Are you ready for the ‘Fortnight for Freedom’?

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, June 3, 2012

Catholics across the Archdiocese of Chicago should have plenty of opportunities to practice their faith in the public square during the “Fortnight for Freedom” leading up to the Fourth of July. The Office for Peace and Justice and the Office for Divine Worship have developed a menu of suggestions to work from.

The Fortnight for Freedom is a special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action proclaimed by the U.S. bishops for June 21 to July 4 to focus attention on and pray for the preservation of religious liberty in the United States.

Scott McClarty, director of the Office for Peace and Justice, said all of the options were developed with this criteria in mind: “Avoid the partisan, recognize the limits of the political, maximize the public; be unexpected; be unifying; be biblical; promote joy and hope as sure signs of faith in Jesus Christ rather than faith in our political, legislative or judicial processes; encourage an authentic and fundamental process of reflection on discipleship centered on public expressions of our eucharistic faith.”

A focus on faith rather than politics is important, McClarty said, because as Catholics, our faith is in God and our understanding of freedom is tied to that faith.

It’s also important to spend the two weeks focusing on the public expression of faith rather than on political hot-button issues of the moment, because, McClarty said, “that’s really what’s at stake.”

As a start, all parishes will be encouraged to use a tool called “Reflect. Ponder. Act,” distributed as a bulletin insert or in another way. The one-page piece includes a prayer from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops resource “Our First, Our Most Cherished Liberty” and daily prompts for reflection and action throughout the two weeks. Each prompt is tied to a short Scripture passage.

Other suggestions are to begin weekend Masses during the twoweek observance with a solemn, public procession through the neighborhood, gathering parishioners and leading them into the church with a cross and candles; using the prayer from “Our First, Our Most Cherished Liberty” as often as possible; encouraging a novena beginning June 25 using the prayer, offering Mass outdoors one of the weekends; and including intercessory prayers in observance of the fortnight.

In addition to those suggestions, parishioners will find cards in the pews during both weekends of the fortnight asking them to sign up for the Illinois Catholic Advocacy Network. The cards ask for email and home addresses. Home addresses will be used to determine in which legislative and congressional districts each participant lives. Participants then will receive email alerts on topics of interest to the Catholic Conference with a request that they contact their legislators.

In a letter to pastors about ICAN, Cardinal George said: “Lay Catholics need to become more engaged with state and federal policies that affect the church and her mission. The loss of state foster care and adoption contracts for Catholic Charities and the federal HHS mandate forcing insurance coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations highlight the need for Catholics to be informed about the church’s role in the public square.”

Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said the strategy isn’t new. It has been used in California, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and possibly more states.

“We think there are a lot of lay Catholics who get their information from the mainstream media, and they don’t necessarily know what the teaching of the Catholic Church is,” Gilligan said. “What we need is a more direct relationship with Catholics who attend Mass. We need them to know what’s going on with the general assembly and what we at the conference are working on.

Some parishes are also planning their own events. At St. Celestine Parish in Elmwood Park, there will be a vigil rally for freedom on July 3 at 7 p.m. to which everyone is invited. The parish will also open the fortnight with a Mass June 21 and have a special prayer service on June 28, both starting at 7 p.m., according to Dominic Clemente, a seminarian from the parish who is helping to organize the activities.