The Diocese of Buffalo will join other Catholic dioceses across the United States from June 21 until July 4 for the third annual Fortnight for Freedom. The event calls attention to religious freedom and conscience protection.
This year's theme, "Freedom to Serve," focuses on raising awareness of how religious liberty should give Catholics the freedom to serve the poor and vulnerable.
As part of the Fortnight for Freedom, Bishop Richard J. Malone will celebrate Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church in Buffalo where he will celebrate the Rosary Novena for Life Mass on Saturday, June 28, at 8 a.m. He will also celebrate Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo later that same day at 4:30 p.m. Bishop Edward M. Grosz will lead a Holy Hour with Benediction on Tuesday, July 1, at 3 p.m., at the Dominican Monastery at 335 Doat St. in Buffalo.
Eileen Warner, director of pastoral ministry at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville, said in previous years, the parish marked Fortnight for Freedom with a prayer rally on its front lawn, including adoration and speeches, which she said were well supported and got people's attention. Their parish events also included intentions at daily Mass, which will continue this year, as well as praying the Rosary.
Warner said many of the ministries that the parish offers are reflective of this year's theme, as they are meant to serve those in the greater community, including non-Catholics.
"We have a strong outreach ministry here, particularly our St. Vincent de Paul ministry, and many of those who we serve, literally bringing them bags of food and giving them clothing and furniture, many of those are non-Catholics, but that is who we are called to serve. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ."
Warner said there is also a parish outreach nursing ministry that touches the lives of those in need.
"That's part of our whole evangelization effort in the parish," Warner said. "It is to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world around us. We strive to do that, and it would mean that we couldn't service those who were in the most need, with this (HHS) mandate."
Fortnight for Freedom began in 2012 as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' response to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's mandate to require employers to cover services the Church considers immoral, including oral contraceptives, to employees in contrast to their beliefs, sparking a movement to promote religious freedom.
Mary Pesarchick, chairperson of the Respect Life Ministry at St. Gregory the Great Parish, said not being able to voice conscientious objection to this was the final straw that led to Fortnight for Freedom.
"Nobody is trying to get rid of contraception, although from a Catholic perspective, we would like to," Pesarchick said. "It's not the issue. It's the idea that the government is not giving anyone the chance to opt out. I know the bishops have made it very clear that if the hospitals and agencies we have are compelled to do things that are against Catholic teachings, they'll shut them down. Our ability to serve the poor is going to be extremely curtailed if we have to close our hospitals and close our agencies."
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who is the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the USCCB, will celebrate a Mass to begin Fortnight for Freedom at the Baltimore Basilica on Saturday, June 21, at 5:30 p.m., which will be broadcast across the country.
"During the Fortnight, our liturgical calendar celebrates great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power - St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul and the first martyrs of the Church of Rome," said Archbishop Lori. "This is a time when Catholics can unite themselves in prayer to the men and women throughout history who spread the Gospel and lived out Jesus' call to serve the 'least of these' in even the direst of circumstances."
Additionally, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on July 4 at noon. This Mass will also be televised nationally.
For more information visit www.fortnight4freedom.com.