Arlington, Va., Nov 8, 2016 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite ongoing religious freedom threats, humility and cheerfulness in serving the poor are at the heart of the mission for the Little Sisters of the Poor, the order’s vocations director said.
“One soul at a time – this is what we’re about,” Sister Rosemarie Yao, director of vocations for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said at a religious freedom discussion at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. on Saturday, three days before the 2016 election.
“To value the dignity of the human person, to care for them with love and respect until Almighty God calls them home to Himself, not one minute before or one minute after,” she continued, outlining the mission of the sisters.
Sister Rosemarie addressed an audience at the event titled “Is America Still the Land of the Free?” It was sponsored by the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and the diocesan Office for Family Life.
The speakers, which included author Mary Eberstadt and Fr. Paul Scalia of the Arlington Diocese, discussed religious freedom concerns, particularly the case of the Little Sisters that was before the Supreme Court last term before being sent back down to the federal level. That case of Zubik v. Burwell was a bundle of cases of charitable organizations like the Little Sisters opposing the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The punitive treatment of today’s religious believers in a time of secularist ascendancy is unjust,” Eberstadt stated of the cases, and other cases where charities or business owners are being forced by the government to violate their consciences and obey a secularist mandate.
“Beneath the merciless vindictiveness of today’s anti-religious inquisitors, is something deep and new in history,” she added. It is “the development of a rival faith that does not acknowledge itself as faith,” she explained, which “sees Christianity as a rival to be crushed.”
In Zubik v. Burwell, the religious groups opposed the Obama administration’s so-called “accommodation” offered to objecting non-profits to comply with its birth control mandate.
In this “accommodation,” employers would notify the government of their religious objections to the mandate to provide cost-free coverage in employee health plans for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions. After receiving their notice of objection, the government would have the employer’s insurer — or third-party administrator of their own health plan – provide the coverage.
The plaintiffs in the case, which included the sisters, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Bishop of Pittsburgh, said that proposal still forced them to unacceptably cooperate with an immoral act of providing contraception coverage to others.
In a highly unusual move in the middle of a case, the Supreme Court asked both the plaintiffs and the government to outline how they might come to a compromise where the religious freedom of the objecting parties was respected, but their employees still received contraception coverage as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
The sisters and fellow non-profits said that if they notified their insurer of their objection, and their insurer then provided the coverage outside of their health plan and at a separate cost, that would be an acceptable compromise. Another acceptable way would be for the government to have insurers set up the coverage themselves, outside of the health plans.
All coverage would have to be “truly independent” of the health plans, they insisted, with separate cards, payment, and enrollment.
The compromise between the government and the sisters has not been finished yet, the lead attorney for the sisters Mark Rienzi said. “We are still in the midst of that process and the Little Sisters remain hopeful that the government will obey the Supreme Court’s order and find a reasonable alternative,” he stated.
During his 2015 visit to the U.S., Pope Francis visited the sisters’ home for the elderly in Washington, D.C. to encourage them while their legal case against the mandate was ongoing.
According to their foundress Sister Jeanne Jugan, the sisters are called to “be very little before God,” Sister Rosemarie stated on Saturday. She pointed to Sister Jugan’s witness of helping the poor before she “died in oblivion.”
“Her silence gave flesh to the recurring counsels to the novices, ‘Be little. Be very little before God’,” Sister Rosemarie explained.
She has seen this charism lived out in her 33 years as a sister, she added.
“I have witnessed for myself many holy sisters who have worked day and night at the beck and call of the residents. Always very humble, very cheerful in their countenance.”
“I learned from them that what we do for the old people we do for Jesus. And more so, we are working for souls. We are gathering souls for heaven, they told me. And one of the counsels of St. Jeanne Jugan is ‘knock at the door of heaven for souls’.”