In what they call a celebration of liberty — and some see as another round against the Obama administration — Catholic bishops have declared a "Fortnight for Freedom" starting June 21.
The nation's bishops are scheduling two weeks of prayers, Masses and other observances in Catholic churches, as well as discussions on the theme of religious freedom. The events mesh with the bishops' campaign against a rule by the Department of Health and Human Services that insurance companies must provide birth control treatment. The bishops and their supporters have said the measure would force them to violate their beliefs and curtail religious liberty.
"It's an opportunity to reflect on the blessings and value of religious freedom," says Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who joined the state's other six bishops in announcing the "Fortnight" in Florida. "And to seek to understand better the challenges to religious freedom."
The two-week period is starting on the vigil of the festivals of saints Thomas More and John Fisher, two English martyrs who were killed for opposing the government. The last day will be July 4, Independence Day.
In the Diocese of Palm Beach, events will include rosary prayers at St. Juliana in West Palm Beach, St. Vincent Ferrer in Delray Beach, and St. Joan of Arc in Boca Raton. Bishop Gerald Barbarito has called for all 53 parishes and missions in the diocese to ring their bells for freedom at June 21 and July 4. There also will be a concert on July 2 at St. Ignatius Cathedral, Palm Beach Gardens, with singers and instrumentalists from member parishes.
The threat to religious liberty is larger than any single issue, in the view of Barbarito, who will open the observances with a 6 p.m. Mass today at the cathedral. "It's not just freedom of worship, but freedom to live our faith. We want to have everyone aware of threats that can erode this fundamental freedom."
In the Archdiocese of Miami, St. Gregory in Plantation will hold a candlelight procession June 29 from its church building to a flagpole. In Miramar, St. Stephen will sponsor a bilingual outdoor prayer for the nation and religious freedom at its gazebo on July 3. In Coral Gables, Little Flower will hold a candlelit Eucharistic Procession.
Fortnight for Freedom comes almost two weeks after nationwide protests organized by bishops and other leaders against the HHS mandate. Hundreds gathered June 8 in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach and other sites.
One of the biggest objections is that the Obama administration is exempting churches but not church-run institutions, such as charities, hospitals and universities. Wenski says the HHS regulations would exempt groups only if they serve people of the same religion.
He and other bishops say HHS rules consider places like Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale andSt. Thomas Universityin Miami Gardens "not religious enough." To qualify, Wenski says, they would have to fire non-Catholic personnel and refuse to serve non-Catholic students and patients. He even claims that all patients at Catholic hospitals, and all clients of Catholic charities, would have to be Catholic.
"We could no longer just ask, 'Are you hungry or homeless?'" Wenski says. "We'd also have to ask, 'Are you Catholic?' Even Jesus wouldn't be eligible for exemption."
Barbarito cites other flashpoints between the government and religious freedom. He says his diocesan Catholic Charities can't receive federal funding – even for works like its anti-human trafficking program – because the department shuns abortions, contraception and sterilization.
"Religious freedom is a larger issue than the HHS mandate," Barbarito says.
The bishops have denied making the matter a political issue. But some have opposed Obama ever since 2008, when abortion came up during the presidential campaign, theologian Edward Sunshine says. In 2009, dozens of bishops, including Wenski and Barbarito, criticized Notre Dame University for giving Obama an honorary law degree.
"This has been coming for a long time," says Sunshine, of Barry University in Miami Shores. "Some highly placed, highly conservative members of the hierarchy were against Obama, and they let it be known."
And in an election year, "Fortnight for Freedom" could make the bishops start to look partisan.
"To make this about religious freedom is a bad, bad mistake by the bishops," Sunshine says.
The bishops deny partisanship. Barbarito says the church has a right to speak up on public issues, just not to tell believers which party or candidate to vote for. Wenski adds that it was the government that trespassed on religious ground, not the other way around.
"This is not about limiting the U.S. government; it's about limiting our rights," the archbishop says.
JDDavis@Tribune.com or 954-356-4730.
Here are some local events for the planned Fortnight for Freedom, declared by the nation’s Catholic bishops.
Diocese of Palm Beach
From June 26 through July 4, St. Vincent Ferrer in Delray Beach will sponsor a Patriotic Rosary prayer after the 8:15 a.m. Mass. Address: 840 NE Eighth St.
At St. Juliana in West Palm Beach, the United States bishops’ prayer for religious freedom will be prayed at the close of all Masses June 21-July 4. Address: 4355 S. Olive Ave.
7 p.m. June 26 – Holy Hour for Religious Freedom at St. Joan of Arc in Boca Raton. The evening includes rosary, readings, homily, Psalms, Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Address: 501 SW Third Ave.
7:30 p.m. June 28 – Rosary prayer for religious freedom in Spanish at St. Juliana, 4355 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach.
8 a.m. June 30 – Rosary prayer for religious freedom in English at St. Juliana, 4355 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach.
7 p.m. July 2 – Parish Holy Hour at St. Therese de Lisieux in Wellington to pray for religious liberties. Included: Music, Eucharistic Adoration, “Litany for Liberty” recommended by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Address: 11800 Lake Worth Road.
7:30 p.m. July 2 – Patriotic Concert at Cathedral of St. Ignatius, 9999 North Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens.
At noon July 4, bells at all Catholic churches in the diocese are scheduled to ring for religious freedom.
Archdiocese of Miami
8 p.m. June 29 – Special Holy Hour at St. Gregory, with candlelight procession from church to base of American flag in middle of campus, ending with a benediction. Address: 200 N. University Drive, Plantation.
7 p.m. July 3 – Bilingual Outdoor Mass at St. Stephen gazebo, 2000 S. State Road 7, Miramar. Followed by hymns, patriotic songs and procession with Blessed Sacrament.
8 p.m. July 3 – Candlelight prayer service at Little Flower, 2711 Indian Mound Trail, Coral Gables: Reflections, patriotic music, intercessory prayer.
7:30 p.m. July 3 – St. Augustine Young Adults Group: prayer, rosary and discussion of “Dignitatis Humanae,” Vatican II’s declaration on on religious freedom. Address: 1400 Miller Road, Coral Gables.
9 a.m. July 4 – Independence Day Trilingual Mass at St. Stephen gazebo, 2000 S. State Road 7, Miramar.
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