Posts Tagged ‘Religious Liberty’

Pope Francis’ Address on Religious Liberty

In what will no doubt be one of his most significant addresses of this trip, here is Pope Francis’ address on religious liberty given today at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Dear Friends,

One of the highlights of my visit is to stand here, before Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States of America. It was here that the freedoms which define this country were first proclaimed.  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 ringing words continue to inspire us today, even as they have inspired peoples throughout the world to fight for the freedom to live in accordance with their dignity.

But history also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended.  The history of this nation is also the tale of a constant effort, lasting to our own day, to embody those lofty principles in social and political life.  We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans.  This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed.

All of us benefit from remembering our past.  A people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future.  Remembrance saves a people’s soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or use it for their interests.  When individuals and communities are guaranteed the effective exercise of their rights, they are not only free to realize their potential, they also contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society.

In this place which is symbolic of the American way, I would like to reflect with you on the right to religious freedom.  It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.

Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate.  But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families.

Our various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim.  They call individuals and communities to worship God, the source of all life, liberty and happiness.  They remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power.  We need but look at history, especially the history of the last century, to see the atrocities perpetrated by systems which claimed to build one or another “earthly paradise” by dominating peoples, subjecting them to apparently indisputable principles and denying them any kind of rights.  Our rich religious traditions seek to offer meaning and direction, “they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and heart” (Evangelii Gaudium, 256).  They call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good, and compassion for those in need.  At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights.

Our religious traditions remind us that, as human beings, we are called to acknowledge an Other, who reveals our relational identity in the face of every effort to impose “a uniformity to which the egotism of the powerful, the conformism of the weak, or the ideology of the utopian would seek to impose on us” (M. de Certeau).

In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.

We live in a world subject to the “globalization of the technocratic paradigm” (Laudato Si’, 106), which consciously aims at a one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions in a superficial quest for unity.  The religions thus have the right and the duty to make clear that it is possible to build a society where “a healthy pluralism which respects differences and values them as such” (Evangelii Gaudium, 255) is a “precious ally in the commitment to defending human dignity… and a path to peace in our troubled world” (ibid., 257).

The Quakers who founded Philadelphia were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love.  This conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance.  That sense of fraternal concern for the dignity of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American spirit.  During his visit to the United States in 1987, Saint John Paul II paid moving homage to this, reminding all Americans that: “The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones” (Farewell Address, 19 September 1987, 3).

I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant.  All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard.  You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard.  In this witness, which frequently encounters powerful resistance, you remind American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded, and that society is weakened whenever and wherever injustice prevails.

Among us today are members of America’s large Hispanic population, as well as representatives of recent immigrants to the United States.  I greet all of you with particular affection!  Many of you have emigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life.  Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face.  I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation.  You should never be ashamed of your traditions.  Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.  I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood.  You are also called to be responsible citizens, and to contribute fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live.  I think in particular of the vibrant faith which so many of you possess, the deep sense of family life and all those other values which you have inherited.  By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within.

Dear friends, I thank you for your warm welcome and for joining me here today.  May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy.  And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself.  May he bless you all.  I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me.


Pope Francis Embraces Everyone With Heart of Jesus

Yesterday was indeed an inspiring start to the pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the United States.  In his remarks to the US Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral he made clear his desire for the people in the United States to know that he comes to embrace each and everyone of us.

The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace.

In his remarks at the White House, our Holy Father gave great support to the efforts of our US Bishops to protect religious freedom.

With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

And in his homily, the Holy Father once again calls all of us to discover the joy of knowing and following Jesus.  This is the key to understanding Pope Francis.  This is the key to interpreting everything he says to us.  Jesus Christ is the ‘core’ who unifies everything!

Pope Francis Speaking to US Bishops

Pope Francis Speaking to US Bishops

If you want to understand this Pope, it is important to see how he views his role as the Chief Shepherd of the flock.  I believe that is what he shared with the bishops yesterday in his address to us at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  Here is the address in full.  It is a bit long, but well worth the read.

Pope Francis’ Address to US Bishops September 23, 2015 St. Matthew’s Cathedral Washington, D.C.   Dear Brother Bishops, I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay. As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land. The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!” Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage. My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey. I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated. I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”. I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country. It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission. We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25). The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31). Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor. It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27). Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock. Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45). Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11). We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear. I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition. And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response. Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16). The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing. We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise. We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”. The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over. Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations. May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14). This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion. This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges. The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church. These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society. To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise. Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32). Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37). My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church. May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!

Religious Liberty; Rooted In Dignity Of The Human Person

As our Fortnight For Freedom progresses this summer, today seems an appropriate moment to reflect upon the innate freedom of every human person to give expression to their relationship with God. 

Today the Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist.  We read in Sacred Scripture that this birth was announced to Zechariah by an angel of the Lord. The angel even goes so far as to describe the life mission of John.  (Luke 1: 525)

The Sacred Scriptures give plenty of other evidence that we are all created by God, from the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4)  Most memorable is the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1: 26-38) as well as Samson (Judges 13,) and Isaac (Genesis 15:2-6; 18:9-15; 21: 1-8.)

Other passages speak of the work of God forming each of us in the womb.  “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!”  (Psalm 139: 13-14)  Also, the Prophet Isaiah: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”  (Is 49:1)

These Scripture passages teach us that each human person is intimately known by God, who calls us into being.  This fundamental understanding of the origins of every human person speaks to the importance of religious freedom.  This is not just a freedom bestowed upon us by others. 

Religious freedom is a part of our DNA.  We are created by God, for relationship with God and the entire human journey is destined to return to God.  The dignity of every human person is rooted in this Divine Origin of all human life. 

This relationship with God is carried on in the intimate realm of human conscience, and is given visible expression in many ways, not the least of which is worship.  But worship is not the limitation of religious freedom.  One’s relationship with God gives expression to love and service of others.  It is guided by moral light that dictates “Do this. Do not do that.”

The Second Vatican Council in its document on Religious Liberty states:

“…the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom must be given such recognition in the constitutional order of society as will make it a civil right.”  (Declaration of Religious Liberty, #2)

St. John the Baptist - Artist, Titian

St. John the Baptist was a voice preparing the people of Israel for its Savior.  Jesus Christ is the Word spoken by God for all eternity.  Still today, freedom is fundamental to exercise our voice in favor of the instructive Word. 

St. John the Baptist did not limit his voice to a temple.  Rather, he spoke wherever and whenever and whatever the Spirit prompted.  This is true religious freedom, in search of and at the service of Truth.  The Truth of our faith, Jesus Christ, desires only the good for all people.  His desire is the desire of the Father, that all come to sanctification.  (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

 Let us continue our prayer for a proper respect for religious liberty, and its due protection from unwarranted intrusion by any individual or institution.  Let us pray that each person will have a well formed conscience and the freedom to live freely according to its guidance toward the Truth and the common good.




Fortnight For Freedom Mass & Homily

On this Vigil for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the faithful gathered for our Mass to mark the celebration of the Fortnight For Freedom.  Below is the Homily.

Thank you for your presence here today to celebrate this Eucharist.  Thank you for your presence with us to pray for one of our most basic human freedoms, the freedom of religion.

As many of you know, our US Bishops have called us in these days to a time of intense prayer for the protection of religious liberty, otherwise known as a the Fortnight For Freedom.  During this two week period, the Church celebrates numerous feasts, such as those of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas Moore, who were beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII for their opposition to his practice and teaching on marriage.  We also just celebrated a feast of St. John the Baptist, who was also beheaded by his king for being outspoken regarding King Herod’s practice of marriage that disregarded God’s law.  On July 4th, which will conclude our Fortnight for Freedom, our nation will celebrate the anniversary of our Independence from what our forefathers saw as an overly intrusive government.

Today the Church celebrates the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles.  Sts. Peter and Paul both gave their lives as a confession of faith in Jesus Christ.  They shed their blood because they would not denounce Christ nor stop preaching in His name.  They certainly would not have renounced Christ in order to profess the pagan beliefs of the Roman Caesars.  They shed their blood because they knew that Christ was not only their greatest treasure, but the greatest treasure of all people for all times. 

The feast of these two great Apostles reminds me of a quote from St. Bonaventure who said: “If I have everything without Christ, I have nothing.  If I have nothing but Christ, I have everything.”

 Our readings today remind us of the benefits of faith as portrayed in the power of St. Peter to heal a man crippled from birth.  St. Peter’s words and actions are a clear teaching that faith is one of our greatest treasures: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”  (Acts 3:1-10) 

This account from today’s celebration not only instructs us on the role of religion in the life of the human person, but it also shows the connection between belief in God and the good works that follow.  Our celebration today shows that religion, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ is a threat to no one, but rather is a force for good.  Society has nothing to fear from religion, and only good to gain.  Perhaps this was only one of several reasons our forefathers saw the need to enshrine this fundamental human freedom of religion in the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Jesus Himself in the post-resurrection account offered in today’s Liturgy from John’s Gospel, makes the same connection between love of God and good works.  (John 21:15-19)  “Simon, son of John, do you love me?  …  Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.”

Here, we see the foundational importance to first love God.  This is the fundamental question before each of us:  “Do we love God?”  “Do we love Jesus Christ?”  In a recent address in Atlanta to the body of U.S. Bishops, Mr. John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America made the following observation:

Our society won’t care about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God.  That’s where reform is needed.  We won’t have – and we probably won’t need – religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing their religion.  The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God. 

So, my dear friends, we are here this evening to express our love for God, and to pray for the religious freedom to express this love through the many ministries our Catholic Church provides to the poor and needy, regardless of their beliefs.  We are here this evening to pray for the religious freedom to carry out our good works without government mandates that we violate our conscience and moral teachings in order to do so. 

Sadly, toady we see internationally growing concerns regarding violations against humanity when the basic human freedom of religion in disregarded.  This international trend is now finding its ways to our shores, and we see growing concerns in the ways in which the federal, state and local governments are demonstrating a restrictive view of religion and a lack of respect for the role of religion in the broader society.  Perhaps the most notorious demonstration of the federal government’s willingness to restrict the free practice of religion is the recent HHS Mandate.

I know some feel that the US Bishops are not truly concerned about religious liberty, but are simply using this issue as a political football to discourage the re-election of a certain political personality.  I want to assure you, our concern is far greater than any one election, and is definitely about the very basic principle of religious liberty, and what we see as serious threats to this fundamental freedom.    I invite all of you to join us in our prayers for the protection of the freedom to practice our religion.

There is a growing trend in the culture today that wishes to define religious liberty solely as the freedom to worship.  This is neither the language nor the intent of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The language in the recent HHS Mandate wishes to define religion in such a narrow manner that very few would qualify as a religious organization.  This religious exemption is a clear over-reach of the government, in that it seeks to define membership as well as the ministry of a religious organization. 

Namely, to qualify as a religious organization, we would only be allowed to hire people who share our faith, and we would only be allowed to serve people who share our faith.  It also says that the primary purpose of the organization should be to teach the faith.  In other words, we would have to dismiss the mandate of Jesus Christ to serve the poor, heal the sick, baptize all nations, cloth the naked, visit those imprisoned, comfort those who mourn and enlighten those who are in the dark regarding the Truth of His Gospel.

And these concerns do not even begin to get into the other area of the Mandate which would force us and many other organizations and individuals to violate our conscience and teachings regarding contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.

So, this threat to religious liberty is very real, and if we do not begin to raise our voice of opposition now, there is no telling where this invasion of government into the internal life of the Church will end.

Let our celebration this evening of the faith and works of these great Apostles, Peter and Paul, renew our faith.  May the intercessions of Sts. Peter and Paul make us strong in living our faith in the face of a growing secularism that would seek to diminish the freedom of religion.  May the witness of Sts. Peter and Paul renew our hope in this time, and strengthen our confidence and trust that God is still at work in the world today. 

 Saints Peter and Paul, Pray for us!

St. John the Baptist and Fortnight For Freedom

Fortnight For Freedom Homily: Solemnity of Nativity of St. John the Baptist:

Thank you for the invitation to be here with you today to celebrate this Eucharist.  More than anything I wish to thank all of you for continuing the faith in this part of our state.  Faith is a tremendous gift, and it is a good thing to gather today to celebrate this gift and nourish it through the Eucharist and the Church.  

Today the Church exercises a rare practice of displacing the regular Sunday celebration with the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  John is celebrated for many things regarding his life, ministry and sanctity, and today, I wish to focus on a few that seem applicable to our times and needs, particularly the need for us to defend our religious liberty. 

As many of you know, our US Bishops in these days have called all people of faith to a time of intense prayer for the protection of religious liberty, otherwise known as a Fortnight For Freedom.  During these two weeks, the church celebrates numerous feasts, such as those of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas Moore, who were beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII for their opposition to his practice and teaching on marriage.

Today, we celebrate one of several feasts of St. John the Baptist, who was also beheaded by his king for being outspoken regarding King Herod’s practice of marriage that disregarded God’s law.

On July 4th, which will conclude our Fortnight for Freedom, our nation will celebrate the anniversary of our Independence from what our forefathers saw as an overly intrusive government.

First, let me summarize just a few of the indicators we see today of present ways in which federal, state and local governments are demonstrating a new, and alarming, restrictive view of religion.

HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs.  The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching. Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.

Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services— by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what they deem as “harboring” of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to these immigrants.

Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion  services in violation of Catholic teaching.

 I know some feel that the US Bishops are not truly concerned about religious liberty, but are simply using this issue as a political football to discourage the re-election of a certain political personality.  I want to assure you, our concern is far greater than any one election, and is definitely about the very basic principle of religious liberty, and what we see as serious threats to this fundamental freedom.  Thus, I offer the above examples for your own study and prayer.  I invite all of you to join us in our prayers for the protection of the freedom to practice our religion.

There is a growing trend in the culture today that wishes to define religious liberty solely as the freedom to worship.  This is neither the language nor the intent of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The language in the recent HHS Mandate wishes to define religion in such a narrow manner that very few would qualify as a religious organization.  This religious exemption is a clear over-reach of the government, in that it seeks to define membership as well as the ministry of a religious organization. 

Namely, to qualify as a religious organization, we would only be allowed to hire people who share our faith, and we would only be allowed to serve people who share our faith.  It also says that the primary purpose of the organization should be to teach the faith.  In other words, we would have to dismiss the mandate of Jesus Christ to serve the poor, heal the sick, baptize all nations, cloth the naked, visit those imprisoned, comfort those who mourn and enlighten those who are in the dark regarding the Truth of His Gospel.

And these concerns do not even begin to get into the other area of the Mandate which would force us and many other organizations and individuals to violate our conscience and teachings regarding contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.

So, this threat to religious liberty is very real, and if we do not begin to raise our voice of opposition now, there is no telling where this invasion of government into the internal life of the Church will end.  And that brings us back to St. John the Baptist.

St. John the Baptist was a ‘voice in the desert’ preparing the way for the world’s Savior, Jesus Christ.  Even within the womb, St. John leapt with joy at the presence of the Savior as the pre-natal Jesus arrives with Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  St. John is a tremendous model for us to ‘find our voice’ today in the face of serious threats to religious freedom.

St. John in his life pointed the way to Christ.  The Father revealed the true identity of Jesus to John during Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.  John told his followers that one greater than he was coming, who would baptize with water and the spirit for the forgiveness of sins.  John pointed to Christ as the Lamb of God telling all who would listen: “Follow him.”  St. John also recognized his insignificance in the presence of Jesus by saying: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” 

This feast today reminds us that we are to point others to Christ.  We are to be followers of Christ.  We are to be expanding God’s Kingdom, in a world that would restrict any mention of God.  We, too, are insignificant in the face of Christ.  Truly, Christ must increase.  Today, there are many who would decrease the public space for God, for the Sacred, and for Jesus Christ.  Will we work on behalf of Jesus?  Will the work and ministry of this parish continue to expand God’s Kingdom, even in the face of a growing and aggressive secularism?

St. John the Baptist had great fortitude.  He was fearless in preaching the truth about the king, and from him we have much to learn about fortitude in the defense of our faith, and in the defense of our freedoms.  St. John ultimately was imprisoned and martyred for preaching the truth.  May today’s voices calling for a limited role of religion not silence our own voice.  May our voices, as St. John’s give voice to the Eternal WORD of God, who was incarnate, who suffered and died for our ultimate freedom, the freedom from sin and death; the freedom to live as sons and daughters of God.  May Jesus Christ be praised for ever and ever, and may our freedom to worship and proclaim him be forever protected.

Fortnight For Freedom

fortnight-for-freedom-montageTomorrow begins a two week period of prayer for respect for Religious Liberty.  From June 21 to July 4, the US Bishops are asking all people of faith to make this a time of prayer, study and catechesis.  This is to be a time to both learn about the growing threats to religious liberty in our own country, as well as internationally, and to pray that this basic, fundamental freedom be protected.

Perhaps the best known threat to our religious liberty is the now famous HHS Mandate.  There are two fundamental issues at work here.  First, the issue that truly makes this an issue of religious liberty is that a branch of the federal government is taking the unprecedented step of defining religion.  In this mandate, which is now ‘law,’ the so-called religious exemption outlines four criteria that must be met if an organization is to be ‘religious’ and thus exempt from the mandate.

To meet this exemption, an organization must 1) exist primarily for the inculcation (teaching or passing on) of the tenents of their faith; 2) the organization must employ only members of its own faith; 3) the organization must serve only people of its faith; and 4) the organization must meet certain tax code exemptions. 

In other words, the government is now in a position of telling religious organizations who they can serve, and who they can employ.  Clearly, the First Amendment which protects Religious Liberty is  meant to keep the federal government from interfering in the internal life of the church.  We do not ask to see someone’s baptismal certificate before we decide to serve them.  The ministry of the Church is based on the mandate of Jesus Christ, and no government can supersede that authority.

The second serious issue of the HHS Mandate is one of conscience.  The Mandate is requiring religious organizations to violate our moral teaching and practice by providing our employees with birth control, sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs. 

There are other examples from recent history that give serious concern regarding efforts to restrict our Religious Liberty as protected in the First Amendment.  So, we encourage all our parishes and parishioners to take time in these coming weeks to pray for religious freedom.  Take time to study the issues of concern. 

As a part of our diocesan celebration of the Fortnight of Freedom, I will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral at 5:30pm on June 28, the Vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  I hope you will join us for this Mass if you are in the Cheyenne area. 

Our celebration will conclude on the 4th of July with the ringing of church bells at noon.  May God bless our efforts in these coming weeks, and may God bless America!

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,


Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.



Letter To Priests, Deacons, Religious and Parishioners Regarding HHS Mandate



Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ:

 As you are most undoubtedly aware, on January 20, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its decision not to expand the unacceptably narrow “religious employer” exemption to its mandate that virtually all health insurance plans must include, as so-called “preventive services” sterilizations, abortifacients, and contraception.  Since that time, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and I began immediately preparing to meet this challenge.

 The Bishops’ Conference committee on Religious Liberty is actively engaged in planning a nation-wide response on a number of levels.  I simply want you to know that the bishops are fully engaged in this process, and a significant, sustainable, and long-term strategy is our goal.

You are invited to visit the USCCB website for continually updated information regarding our efforts to defend freedoms of conscience and religious liberty, and to better inform yourself as to what you can do as individuals.  There is already information on this website to assist you in writing your representatives to express your deep concern for the protections of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.

 I want to be very clear.  We as church, and all believers, share a deep concern for women’s health.  However, we take serious issue with any effort to portray pregnancy as a disease.  Regardless of the present contraceptive practices of women and couples, the Church will always teach the integrity of the whole moral law of marriage and of human sexuality, for to do so is to support the true growth of human civilization. (See Humanae Vitae 18)  God in His Providence has provided for the natural means of conceiving children, and the natural and nurturing place for their development is in the mother’s womb.  This “sacred sanctuary” is and should be the first priority of healthcare, if healthcare is truly about nurturing and sustaining human life.

 Regarding the Obama administration’s intention to mandate free healthcare coverage of contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization procedures, let us be very clear.  This mandate seeks not only to reflect some women’s reproductive behaviors, but to change all women’s behaviors.  Should this mandate stand, we can easily see into the future how this or any future administration will then feel quite emboldened to take the next step of mandatory coverage for abortions, infanticide, and so called ‘assisted suicide’.  Indeed, this mandate will already cover the cost of certain FDA approved medications that are known to cause the early destruction of a human embryo, thus leading to the loss of life in the womb.

 As serious as the above issue of life is, this mandate raises another grave concern, with far-reaching consequences, and that is Religious Liberty.  Even though most churches and houses of worship are exempt from this mandate, other religious institutions, through which Catholics and other Christians carry out our Gospel Mission, are not.  Faith-based institutions such as schools, hospitals, universities and charitable institutions will be required to follow this new mandate, or pay stiff financial penalties.  In addition, individual employers who wish to act on their faith and provide their employees health insurance but do not want to provide services contrary to their religious beliefs are forced to either not provide health insurance and face a fine or act contrary to their faith.  In short, the government is requiring that people of faith purchase something that violates their moral beliefs. 

 If we allow this mandate to go unchallenged, if we allow it to stand, we are surrendering our constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment, to freely exercise our religious faith in American society.  This has serious consequences for our dioceses, parishes and other religious institutions and the way we are presently able to freely carry out our faith-based ministries.  We believe firmly that our moral presence in the public square and our charitable service to those in need is not only protected under the First Amendment, but is also good for our culture and society.  Once a country or government loses its moral foundation, there will be an inevitable destruction to “decent society” and the disintegration of culture and democracy.

 This mandate is a “not-so-subtle” revelation of this administration’s misinterpretation of Religious Liberty as a mere “freedom of worship”.  In other words, this mandate is telling people of faith: “Keep your faith at home or in your church, synagogue, mosque or temple and out of the market place, or we will enact regulations that will prevent you from practicing your faith in public.”  This is a wake-up call to all Catholics and all people of faith in American society.  This is one more step in the direction of declaring “no-god” the official religion of the State, and every person who holds dear their faith in God had better stand up and take notice.

 I urge you to contact President Obama, Senators Barrasso and Enzi and Representative Lummis and state your objections to this new requirement, and ask for the repeal of this mandate or at least for a religious exemption that would allow people of faith not to have to provide contraceptive, abortifacients and sterilization coverage. 

 I invite all of you please stay abreast of the developments around this HHS Mandate.  I also strongly encourage fasting and prayer as a proper response to this challenge.  Last but not least, our response should always be one of faith, hope and respect.  Please know how grateful I am for your faith.  With assurance of prayers for you and your families and loved ones, I remain,

 In The Heart of Christ,


 Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne

Bishop of Cheyenne

US Department of Health & Human Services on Wrong Side of Constitution

On August 1, 2011, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an “internal final rule” to require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, and female sterilization procedures. Among these prescription contraceptives are drugs which are known to induce abortion.  All health plans will be required to include these services without co-pays or other cost sharing – even if the insurer, the employer or the woman herself objects to such coverage.  Since August, numerous protests to this rule have been formally filed with HHS, seeking a broader definition of the religious exemption, in keeping with the long-standing practice of law and understanding of religious freedom.  Most of these protests did not lead to a change in the rule.  On January 20, 2012, HHS decided not to make any significant change in its rule.

 The religious exemption under this new mandate is very narrowly defined.  It will only exempt religious organizations who employ members of their own faith, or those which only minister to members of their own faith.  We as Catholics do not discriminate on the basis of creed, those to whom we offer services.  Since our Catholic institutions do not fall into this narrowly defined exemption, we will now, by law, be required to violate our conscience in both paying for and providing for medications and procedures that we find morally objectionable.

 We as Catholics do not see pregnancy as a disease, and we certainly see no need to provide for means to end such life through mandated practices in the health care plans we offer our employees.  We see life as a gift from God, and are committed to protecting it from all threats, in all stages of life, born or unborn.  Health care is about sustaining life, not ending life.

 Clearly, we are not mandated to offer health care plans to our employees, but it is something we feel should be standard operating procedure.  “Nonprofit employers, who based on religious beliefs, [who] do not provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law.”  This sounds understanding, but with no change in the basic protection of religious liberty, this is nothing more than an invitation for us as Church to figure out how we are to violate our conscience, or pay significant financial fees.

 With this ruling, an agency of the US Government is disregarding our constitutional right to protection of conscience on the basis of religious freedom.  Never before in our history as a nation has the government required citizens to purchase a product that violates their conscience.  It is my deepest hope that the US Bishops will challenge this new HHS mandate to the highest court, and demand a proper respect for our religious freedom, which is protected in the US Constitution.

 Finally, I encourage all our Catholics to come to a profound understanding of this situation.  When an Administration, after seeking feedback on such a controversial ruling, still decides to act in a manner that violates our freedom of religion, it is quite telling…


Freedom of Religion

For some time now, the Bishops of this country have had growing concerns of potential restrictions on our First Amendments rights to express our religion freely.  Just this past week, two Archbishops wrote on this topic of growing concern and importance; Archbishop Dolan of New York, and Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles.  Also this week, Bishop Lori of Bridgeport, the newly appointed Chair of the newly established Bishop’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, addressed a panel before Congress on this very topic, and expressed our concerns.

I strongly encourage our Catholic family to “tune in” to this very important topic.  The posed restrictions on our ability as a Catholic Institution to continue to carry out our ministries in the public arena are real, and have already led to closing some of our ministries.  For example, the Federal Government just this past few days refused a grant for the US Bishops to continue their work of placing women and children who are victims of human trafficing.  No reason was given for this refusal, but we know that more and more “pressure” is applied by the Federal Government on our Catholic institutions to provide for abortion and sterilization procedures for women. 

One other “phrase” that is growing in popularity by Federal Government workers is “Freedom of Worship”, which is quite different from “Religious Liberty”.  It is good that the government not endorse one religion, or espouse one religion for all.  It is great that we have the freedom to worship in whatever fashion we choose.  However, “worship” and practicing our faith and applying our moral beliefs in our institutions of healthcare and education are very different things.  Both need to be honored and protected.

 Please continue to keep this important topic in your prayers.  Please continue to be aware of this on-going dialogue, and its consequences. 


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October 2015
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