3-July-2012 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Archbishop Lori on Weapons for Defending Freedom (Part 1)

Newly Appointed Baltimore Prelate Speaks Religion, Both Nationally and Internationally

By Ann Schneible

ROME, JUNE 2, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Through education, catechesis and prayer, says Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, the ever-growing threat against religious liberty can be confronted.

Chairman of the United States bishops' ad hoc committee for religious liberty, Archbishop Lori was invited to inaugurate the Religious Liberty Observatory in Rome last week with a press conference; the Observatory is an initiative established with the objective of confronting violations against religious freedom throughout the world. For his part, Archbishop Lori has been active in the defense of freedom of religion in the United States, an issue that garnered particular attention in recent months as a Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate threatens to require employers to provide contraceptive pharmaceuticals and sterilization procedures without giving allowances for conscience or religious belief.

In fact, currently the United States Conference of Bishops is hosting the Fortnight for Freedom: an initiative which seeks to lead Catholics across the country to a greater awareness of the nature of religious liberty, and how it is to be defended.

Archbishop Lori's primary reason for being in Rome, however, was to receive the pallium conferred upon newly appointed archbishops by Benedict XVI. Succeeding Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, Archbishop Lori was officially installed as archbishop of Baltimore this past May.

The archbishop sat down with ZENIT and discussed religious freedom both in the United States and abroad.

ZENIT: You [addressed] the religious liberty observatory [last week]. What are some of the objectives of this observatory, and what is the contribution that you, as an American archbishop, can make to this international initiative?

Archbishop Lori: The talk [last week was] first, to express appreciation to the city of Rome and to the Italian government for establishing this observatory, which really looks at religious liberty issues - not just in Italy, but more broadly around the world - particularly in places where there is active repression and brutal persecution.

Secondly, it may seem a little odd for someone coming from the United States - which many regard as the birthplace of the modern democratic experiment - to come here and speak about threats to religious liberty at home, where we are not suffering as they might be in many places around the world. But I think it's important to explain the subtle nature of the erosion that has taken place, and now the palpable threats that are beginning to emerge. It's my role to be the "town crier," you might say, to say "look: everything might look alright on the surface, but it's not." Repression is coming. Religious repression is coming. And it is coming most visibly because of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate which forces churches to violate their teachings by providing pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures that are contrary to our beliefs. But it also includes a definition of who and what churches are that would confine us to the sacristy. It says you can be exempt from violating your teachings if you don't serve the common good, if you don't go beyond hiring your own, serving your own, and just teaching doctrine. If you run Catholic charities, if you run inner-city schools, if you run hospitals, oh well; you're not religious enough.

That, for the first time, this kind of incursion of the state into the internal life of churches - and principally, I think, the Catholic Church - it's the first time it's happening at the federal level. It's happened at the state level before, but now it's happening at the federal level.

What we bishops have done is recognized an erosion of religious liberty beginning as far back as the late 1940s, the various court decisions and ways of interpreting the Constitution that have trimmed religious freedom. We looked at threats at the state level. Some of them pertained to things like serving immigrants; some grow out of same-sex "marriage": for example, dioceses that have been run out of doing foster care or adoption; [some elements of erosion pertained to] individuals who can no longer run their businesses according to Christian principles; and now the HHS mandate that would compromise our religious freedom in a very big way.

ZENIT: Right now the USCCB is supporting the Fortnight of Freedom. Why is it important for Catholics to participate actively in protecting religious freedom? And, more importantly, what is the role of prayer in this?

Archbishop Lori: The Fortnight for Freedom was conceived of long before we knew how the Health and Human Services Mandate would begin to play out. Early on, as soon as we organized the ad hoc committee for religious liberty, which occurred last November, we recognized that there was a great need for prayer, catechesis, education and action.

One of the bishops on the committee, looking ahead, said: "Why don't we try to do something that would, at an appropriate time of year, be when the whole Catholic community and all of our ecumenical and interfaith friends could join us?" And thinking about it, we said: what about the two weeks running up to the 4th of July? We realized that, in those two weeks, we had Saint John Fisher, we had Saint Thomas More, we have Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and we recognize that everybody is sort of thinking about their country and about patriotism -- at least we hope they are.

We decided that, first and foremost, it should be a time of prayer. Anything important in life that we aspire to requires prayer. Religious liberty is no exception: if we're going to defend it, if we want to foster it, preserve it, we have to pray for these things. Just as when you want an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life: you have to get down on your knees and pray.

We decided that it would be a wonderful thing if we did a couple of national events - two Masses, in particular - if we would have parishes pray. It could be as easy as inserting a petition on Sunday in the general intercessions, or [hosting] special prayer services, asking families to pray, and giving everyone little prayer cards that they can pray while they're on the train on their way to work, or if they're taking a coffee break. Prayer is number one. Jesus says "without me you can do nothing."

Secondly: education. It can be disheartening to talk to people and to find out how little they know about our heritage as Americans. While we bishops are not history teachers, we are citizens, and we believe it's a good thing to know about our foundation, our founding documents, the intent of our founders, and to know about the nobility of the American experiment. It's not exactly identical philosophically with what the Church teaches about religious liberty, but there are broad areas of compatibility.

And that brings us to the third thing, which is catechesis. That is really helping people understand the Church's social doctrine in the context of everything the Church believes and teaches. It doesn't stand alone: it's part of a whole. In singling out from that, Dignitatis Humanae, the decree on religious liberty from the Second Vatican Council, reading it anew, recognizing that, in some sense, it was an American contribution to the council, and it expresses very well the noblest aspects of our American and democratic experiment.

Once people understand what religious liberty is, understand how fragile it is, begin to pray for it; then they are going to look at the specific threats, and they're going to say to themselves: "we can't let this happen." As believers, as citizens, as patriots, we cannot let our country become something it was never meant to be.

We're not trying to throw the election, but we are trying to get the attention of our elected officials, and the candidates, and to say, as a religious community - Catholics, evangelicals, Protestants, Jews and Muslims - trying to say: "We're watching. This is important for us. You have a responsibility toward us. You have a responsibility to defend the God-given nature of religious freedom and all that the founding documents say about the commitment of our country to protect that."

[Part 2 will be published Tuesday]

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