Independence Day is a moment for us to reflect on our freedom. It’s also a time to think about what it means to be a part of a union — an association of diverse states, but also a country that guarantees and protects the freedoms of all individuals.
During his 2015 visit to the United States, Pope Francis spoke in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our country. He noted that the “Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.”
Those words continue to inspire us today, he said, as well as others around the world to “fight for the freedom to live in accordance with their dignity.”
Pope Francis also recalled some of the great struggles the United States has faced over the centuries, which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement and efforts to eliminate forms of racism and prejudice directed at further waves of new Americans.
“This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its principles, those founding principles based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed,” he said. “When a country is mindful of its roots, it keeps growing, it is renewed and it continues to embrace newcomers, new individuals and new peoples.”
While it can be painful, all of us benefit from remembering the past, and it helps us to grow, both individually and collectively. Last week’s edition of the St. Louis Review, for example, detailed the efforts of
archivists researching the archdiocese’s past involvement in the institution of slavery. Another story about the St. Louis Reconciliation Network showed how local faith communities have served as a starting point for healing broken race relations.
“A people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future,” said Pope Francis.
In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul said that independence cannot be separated from our natural interdependence. Christian freedom is always tied to the common good: “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13).
“This freedom includes the right to serve the common good, as our faith compels us, through various religious charities and ministries,” said Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, during the USCCB’s observance of Religious Freedom Week June 22-29. Bishop Burbidge is a member of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty.
Freedom is not solely for individuals, but it is a gift from God with which we build up the Kingdom of Christ on earth.