May 16, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 51, No. 7 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Two of the committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on which I serve are the Committee for International Justice and Peace and the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Dignity. Both met over two days last week. Many of the international issues focused on Africa and the Middle East. We listened to prominent persons from the Administration as well as having the advice and counsel of various experts including some who are consultants to our committee. The Middle East took up a good deal of our discussion both regarding Israel/Palestine and Syria.
Of the latter the news reports and the information we have received are very disturbing. While the current Syrian regime has unleashed strong reprisals against protesters of that regime, the opposition is not a united block of persons and groups with a common agenda or a common front. The violence on both sides is unacceptable and the outside powers, including our own country, must act in ways that do not escalate violence. The Syrian National Council has not to date succeeded in building a united front. Indeed their supporters, including our country, are in the curious position of seeking more to find ways to build an opposition to the Assad regime than they are in brokering a peace.
This past week, the Holy See press director, Father Federico Lombardi, expressed the concern of the Holy Father and the Catholic community regarding the violence that “brought carnage to the streets of Damascus.” Such acts received “our strong condemnation.” To that end, Father Lombardi continued, “these attacks should encourage all sides to boost and strengthen their commitment to implementing the Annan Peace Plan which has been accepted by all sides in the conflict.” Faced with the inconsistencies by actors in the international community, he spoke of the need for a “firm and joint commitment on the part of the entire international community to implement the plan … it is necessary without delay to make an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation.”
These words echo the appeal of Pope Benedict on Easter Sunday, words that reminded us as well that the minorities, including the Christian communities in Syria and other parts of the Middle East in turmoil, are often the first victims of these internecine acts of violence.
Another issue that was on the front burner of our discussions is that of religious freedom both at home and abroad. The survival of the U.S. Commission for Religious Freedom in the Congress a few months ago was a narrow victory for an important instrument that monitors attacks on religious freedom and conscience in countries around the world. Having served a term as a commissioner on that body I can attest to the importance, little noticed, of its crucial work. The research and the information that commission presents annually to the State Department is an invaluable tool for the protection of the religious rights and freedom of conscience of individuals and institutions around the world. We can only hope that the new commissioners will be able to move ahead in their important work.
As we all know, there are issues of religious freedom and its protection as “our first freedom” here on the home front. The Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of our conference of bishops headed by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori has become very active and regularly meets to monitor what is going on and provide us all with good educational material. The bishops’ principled defense of religious freedom for persons and institutions across our country, especially as they have appeared in the administration, the legislatures and the courts, has received widespread support from the Catholic faithful. Indeed I have never sensed such grass roots support. So many of you have been galvanized and have joined the efforts to protect religious freedom in the wake of the HHS regulations that define religion and religious bodies in the narrowest terms imaginable. The source of this narrow definition is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has an almost perfect record of opposition to religion and religiously motivated persons and programs. We need to be one in convincing our own national leaders to re-think that narrow definition that precludes the Church from being able to offer her services to all those we seek to serve as a part of our mandate from Christ to heal the sick, care for the poor and assist all those in need.
Your collaboration in these efforts is essential. One of our efforts will be a Fortnight of Freedom. It will begin next month on June 20 and run up to our great national holiday, Independence Day, July 4. This will consist of gatherings for prayer and supplication. We will seek divine help in our struggle to preserve religious freedom and we will find ways that will show the power of prayer and the power of God in touching human hearts and changing them for the good of all. This is not a part of partisan politics and it should not be construed or misinterpreted in a partisan way in this election year.
Soon you will be hearing details of this. But I ask you all now to keep abreast of these and other initiatives by referring back to this newspaper, by checking information via Telecare and by consulting the website of the diocese, www.drvc.org and the website of the Conference of Bishops, www.usccb.org. Keep informed, share the information and, above all, be united in prayer and witness as we continue to proclaim the truths that make us free.