Cardinal Dolan opened the archdiocesan observance of Fortnight for Freedom at a 7 a.m. Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral June 21, the first day of the two-week period set aside by the U.S. Bishops to protect and defend religious liberty.
Attendance at the early morning liturgy lagged, not too surprising since this is the Fortnight’s second year. That’s a shame, though, because the cardinal’s homily was well worth some reflection. (If you want to hear it for yourself, check his website at cardinaldolan.org.)
He spoke movingly about his recent visit to the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center on Staten Island, where he toured the mosque and school. The story about that visit is on Page 3, so I will simply repeat a few lines from the cardinal’s homily.
“I was inspired to hear these people of deep Islamic faith speak glowingly about the United States of America,” he said. Many of those he met had come to New York in the 1990s, for a stake in the freedom America promises, especially religious freedom.
“They wanted to be able to live out their faith and follow the deepest convictions of their conscience and they came to America. They want now to become loyal American citizens...without ever sacrificing their deepest religious convictions. They tell me they know of no other country in the world that would welcome them as the United States has.”
After Mass, I was able to ask the cardinal a few questions. With the banging of hammers echoing in the background as construction workers got down to the day’s business in the cathedral’s restoration project, the cardinal told me he and his fellow bishops interpret the Fortnight as “something positive.”
“Some people may have interpreted it as a defensive reaction to some current threats to religious liberty, and realistically we can’t deny (the threats),” he said. “Basically, we bishops intended it for something positive to praise God for the gift of religious freedom, and then to ask him for the fortitude to defend and promote it.”
In a world where religious freedom is in short supply, and despite the alarming threats that exist in our own country—whether governmental or societal—Cardinal Dolan said, “we still remain overwhelmingly grateful to God for the gift of religious freedom that we’ve got in the country and we want to be loyal patriots in defending that freedom.”
The second point the bishops are stressing is that religious freedom is our first and most cherished freedom and a foundation for the other freedoms, Cardinal Dolan said.
“In Catholic teaching and…in the American genius,” he explained, “our freedoms are not some concession by government. They’re not a favor granted to us. They come to us from God who has embedded these rights in the very dignity of the human person.
“If religious freedom goes, then all the other ones are at risk. The freedom of press, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and everything else is in jeopardy because the very nature of those freedoms mean that they come from the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.”
It was good to recite the Prayer for Religious Liberty at Mass that day along with other like-minded Catholics and close with the singing of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” the first time I remember doing that since I was in school.
Parishes are being urged to hold a Holy Hour for religious freedom during the Fortnight, which ends on Independence Day, July 4, and to recite the Prayer for Religious Liberty at Masses.
Even if that doesn’t happen in your parish, take it upon yourself to prayerfully reflect on this most important freedom now—and don’t let it end on July 4.