By Mark Zimmermann
Courtesy Catholic Standard
WASHINGTON – At a critical time for American Catholics to stand up in defense of life and religious freedom, they must engage in the New Evangelization, deepening their own faith and sharing it in their everyday lives and in the public square, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said at the Oct. 14 Mass and Pilgrimage for Life and Liberty at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
“If we want to turn back the powerful incursions of secularism against the dignity of human life and the freedom to practice our faith, then we must heed the call of Pope Benedict XVI to engage in the New Evangelization, to stand with Christ, to know our faith, to love our faith, (and) to share our faith,” he said in his homily at the Mass.
Archbishop Lori, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, was the main celebrant at the Mass, which drew a standing room crowd of an estimated 5,500 to 6,000 people.
The Mass was celebrated in the presence of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. The Mass and pilgrimage are part of the U.S. bishops’ annual Respect Life prayer campaign, and the liturgy concluded with Eucharistic Adoration and with the launch of the Oct. 14-22 Rosary Novena for Life and Liberty.
As the Mass opened, Archbishop Lori welcomed the people and thanked them for coming from near and far “as a family of faith united in our defense of life and liberty.”
Nearby streets and parking lots were filled with parked cars and buses with license plates from the Washington area and from many other states.
In his homily, Archbishop Lori warned that “for some time now, both life and liberty have been under assault … (by) a secularism that relentlessly seeks to marginalize the place of faith in our society.” He also noted, “When man and woman are no longer perceived to be created in the image of God, then, sooner or later, their lives and their liberties become dispensable.”
Archbishop Lori pointed out how, in the nearly 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in its Roe v. Wade decision, more than 50 million unborn children have lost their lives through abortion. The secularist assault on life, he said, can also be seen in efforts in the United States to legalize assisted suicide and to redefine marriage.
He emphasized the key threat to life and liberty posed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ preventive services rule that he said “would require most religious and private employers to fund and facilitate abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraception against their convictions if they engage in hiring or offer services deemed by the government to be ‘secular.’”
That employee health insurance mandate has been challenged in court by Catholic dioceses and agencies and other religious individuals and groups across the country.
In his homily, Archbishop Lori also pointed out the irony that those who advocate “freedom of choice” are trying to force people of faith to violate their religions’ teachings.
“Increasingly, anti-life and anti-family rules are being imposed on people of faith,” he warned. “Our ‘right to choose’ – our right to choose to practice the faith we profess, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment – seems to mean little or nothing to many who wield power.”
The archbishop noted that many of the secularist threats to religious liberty “seem to hinge on the church’s teaching with regard to the sanctity of life – whether it’s the church’s teaching on the immorality of abortion, or the obligation of couples to be open to the God-given gift of human life, or marriage as between one man and one woman.”
Archbishop Lori said the link between the God-given gifts of life and liberty was noted by Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them.”
As the Year of Faith opens and as the country approaches a time of decision with its elections, Archbishop Lori said it is a critical time for Catholics to engage in the call to the New Evangelization. “With Mary’s prayers, we seek to have the fire of our faith rekindled – our faith in the person of Christ, our faith in all the church believes and teaches, our confidence in the church’s teachings, and our courage in sharing those teachings, not just with family and friends, but in the public square, with our elected leaders, our appointed leaders and with those who influence public opinion.”
He said Catholics must live and share their faith as they defend life and liberty against the wave of secularism in our society. He said it is wrong for Catholics to compartmentalize their faith, and as an example, he criticized Catholic elected officials “who say they are personally opposed to intrinsic evils like abortion, while doing everything in their power to promote them.”
Archbishop Lori encouraged Catholics to take up the New Evangelization for the cause of life and liberty, and work to build a culture of life and a culture of freedom in our country.
In discussing the importance of standing up for religious freedom, Archbishop Lori noted the educational and charitable outreach that Catholic leaders have warned is threatened by the HHS mandate, “The freedom for which we are advocating is the freedom of churches to go about their mission of serving the needs of society in accord with their teachings, a mission of educating the young, building up family life, serving the poor, providing good health care, and much more,” he said.
The archbishop encouraged Catholics to take their faith to the public square and to the voting booth, as they defend life and religious freedom.
“As believers and as citizens, we must robustly engage in the political process by voting with a properly formed conscience and by continually letting our elected officials know that we expect them to protect the God-given rights of life and liberty,” he said.
At the end of the Mass as he helped launch the Rosary Novena for Life and Liberty, Archbishop Lori said that Mary offers Catholics a witness for opening their hearts to God and trusting in his will.
He also said today’s Catholics should look to the example of faith offered by two Americans who will be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21: Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk maiden persecuted for her faith who devoted her life to prayer and acts of charity and who will become the first Native American saint; and Mother Marianne Cope, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis who aided St. Damien in ministering to lepers in Hawaii.
“If we want religious liberty to be preserved, if we want life to be defended, we have to pray for it,” Archbishop Lori said.
The overflow crowd filling the National Shrine included families with babies in strollers, and senior citizens and people with disabilities in wheelchairs. The opening procession included a Knights of Columbus color guard of 120 men wearing white, gold, green, purple and blue plumed hats.
One of the color guard members, Michael Davenport of St. Joseph Parish in Largo, said the Mass offered an inspiring witness to the importance of Catholics standing up for life and religious freedom. “It’s so important. It’s what we stand for – life and liberty. It’s like bread and water,” he said.
During the Eucharistic Adoration and Rosary Novena, the diverse congregation crowding the pews and aisles knelt and prayed together reverently for life and liberty.
Mark Zimmermann is editor of The Catholic Standard, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.