was also televised on EWTN.
Providing a spiritual framework for the coming political challenges the Church will face as the August 1st HHS mandate deadline approaches, the mass offered a supportive setting for anxious Catholics during this turbulent time. Many dioceses and organizations of the Catholic Church in the United States, along with other religious groups, remain in legal battles with the Obama administration regarding the HHS mandate and the question of First Amendment rights to religious liberty.
Near the conclusion of the mass, Cardinal Wuerl invited all owners of smartphones to engage in the Fortnight for Freedom texting campaign.
Cardinal Wuerl released a statement of his own on Independence Day, which announced a soon-to-be-launched website, www.sacredproperties.org, that was created to emphasize and educate the faithful about the importance of religious freedom and to alert them to the threats of anti-Catholic bigotry. The cardinal stated, “The domain name for the website comes from James Madison, who often referred to ‘conscience’ as the ‘most sacred of all property.'” The new website will feature catechesis, prayer, video, and parish resources pertaining to the Fortnight for Freedom initiative.
“It is only fitting,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “that the Fortnight for Freedom should hold its closing Mass in Washington, a city named for a man who recognized Catholics as his friends and fellow patriots and who knew that the right to religious liberty, our First Freedom in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, is central to who we are as people of faith and to who we are as Americans.”