Over the Fourth of July weekend I had the privilege of celebrating for the second time the Freedom Mass at the Grotto in Northeast Portland.  This has become an important and beautiful celebration of freedom for many cultures present here in the Archdiocese and beyond.  Thousands of pilgrims came together for this Mass, as they do every year.  I would like to share with you the heart of my message to those pilgrims.

We gather for the Freedom Mass each year to celebrate our liberty, independence and the blessings God has bestowed upon us in this great land.  We celebrate especially our freedom as human beings created in the image and likeness of God, and our ability to freely exercise our liberty as children of God in a land that has traditionally revered that very freedom.

Many of the pilgrims gathered at the Grotto, or their ancestors and relatives, travelled to this land especially seeking that liberty and freedom.  Many sacrifices and great sufferings have been endured to secure, promote and safeguard that liberty.

One of the greatest liberties this land has traditionally guaranteed us is religious liberty, i.e. the freedom to practice without interference or restriction our faith, not just in our churches, but in the public square as well.  Many came to this land to flee from oppression of religious freedom, i.e. to flee from persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ and their ability to freely and peacefully practice that faith.

We are so blessed!  Many in our world today continue to experience religious oppression and persecution.  Not the least of these are our Christian brothers and sisters who, in some parts of the world today, are persecuted and even killed for their faith and witness to Jesus Christ.  Unthinkable as it may seem, it is true.  In some parts of the world, many of our brothers and sisters are threatened with death for their faith in Jesus Christ.

But even in our own land — this land of liberty — our religious liberty is threatened and under siege.  Some people call such a statement “alarmist” or “unfounded,” but an honest and objective analysis can come to no other conclusion. Believers, especially Christians, are becoming more and more marginalized and pushed out of the public square. There are clearly those who wish to deny us a rightful place at the table in the great debate that goes on to shape the moral fabric of our society according to values of human dignity taught us by the Gospel.  Some wish to silence us.

Recent examples are the HHS mandate forcing private persons of faith and even religious institutions to provide insurance coverage that includes means of contraception that can abort a newly conceived human life.  Also, in the debate over the nature of marriage, some of those who seek to redefine marriage as something other than a permanent union between one man and one woman label those who seek to defend traditional marriage as “bigoted,” “homophobic” and/or “hateful” people.  Worse yet, some defenders of traditional marriage are driven out of business or lose their jobs.  This is an attempt to silence and discredit us.  

Believers today are in danger of finding themselves in the same situation as those early Christians we read about in the New Testament — living our lives as disciples of Jesus in a society which does not understand us and with a government that is even at times hostile to us and our religious and moral values.

Our first, greatest and most cherished liberty, given to us by God and guaranteed by our Constitution, is our religious liberty: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  

We must defend and fight for religious liberty, not just for ourselves, but for all persons of faith and good will.  Many have made tremendous sacrifices to gain for us this freedom and to defend it.  Many of our ancestors gave their very lives to gain for us this freedom, and many have died to defend it.

There must be a wakeup call all across America to defend religious liberty.  Not just the freedom to “worship” within our churches, but the liberty to freely live and witness to our faith in the public square, unhindered by the restrictions some seek to impose.

We must be clear.  We are not seeking to impose our religious belief or practice on others.  We are dealing with human moral issues that transcend any particular religious system of belief, but which are written on every human heart by the Creator, from whose hand each of has come into this world.

Therefore, let us entrust ourselves and our liberty to Almighty. May our religious and human liberty always be protected, and may we have the courage to take action to defend that liberty as have so many who have gone before us.