Cardinal Wuerl Celebrates Religious Freedom on Independence Day

“Let us thank God for the call, the freedom and the courage to stand up for religious liberty.”

July 04, 2013

Thousands of people spent Independence Day in the nation’s capital at a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception celebrating and praying for religious freedom. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, was the principal celebrant for the Mass that brought the 2013 nation-wide Fortnight for Freedom to a close. The two-week period of prayer, education and awareness was called by the United States bishops to focus on preserving religious freedom and began on June 21 with Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore. Dioceses throughout the United States arranged special events and Masses during this time to highlight the importance of defending the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl talked about the Brick Chapel in Saint Mary’s City, Maryland that was built by settlers in 1667 who came to America on the Ark and the Dove. The chapel stood as a symbol of religious freedom and what the settlers constructed became known as the birthplace of religious freedom in America. But in 1704, the chapel was shuttered by those who came to power and did not share this foresight and the Royal Governor ordered the brick chapel locked and never again used for religious purposes, revoking the freedom of religion in the colony. Cardinal Wuerl recalled the joy of participating in an event four years ago when the doors to the refurbished chapel were unlocked. “Despite the efforts to silence the Church, the early Catholics in Maryland persevered. Three centuries later we celebrated a visible, tangible testimony to an inalienable right — our inherent human right to religious liberty and the blessing of freedom of conscience,” said Cardinal Wuerl.

“From the beginning of our nation, the founders recognized our equality and liberty and that those rights were bestowed on us by God,” said Cardinal Wuerl. Referring back to the ceremony where the doors to the Brick Chapel were unlocked and opened, the Cardinal said,“…As the key turned in the lock and the doors swung open, we were all provided an opportunity to reflect that sadly there are still those who think that the best way to deal with opposing opinions, differing views, moral perspectives and ethical imperatives is through force…Closer to our day, we see another tactic. The Church is denounced as prejudiced, narrow-minded or even un-American simply because her teaching respects human life, upholds marriage and calls for health care for the most needy in our country.”

The Cardinal then gave a recent example of “locking doors” and spoke of George Washington University where an effort was made earlier this spring to try and silence the Catholic chaplain and to “lock out” his ministry to Catholic students and faculty. “The idea that the pastor of a parish today or the chaplain of a religious community or campus ministry today should simply be silenced because he faithfully announces the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that he should not be allowed to engage in dialogue with our culture, even in a place that is dedicated to the free and diverse expression of ideas – may seem somewhat radical today, but you have to remember there have always been those who try to force their views on all of us. There have always been those who want to lock doors so the voice of the Gospel cannot be heard,” said the Cardinal. “When we talk about marriage, when we speak about the dignity of human life, when we teach about the natural moral order, we are lifting up elements that we find deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Just because someone wants to change all of that today does not mean that the rest of us no longer have a place in this society. Remember after someone says you cannot speak here, then comes the sentence, ‘And you do not belong here.’ Our response must be the response of Jesus Christ, the response of his Church, a response rooted in love.”

Cardinal Wuerl concluded the homily by calling on those gathered, “Pray for the courage boldly and joyfully to stand in protection of our freedom so that we may continue to live out our faith and transform the world in which we live. Today there are things that should mean enough to all of us, including our religious liberty, that we simply need to stand — to stand up for what is right, to stand up for what is ours, to stand up for freedom of religion.”

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 96 Catholic schools, located in Washington, DC and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

Chieko Noguchi
Secretariat for Communications
[email protected]