By Paula Doyle
Catholic News Service
MAN PRAYS DURING MASS FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AT LOS ANGELES CATHEDRAL
A man prays as Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles celebrates a Mass for religious freedom at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles in observance of the “fortnight for freedom,” which began June 21 and ends July 4. The two-week period will emphasi ze church teaching on religious freedom in light of the federal contraceptive mandate.(CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva) (June 26, 2012)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — In solidarity with U.S. Catholics participating in prayers and public witness during the “fortnight for freedom” leading up to Independence Day, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles urged Catholics to rededicate themselves to the nation’s founding freedoms.

“We are concerned that America is losing its will to promote and defend our most basic freedoms: the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience,” said Archbishop Gomez in his welcoming remarks during mid-morning Mass June 24 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

He explained that the U.S. bishops’ “fortnight for freedom” prayer and action activities sought  to enlighten leaders and promote among citizens “a real appreciation for what our nation’s founders knew: That our human rights come from God, not from government.”

In his homily, he emphasized that it’s important to remember that “this ‘fortnight’ is not about politics. It’s about God and our relationship with God. It’s about our freedom to do what our faith in Jesus Christ requires.”

Reflecting on the day’s Gospel about how people rejoiced with St. Elizabeth upon the birth of her son, St. John the Baptist, the archbishop pointed out that the Scripture passage reveals an important truth about our faith and our relationship with God.

“We find God, and we live our faith in God — not alone by ourselves — but always in the company of others,” said Archbishop Gomez. “That’s why religious liberty is much more than our personal freedom to pray and worship. Because our faith is social, we are called to live our faith in Jesus with others and for others.”

He pointed out that Catholics are called by God, as John the Baptist was, to be a “light” to the nation, telling people of God’s mercy and salvation.

“Our country needs to hear the good news about God again!” declared the archbishop. “America needs a new awakening to the spiritual and ethical values that are a part of our nation’s Christian heritage and founding. Our fellow citizens are waiting for a new evangelization and a new moral conviction. They are waiting for us to tell them about Jesus!”

He urged Catholics, as they prayed during the days leading up to Independence Day, to keep in mind that “the greatest threat to our freedom of religion doesn’t come from our government or from forces in our secular society; the greatest threat we face comes from our own lack of faith and our own lack of courage.

“Let’s commit ourselves again to telling Los Angeles and America that Jesus is alive and that he is calling us to a great destiny of love. And let’s keep working with our fellow citizens to create a society of mutual sharing, reconciliation, and love, rooted in the sanctity of the human person and the family.”

“I think that Archbishop Gomez’ Mass today was very inspiring — coming here and hearing what the bishops said (about religious freedom) gives me a renewal in spirit,” said Ralph Fernan, a member of Incarnation Parish in Glendale.

Fernan had attended an Los Angeles “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally in Pershing Square June 8. It was one of many rallies organized by the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and Michigan-based Citizens for a Pro-Life Society that took place the same day in an estimated 145 cities nationwide.

“I thought the archbishop did a great job explaining the issue — that it’s about religious freedom and not particular issues as relates to women or insurance or medical health,” said Richard McConnell, a parishioner from Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hermosa Beach who came to the cathedral Mass after seeing an announcement about “fortnight for freedom” in his parish bulletin.

“These are times where we need to really stand up as Catholics and tell people what we believe in and what we stand for,” he told The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about pure religious freedom,” said Peter Gonzalez, who hails from Arlington, Va. “That’s what the forefathers wanted for this country: the right to pursue their happiness through their religious freedoms and not have the government interfere with it in any sense of the word. When the government starts infringing on people’s religions, it’s no different than what happened in 1776.”

“I thought Archbishop Gomez’s remarks were most timely, very sobering and very inspirational,” said Mother Judith Zuniga, superior general of the Alhambra-based Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, who attended the Mass along with 75 members of her religious community.

She noted that the “fortnight for freedom” Mass coincided with the 85th anniversary of the arrival in Los Angeles of the Carmelite congregation’s foundress, Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa, who came from Mexico to seek refuge in Los Angeles from religious persecution.

“It’s a very special day for us,” said Mother Zuniga.