Catholic bishops across the country have not backed down from their battle against what they see as threats to the church's religious liberty.
They encouraged the faithful to host rallies and meet with their elected leaders. Devotionals were created and prayer gatherings were held as part of the “Fortnight of Freedom,” which took place about two weeks before the Fourth of July.
The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not bowed out of the fight — quite the contrary.
Coakley said the bishops' group, of which he is a part, decided at their November assembly to issue the “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty” in 2013.
Coakley explained various aspects of the new initiative in a letter to the Oklahoma City Archdiocese. The letter was read last Sunday during Mass at many parishes within the archdiocese.
The letter was also was printed in the archdiocese's official newspaper, The Sooner Catholic, and posted on the archdiocese's website.
“I want to join my voice to that of my fellow bishops in summoning the faithful, clergy and religious of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to embrace this coordinated spiritual effort to combat these looming challenges to the free and public exercise of our faith,” Coakley wrote in the letter.
The archdiocese represents two-thirds of Oklahoma. The Tulsa Diocese, led by Bishop Edward Slattery, encompasses the eastern portion of the state.
Coakley said U.S. bishops wanted to build on the momentum from the “Fortnight of Freedom.” At the heart of that initiative was the bishop's ire over a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate issued in January 2012 requiring employers, including those affiliated with religious groups, to provide employee health coverage of services such as contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
Coakley said the bishops' concerns about the federal mandate go beyond contraception and abortion to what they see as the government's intrusion on the Catholic Church's religious freedom. They also are troubled by cultural assaults on traditional marriage and the sanctity of life.
“We wanted to sustain attention on what we recognize are some very, very timely issues,” he said of the new initiative.
“We're concerned about our religious liberty being threatened by the HHS mandate, and we're also concerned about the confusion there seems to be about the very definition of what marriage is and the continuing threats against human life and dignity.”
Coakley said archdiocesan parish members have mostly responded well to the new initiative. He said some people have shared their comments about the new faith effort on his Facebook page.
He said the “Call to Prayer” initiative has several components. They are:
• Parishes are urged to have a monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty now until Nov. 24, Christ the King Sunday.
• Families and individuals are encouraged to pray the daily rosary devotion, particularly for the preservation of life, marriage and religious liberty.
• Sunday and daily Masses are to include a special prayer focus for respect for all human life from conception to natural death, the strengthening of marriage and family life and the preservation of religious liberty in America and around the globe.
• Individuals are encouraged to abstain from meat and to fast on Fridays as a prayer focus for the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty.
• Another national Fortnight of Freedom will be held at the end of June and the beginning of July, emphasizing marriage in the wake of possible Supreme Court rulings regarding marriage. The 2013 Fortnight of Freedom also will focus on the Aug. 1 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate, as well as other concerns like immigration.
Coakley said a Web page with the “Call to Prayer” plan may be viewed at www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty.
“This is really a call to focused prayer and fasting,” he said of the initiative.