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U.S. bishops invite Catholics to ‘pray, reflect, and act’ to promote religious freedom

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CNA Staff, Jun 11, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic bishops of the United States are inviting Catholics to observe a week dedicated to prayer, reflection, and action related to religious freedom with topics such as church vandalism, blasphemy laws, and Christian persecution in India as particular areas of focus. 

Marking Religious Freedom Week, which begins June 22, the feast day of St. Thomas More and John Fisher, the bishops invited Catholics to reflect on a particular topic related to religious freedom for each day of the week.

Here’s a breakdown of the days of Religious Freedom Week 2024, which runs from June 22–29. 

June 22: Sacred spaces

On this day, Catholics are asked to pray that all people of faith would be free to gather in houses of worship without fear.  

The bishops have tracked more than 320 instances of vandalism against Catholic entities since 2020, including against Catholic churches, pro-life pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and other pro-life organizations across the country. These attacks have taken the form of vulgar graffiti, property damage, threats, theft, and arson. In addition, data show that antisemitic incidents have surged since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. 

“The very nature of a sacred space is that it is set apart from other spaces as a place to seek communion with the divine and thus should be treated with respect. In a pluralistic society such as ours, respect for sacred spaces is especially vital for the sake of civil peace, which is part of the common good,” the bishops said. 

June 23: Blasphemy and apostasy laws

Catholics on this day are asked to pray for all people of faith who live in fear of persecution under unjust blasphemy laws as well as those living under laws criminalizing apostasy. 

Blasphemy laws exist in nearly 40% of the world’s countries. Christians in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria in recent years have faced conviction and sometimes even mob violence for apparent violations of the countries’ blasphemy laws, which often criminalize any criticism of Islam.

“Penalties for blasphemy vary considerably, ranging from fines to prison sentences to executions. Seven countries have the death penalty for blasphemy — Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mauritania, and Saudi Arabia,” the bishops noted. 

The bishops urged Catholics to support the work of Aid to the Church in Need, a papal charity that works to support persecuted Christians worldwide. 

June 24: Freedom to speak the truth

On this day, the bishops asked that Catholics pray that the Holy Spirit “would give us the courage to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel, even in the face of social and legal pressure.”

“All baptized Christians are called to share the joy of the Gospel with others. But in numerous settings — schools, the workplace, health care — individuals are being pressured to conform to the orthodoxy of gender ideology,” the bishops said. 

“Under the current administration, government agencies are proposing regulations that, in the name of prohibiting harassment, would chill or prohibit speech that upholds the nature of conjugal marriage, the bodily reality of human beings, and even the sanctity of life.”

“We certainly should approach people who disagree with us on these issues with tenderness and compassion, but that does not mean we should be forced to speak untruthfully. And in a pluralistic society, the government should afford ample space for people of different backgrounds and worldviews to be able to work together,” the bishops concluded. 

The bishops promoted as a resource a new website, Love Means More, which is designed to “bring clarity and compassion” to issues surrounding love, marriage, and sexuality by addressing “hidden assumptions about love.”

June 25: Service to immigrants

Catholics on this day are asked to pray that “the Lord would protect all migrants and refugees and that all those who work with people on the move would be free to serve.”

“As part of their duty to uphold the common good, civil authorities are responsible for ensuring public order, including by maintaining national borders. At the same time, the Church is commanded by Jesus Christ to serve vulnerable populations, including migrants and refugees, and recognize their God-given dignity,” the bishops said. 

“The Church has long sought to serve the needs of ‘people on the move,’ from providing for basic needs to assisting with refugee resettlement to offering legal services to help newcomers navigate the expectations of their receiving country.”

The bishops criticized what they called “attacks” on Catholic charitable organizations helping migrants, some of which have faced public criticism in recent years. 

“Sadly, in recent years, Christian services to migrants have faced vile attacks by both media personalities and political leaders seeking to make a point about current immigration trends. Debates about immigration and borders are simply part of American political life, and Christians should do their part to make those discussions healthy and productive,” the bishops concluded. 

The bishops urged Catholics to join in their efforts to advocate for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.

June 26: India

Catholics are urged to pray for “our Christian brothers and sisters in India, who face harassment and violent attacks.”

In recent years, Christians in India have decried an apparent rise in anti-Christian violence and Hindu extremism. Hindu mobs — often fueled by false accusations of forced conversions — have attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services.

A U.S. religious freedom watchdog recently urged the Biden administration to add the government of India to a list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, citing India’s “increased transnational targeting of religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf.”

The bishops promoted the work of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926 as “an instrument of love and a sign of hope for those in need scattered throughout the historic but unstable lands of the ancient Eastern churches — the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe.”

June 27: Faith at work

Pray that business leaders would be free to promote a culture of life in their workplaces, the bishops urged. 

Specifically, the bishops discussed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to accommodate women for workplace limitations that arise from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions and which had the full support of the USCCB when lawmakers considered the bill in 2022. However, regulations issued by President Joe Biden’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this year have interpreted the related medical conditions covered in the law to include abortion.

The U.S. bishops last month filed a lawsuit that asks a court to strike down the abortion accommodation rule.

“[R]eligious employers should honor the pro-woman, pro-life intent of the law Congress passed and grant pregnant employees reasonable accommodations that allow them to have healthy pregnancies,” the bishops concluded.

June 28: Civility

On this day, Catholics are urged to pray that “God would give us the grace to remember the dignity of all and invite others to do the same.”

“As a Church and a nation, we are polarized and divided. But as Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti, we can seek ‘a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good,’” the bishops wrote.

“We can see ourselves as members of one family. We can seek to encounter and to grow. We can identify common values. We can listen to understand. We can seek the truth together. We can jointly come up with creative solutions to the problems that face our world.”

To this end, the bishops promoted an initiative formed in 2021 called “Civilize It,” designed to promote civility amid political polarization, appealing to Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

June 29: Catholic health care

Pray today that governments will respect the consciences of all individuals and institutions that care for the sick and vulnerable, the bishops said. 

“For centuries, Christians have carried on the healing ministry of Christ by building institutions dedicated to medicine and accompaniment of the dying. However, Catholic hospitals and medical professionals face numerous challenges to their mission today,” the bishops said. 

Among these challenges, they said, are an erosion of conscience protections under the Biden administration for medical professionals who object to practices and procedures such as abortion and transgender surgeries. 

In the face of this, Catholics are asked to pray that governments will respect the consciences of all individuals and institutions that care for the sick and vulnerable. The bishops also asked that Catholics sign up to receive alerts on new opportunities to let government agencies know that they “support the Church’s right to operate her institutions in accordance with her faith in Jesus Christ.”


Source: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/257961/us-bishops-invite-catholics-to-pray-reflect-and-act-to-promote-religious-freedom


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