As Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, it’s a time to remember one of our most cherished freedoms — religious liberty.
The U.S. bishops have encouraged Catholics to pray, reflect and take action in support of religious liberty at home and abroad during Religious Freedom Week, which preceded the Fourth of July holiday. This year’s theme, Strength in Hope, comes from the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: “Among the trials of this life they find strength in hope, convinced that ‘the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us’” (Romans 8:18) (“Apostolicam actuositatem,” 4).
“Catholics face challenges both in our current political climate of polarization and within the Church,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville and chair of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty. “Christian child welfare institutions and Catholics in public life are encountering significant obstacles to their work, while our brothers and sisters in places like Nigeria suffer violent persecution. We want to build solidarity and to encourage Catholics to persist in the struggle to advance the kingdom of God by finding hope in Jesus Christ.”
In the face of our country’s challenges, and challenges within the Church herself, Catholics find strength in the hope of Jesus Christ, the bishops noted. We are called to share that hope with everyone. We also must vow to keep God, who is front and center in our nation’s founding documents, at the center of our lives.
Religious freedom gives us the space to carry out the mission that Jesus entrusted to the Church. Religious freedom means that Catholics, and all people of good will, are free to seek the truth and to live in accordance with that truth, and so to strengthen our common life as a nation.
We also must not take for granted the freedoms we have been afforded in this country. In this week’s issue, we highlight Vietnamese Catholics from across the country who gathered in St. Clair for the Third Annual Fatima Days. The Marian celebration, hosted by the Congregation Messengers of Fatima, focused on Our Lady’s message to love and to serve Jesus, and a promotion of the devotion to Mary by praying the Rosary and offering prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Michael Hoa of Houston, Texas, said the pilgrimage to Fatima Days is an example of his appreciation the freedom Vietnamese Catholics enjoy in the United States to practice their religion. A law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, in Vietnam regulates legal procedures and conditions regarding people’s beliefs. Faith groups are required to register with authorities and inform them of their activities, with authorities having the right to approve or refuse. Religious activities that are banned include those that infringe on national defense, harm social ethics and disunite the nation.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, recently spoke about attacks at sites of religious worship, including synagogues in Pittsburgh, at Catholic churches and an evangelical community in Sri Lanka, and against Christians in some regions of Nigeria, in Iraq and Syria. He said that there must be “a robust promotion of the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief,” adding that “the right of all citizens and religious communities to freedom of religion, equality before the law, and appropriate means for recourse when their rights are violated, must be recognized and defended in order to maintain harmonious and fruitful coexistence among individuals and communities.”
As we reflect on our freedoms and pray for those who are still being persecuted for their faith, we must turn to Christ, who is our strength. Let us pray, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, that all may be able to seek the truth set forth by God and to be able to live that truth with fervent joy.