By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 3, 2013
ATLANTA—Catholics in the Atlanta Archdiocese came out to support a nationwide series of rallies for religious freedom during 2012.
The Fortnight for Freedom rallies, in addition to the filing of a lawsuit by the archdiocese against the Obama administration’s health care mandate on contraception and sterilization, were key events last year.
Others were the 2012 Eucharistic Congress; the windfall left to the archdiocese by the late Joseph Mitchell, nephew of Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind”; and the ongoing Year of Faith.
In front of the Georgia Statehouse and at a rally hosted at Marist School, crowds gave standing ovations to speakers who challenged the federal mandate that requires employers to provide health coverage for employees that includes access to contraception, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, or face hefty fines.
“Religious liberty is more than the freedom to worship,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said at the Marist rally.
The exemption for religious employers promoted by the administration covers only religious organizations, but not affiliated ministries, like hospitals, charities and other similar nonprofits.
The government also proposed that the mandated coverage be paid for by insurance companies, to sidestep the moral dilemma of requiring religious employers to violate the teachings of their faith. However, many Catholic institutions are self-insured so that proposal does not resolve the issue.
Archbishop Gregory said at the Marist rally the key issue for the Catholics bishops of the United States is the federal government attempting “to impose a governmental definition on what is meant by the practice of religion.”
As the year drew to a close, Archbishop Gregory said that the church has an ongoing duty to remind people about the magnitude of what is at stake.
“We need to continue to raise the mindfulness of our people that our religious liberty is directly involved with procedures that have been proposed by the Administration that call us to violate or compromise our religious and ethical principles,” Archbishop Gregory said in an email.
“We need to pray about these matters, to highlight these issues, and to keep these concerns present before our people and others whose rights are also called into question,” he said.
He said the rallies and similar events underscore how serious the bishops consider the matter to be and how vital it is for Catholics to stay informed and engaged in the efforts to resolve it with respect for religious freedom.
“I believe that it helped our folks understand more clearly just what is at stake in this situation. I hope that it informed them of the need to stay in touch with the developments that will be forthcoming regarding this topic,” he said.
The U.S. bishops last spring issued a 12-page statement titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.”
It called for a “a fortnight for freedom” from June 21, the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, to July 4, Independence Day.
“This special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty,” the statement said. “Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.”
The statement challenged immigration laws targeting people assisting undocumented workers, an attempt by Connecticut lawmakers to regulate parishes, the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that most health plans must include free contraception, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services, among others.
Catholic leaders in Georgia joined ecumenical gatherings to voice their opposition. In spitting rain in March, crowds at the statehouse held small American flags and signs of “We will not comply,” “Religious Freedom Now,” and “Stop Obama’s HHS Mandate.” There were shouts of “Amen” and the singing of “Amazing Grace” during the hour rally.
Speakers, including Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama, called the mandate a threat to how people want to live their faith.
In June, another large crowd filled the gym at Marist School as Archbishop Gregory, Dr. Alveda King, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Jackie Sample, a student at Georgia Tech, and the Rev. Jay Hackett, associate pastor of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church, urged their supporters to get involved in the fight for religious liberty.
Then in October, the Archdiocese of Atlanta, led by Archbishop Gregory, and other Catholic entities in Georgia, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate.
Eucharistic Congress 2012
The largest gathering of Catholics in the Southeast took place in June, drawing on the theme “We Though Many Are One Body in Christ.” The two-day conference June 8 and 9 focused on unity and service. An estimated 30,000 people attended the 17th annual event.
Annie Dorcely, a hospital worker, said the Eucharistic Congress is like a shot in the arm for her faith.
“It’s like a serum for me. It’s an IV for the whole year,” said the 56-year-old who worships at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur.
Opening the celebration was Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz. Bishop Kicanas said the Eucharist isn’t complete until Catholics go out into the world in service.
“We are a church of the Eucharist and a church of mission. The Eucharist transforms our hearts and minds into one body, responsible to go out and bring God’s word to the world in which we live,” said the bishop, whose 20-minute talk was interrupted several times with applause.
Thousands came out for the Friday evening and all-day Saturday gathering of pageantry, worship and speakers. The congress is a mix of languages and cultures, where Nigerian women in towering headdresses are welcome to join the Hispanic liturgical dancers in an impromptu celebration of the Virgin Mary.
The gatherings at the opening Mass Friday night and at the Spanish-language track Saturday were believed to be larger than ever.
Crowds applauded the memory of the late Archbishop John F. Donoghue, who initiated a Eucharistic Renewal in the archdiocese in 1996, which led to the celebration of an annual Corpus Christi event, now the two-day Eucharistic Congress. The archbishop, who died in November 2011, was remembered with a video and photo display shown at the congress.
On the financial side, Deacon Dennis Dorner, who coordinates planning, said the congress moved closer to its goal of being self-supporting. Expanded fundraising efforts for the 2012 Eucharistic Congress included a direct mail letter sent to parishioners and parishes and a reception at the archbishop’s residence for past donors, which combined to raise $163,000. In addition, sponsorship opportunities that were offered for the first time in 2012 helped raise a significant amount of money toward the expense of the congress. The 17 sponsors contributed $49,500 in cash and in-kind contributions.
“This is one of the largest and most effective evangelization efforts that we do as an archdiocese. When people are strengthened in their faith and when they hear the message presented this year, that we are all called to be missionaries in the environments where we live and work and play, we will touch the hearts of many, many people,” Deacon Dorner said.
The 2013 congress is scheduled for May 31-June 1. The theme is “Do Whatever He Tells You: Mary and the Year of Faith.”
“Gone With The Wind” Estate
In August, the Archdiocese of Atlanta announced it was the beneficiary of the estate of the late Joseph Mitchell, the nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell.
A long-time member of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mitchell left to the archdiocese a 50 percent share of the literary and trademark rights to the enormously popular novel as well as a multi-million dollar bequest.
The surprise gift has been used to create an endowment fund at the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia, or enlarge an existing fund, for every parish, mission and Catholic school in the archdiocese. Archbishop Gregory designated $10,000 be given to each fund. He also directed that $3.5 million be given to Catholic Charities Atlanta, $2 million of that for a Catholic Charities Atlanta endowment fund. From the estate, Archbishop Gregory has designated $7.5 million be given to the Cathedral of Christ the King for its building fund. Plans call for the Cathedral parish, which has limited space on its Peachtree Road site, to use part of the bequest to purchase the nearby archbishop’s residence on West Wesley Road and renovate it as a rectory for Cathedral priests.
As part of the bequest, the archdiocese received the former Joseph Mitchell home in Buckhead. The aging house was torn down and a new home is to be built to serve as the archbishop’s residence.
Year Of Faith
Joining the church around the world, archdiocesan Catholics are participating in the Year of Faith, a time of education, prayer and faith sharing. The year called by Pope Benedict XVI began Oct. 11, 2012, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It will conclude on Nov. 24, 2013.
The archdiocese added to the yearlong celebration by making it a special year devoted to the Virgin Mary, as well.
An opening Mass drew hundreds to the Cathedral of Christ the King. People said they wanted to devote more time to prayer and learning the faith, so they could share with it others.
The archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship unveiled a website (yof.archatl.com) with videos, a thought of the day, along with a prayer of the day. People in the archdiocese are encouraged to submit their own prayers for the website.
For mobile technology users, the office offers free apps for smart phones. Some 508 apps for Android phones had been downloaded as of Dec. 16.
A video contest is open to filmmakers who want to use their talent to create an inspirational short film about the Catholic faith or “Mary, faith personified.” Information about the video contest is available on the Year of Faith website.