Each June, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls Catholics to join in the celebration and observation of Religious Freedom Week.
The week begins June 22, coinciding with the Feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, martyrs who refused to recognize King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy over the Catholic Church in England.
The observance, “For the Good of All,” is an opportunity for Catholics across the country to pray and act for the freedom to serve faithfully and with integrity. Throughout the week, the USCCB devotes days of prayer to various efforts and ministries, including: freedom to serve in health care and respect for houses of worship, religious minorities, efforts in adoption and foster care, and Catholic schools.
“Religious freedom means that all people have the space to flourish. Religious freedom is both an American value and an important part of Catholic teaching on human dignity,” the U.S. Bishops say at www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek. “When we promote religious freedom, we promote the common good and thus strengthen the life of our nation and the community of nations.”
“All people desire to know their Creator,” the USCCB says of Religious Freedom Week. “All people have a natural impulse to seek the good and to live in accordance with that good. All people can flourish when they pursue the truth about God and respond to the truth.”
The PCC is the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania. It has broad objectives regarding issues such as Catholic education, faith and politics, health care, the dignity of human life, marriage and family, religious liberty and social justice.
The St. Thomas More Society was established in 1990 by a group of Catholic lawyers, named for its patron, a devout Catholic lawyer who was beheaded by the order of King Henry VIII for refusing to sign the king’s Act of Supremacy and Act of Succession.
The society works to promote the spiritual and intellectual wellbeing of its members, including the study of Canon Law and principles of the Church, and to acquaint its members with the life and ideals of St. Thomas More.
“Religious freedom to me means to be able to practice your faith without being hindered by government or society, to be able to practice the tenets of your faith without being compelled by law or state action to do anything that would preclude this practice,” said Joseph Cardinale, Esq., President of the St. Thomas More Society. “I think in today’s society the popular view is that religious freedom means freedom from religion. It seems that in our society’s effort to be sensitive to everyone’s beliefs we sometimes end up taking a hostile view towards all religion, which was never the intent of this country’s founding principles.”
In seeking to pray and act for religious freedom, the Society holds two annual events in particular: the Red Mass to coincide with the start of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term in October, and an annual membership meeting with speakers who address current issues of religious freedom in the state and in the country.
The Society’s annual Feast Day Mass is June 22 at noon, and will be streamed on the Diocese of Harrisburg’s YouTube Channel.
“The Feast Day Mass is one of our big events during the year, and it is a very important Mass for us to celebrate together,” Cardinale said. “It was difficult to make the decision to make the Mass live-streamed only instead of offering an in-person option. But the safety of our members and everyone else who likes to attend this Mass is paramount, and it just wasn’t possible this year.”
Cardinale extended an invitation to the public to participate in the Mass, as a means of observing Religious Freedom Week.
“I think religious freedom is something that still needs to be defended in this country,” he said. “Secular society is changing rapidly, and people of faith need to be vigilant in making sure that as secular society progresses, the faith and beliefs of people are not marginalized and cast aside.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness