By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 5, 2012
With patriotic rosaries, litanies for freedom, and Hollywood movies, Catholic parishes in the Atlanta Archdiocese participated in the national Fortnight for Freedom campaign.
U.S. bishops organized the two weeks leading up to July 4 as a time of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action. The campaign is to promote religious freedom in America, while protesting measures that the bishops believe attack religious liberty. They include a Health and Human Services’ mandate requiring Catholic entities to provide and pay for health coverage that violates Catholic beliefs and state immigration laws impinging on ministries to undocumented workers.
The Cathedral of Christ the King held a prayer service on Monday, June 25. And the parish will keep hosting a patriotic rosary every Monday until November’s presidential election.
Father Michael Silloway, a parochial vicar at the cathedral, was one of the organizers, along with the parish director of stewardship, Bernadette Flowers.
“What gets me hopeful about the Fortnight for Freedom is that the national leadership of the church is united, ‘strongly unified and intensely focused,’ as the bishops themselves state in their document “United for Religious Freedom.” This is not a partisan issue. It’s not even a particularly Catholic issue. It’s good to see the depth of perception our bishops have in recognizing the attacks against religious freedom as a particularly American issue,” Father Silloway said in an email.
Members of St. James the Apostle Church, McDonough, and St. Mary, Mother of God Church, Jackson, each watched the film “A Man for All Seasons,” a 1966 Academy Award winner. The movie focuses on the life of St. Thomas More and his martyrdom for refusing allegiance to King Henry VIII as head of the church. The Fortnight for Freedom began on his feast day, June 22.
More than 100 letters to members of Congress from Georgia were written by the congregation of St. Peter the Rock Church, The Rock, promoting conscience issues.
At the Atlanta cathedral, Father Silloway’s homily focused on how God created humanity with dignity, with freedom, for love, by love. The role of the state is to foster these attributes to allow for the flourishing of the common good, he said.
Father Silloway said people are enthusiastic to learn how faith interacts with political life and shapes it. Between 150 and 200 attended the June 25 event, which focused on “lifting up our nation in adoration, the rosary, and patriotic songs,” he said.
There are “small pockets” of enthusiastic supporters throughout the country, he said.
“All grassroots campaigns start small, but the more true they resound with the American spirit and the unmistakable ring of truth, they explode in efficacy,” he said.
At St. John Neumann Church, prayer services were held daily during the two weeks. Around 20 people attended a Wednesday evening prayer service in Lilburn.
Among them was John Lynch, 64, who said he is a Vietnam War vet and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.
“I’ve always believed in patriotism. My father and uncle were in World War II. I was in Vietnam. I was taught at a young age: for God and country. Those lessons stick with you,” he said.
The loss of freedom and rights began when the courts ruled that prayer in school was not constitutional, he said.
“It is one right after another that is being taken away from us,” he said.
In his view, the wider Catholic community has not embraced the effort.
“It’s a small core group. But it has to start somewhere,” Lynch said. “The wide variety of cultures we have in the church today, people pulling off by themselves” makes the effort hard, he said. “Our parish has grown so fast. We are losing the community spirit of it. When we have these things, it brings the community back together. Without community, we won’t be able to function.”
“Prayer is always worth our time,” he said.
Pat Vines, of Lawrenceville, said she and her husband, Henry, lived in Sweden and South Africa during apartheid. She said America is losing its uniqueness in upholding religious freedom.
“This has been the only country in the world that has promoted religious freedom and the democratic thought process. We have seen that being eroded in this country. The Supreme Court decision today is part of that,” said Vines, 72, a facilitator with the parish’s Women’s Catholic Bible Study.
The events at the Lilburn church are drawing a small crowd, she said. Vines said her husband joked no one there appears to be younger than 50.
Regardless, Vines said the bishops are focused on an important issue. “I’m extremely pleased our bishops and our church are giving Catholics guidance on a prayerful approach, beseeching God to come to our aid because our church is under assault and people don’t know it.”
“God will bring us to our knees. It isn’t until we are all on our knees that the yoke of heavy-handed government will be lifted from our shoulders. Our freedoms are disappearing at a lightning speed,” she said.
At Marietta’s St. Joseph Church, Father John Walsh believes it’s important for people to hear about saints and martyrs who have “stood up for what they believe in,” such as St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, who was also martyred under Henry VIII.
“We also must be willing to stand up for what’s important to us and what we believe in,” said Father Walsh, the pastor, who also attended the religious freedom rally held at Marist School on Friday, June 22.
The church had a special event every day, which attracted about 50 people, which Father Walsh said isn’t a big group.
“We are not going to get the big, big crowds,” he said. “The people who are here are good-willed, determined folks.”