By Christopher Wells
Catholics in the United States are observing Religious Freedom week, and annual celebration that begins on the feast of Sts John Fisher and Thomas More, and concludes on the solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. This year, the theme for the Week is “Serving Others in God’s Love.”
During Religious Freedom Week, organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), people of faith are invited to reflect on, and pray for religious freedom, as well as take action to promote and defend religious liberty in the United States and around the world.
In an interview with Vatican News, the chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, said, “the primary message on religious freedom is to recognize the precious gift that we have, and to recall that this year’s theme is to use religious freedom to serve others in God’s love.”
Archbishop Kurtz noted that Religious Freedom Week is celebrated each year “on the doorstep of the Fourth of July,” when Americans are “all thinking about our independence and our freedom – so it’s a wonderful occasion for us.”
Originally observed as the Fortnight of Freedom, the USCCB changed the event to a single week, which allows the Bishops focus on a single theme, and then “to have a particular emphasis for each of the specific days.” Archbishop Kurtz pointed to the USCCB website, where visitors can see a video for each day of the week, with a Bishop highlighting the issue for each day.
Asked about the challenges to religious liberty, Archbishop Kurtz pointed to the need to protect health care workers from demands to take part in morally repugnant procedures such as abortion; and to resist efforts to restrict the ability of faith based foster care and adoption programs to carry out their work in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. Immigration issues are also important, he said.
Worldwide, Archbishop Kurtz focused on the increasing persecution of religious believers around the world. Although there is naturally an emphasis on persecution of Christians, the Archbishop said the Church is concerned to protect religious freedom for all people of faith. He emphasized the importance of providing assistance to persecuted Christians, and highlighted the work of the Knights of Columbus in helping Christians in the Middle East.
“We don’t want to sugarcoat the challenges” to religious liberty, Archbishop Kurtz said in the interview. “But we do want to first begin by using language that is accurate and also inviting.” Religious freedom, he continued, “is a call to inspire a culture.” In that task, he said, Catholics have been helped especially by the leadership of Pope Francis and, before him, of Pope Benedict.
In the second place, Archbishop Kurtz said, “we are looking to ensure that we make space for people of faith convictions who are serving other people.” It is important, he said, “to ensure that we are not restricting” people of faith unnecessarily, or forcing them to make “a terrible choice” of either ending their service to others, or giving up their beliefs.