Father John L. Lavorgna, pastor, speaks at the screening of "A Man for All Seasons" at Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in East Haven. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)
BLOOMFIELD – When the U.S. bishops asked Catholics to push back against threats to religious liberty, parishioners throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford and elsewhere enthusiastically jumped on board.
Parishes scheduled evenings of prayer, holy hours, film showings, candlelight processions, recitations of the rosary and other activities as part of the Fortnight for Freedom June 21 to July 4.
"It’s important for me to be here today as our religious liberty is threatened," said Michael Cuddy, a member of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in East Haven, who was there on June 22 to see the film "A Man for All Seasons." Our Lady of Pompeii and St. Augustine Parish in North Branford teamed up to co-sponsor the film showing as one of their several Fortnight for Freedom activities.
"I’d like to draw inspiration from Saint Thomas More, who was inspired in his day to stand up for his faith, as a model for us today," Mr. Cuddy said.
In introducing the film, Father John L. Lavorgna, pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii, said, "Protecting and defending religious liberty for all people is part of our Catholic identity and our national identity."
Parishioner Frank McCarthy, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, said, "I think it’s horrible that the government of the United States feels that it can mandate what the Catholic Church can and cannot do."
In his homily on June 21, the first morning of the campaign, Father John P. Gwozdz, pastor of St. Paul and St. Augustine in Glastonbury, spoke of the Fortnight for Freedom as "an opportunity to recognize how fragile religious liberty is."
"We need to protect it and not take our religious freedom for granted," said Father Gwozdz.
During the Fortnight effort, St. Paul and St. Augustine had an hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after one of the daily and Sunday Masses and recitation of the "Patriotic Rosary" – a rosary that included patriotic songs and quotes from the nation’s founding fathers and patriots – each evening.
During his homily at a Mass on June 24 at St. Peter Church in Torrington, Father Christopher Tiano, said, "As 40 percent of the population, we have the right to speak out. That doesn’t mean we impose our values on the other 60 percent. It means we can defend ourselves from having their values imposed on us."
St. Peter Parish dedicated its weekly exposition of the Blessed Sacrament to the Fortnight for Freedom intention.
Msgr. Daniel J. Plocharczyk, pastor of Sacred Heart in New Britain, said his parish mobilized for religious freedom back in May and continued through the Fortnight effort.
He said a book was placed in front of the pulpit for parishioners to write messages to Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, who has taken every opportunity to urge people to make their voices heard in the campaign for religious liberty.
"He’s right out in the forefront there, and we’re so happy that he’s doing it and we’re proud of it. So, they’re just writing their names and thanking him," Msgr. Plocharczyk said.
Maryanne Smialowski, who heads Sacred Heart’s social action committee, spearheaded an additional effort, the creation of a spiritual bouquet for the archbishop.
"That spiritual bouquet is to show our support for Archbishop Mansell as our shepherd and as he speaks on our behalf for freedom of religion in our country," she said.
Sacred Heart also dedicated its nightly Mass and Benediction to the campaign.
Members of other parishes agreed with the effort.
"The greatest tragedy is that this mandate is in violation of our religious liberty and will be enacted unless we take a stand," said John Thomas, a medical resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital and parishioner of St. Mary Parish in New Haven. "So it’s important for Catholics to pray and make ourselves visible because so much is at stake."
Loretta DiPietro, a member of St. Matthew Parish in Bristol, said, "It’s important that we stand up and help people understand that we are losing our religious freedom. We have to pray to stop the government from taking over our religious rights."
Joan Cuomo, who worships at St. George Parish in Guilford, said, "It’s a critical moment in our history and we have to stand with our God and our Church."
Richard Johnson, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Waterbury, said Catholics and others are under attack. "It’s all about our freedom," he said, "because it defies the absolute truth of the Catholic Church."
The Fortnight initiative was a good idea, said Walter Skomro, a member of St. Stanislaus Parish in New Haven.
"It’s important that the parishes are getting involved because the bishops can’t do it alone. It’s not just Catholics that this affects but everyone. If they can do this with the First Amendment, then what’s next?"
Linda Kelly, also a member of St. Mary in New Haven, spoke along the same lines. "If they can take this [religious liberty] from you, what else can they do? We’ll be living in a totalitarian society," she said.
Ms. Kelly, who is president of the Lay Fraternity of St. Dominic, urged members to pray, become educated on the issues, and talk about them with friends and neighbors.