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Bishop seeks help protecting religious liberty

Posted By May 2, 2013 | 1:01 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

Bishop McManus is asking priests to use prayer, education and a postcard campaign to protect religious liberty and conscience rights.
In an April 24 letter, the bishop was repeating requests he made in January letters to the clergy and faithful. He repeated his requests because the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said last month that there is a renewed urgency to contact members of Congress, explained Allison LeDoux, director of the Diocesan Respect Life and Marriage and Family Offices. The offices are partially funded by Partners in Charity.
“Currently we are assailed by many increasing threats in our culture, most especially in the ongoing assaults on life, marriage, and religious liberty,” the bishop told the faithful in January. “In light of these unprecedented attacks on these most fundamental pillars of society, the U.S. bishops recently launched a special initiative that will continue throughout the Year of Faith.”
He invited all to participate in this “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty … to increase our spiritual stamina and fortitude” by participating in monthly holy hours, praying the rosary, and fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays. Several parishes have heeded this call by instituting holy hours and using special prayer intentions.
Other initiative components are special prayers at Masses, and a Fortnight for Freedom, like last year’s, to be held in June and July.
The bishop and Mrs. LeDoux also wrote to clergy about the U.S. bishops’ “Project Life and Liberty” postcard campaign, which was to be held in February and March using materials Mrs. LeDoux’s office distributed.
Mrs. LeDoux said it is similar to the 2009 campaign against the Freedom of Choice Act, which was successful because of the more than 33 million postcards sent from around the country. She said nearly all of the parishes in the diocese participated.
In his most recent letter, Bishop McManus asked parishes that have not already activated this year’s campaign to do so.
“Our struggle for religious liberty has taken on a renewed urgency,” he said. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate for contraceptive, sterilization and abortifacient coverage in health plans will be enforced against nonprofit Catholic schools and universities, charities, and health care institutions beginning August 1. This has very serious implications for the Church’s ability to exercise her mission and ministry. …
“In the days to come, Congress must decide whether it will address this violation of religious freedom before August, by adding the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940) to its next ‘must pass’ bill (debt limit bill or spending bill) needed to keep the government operational.”
The bishop said many members of Congress say they are not hearing from their constituents about this. So he asked priests to renew and expand their efforts through the postcard campaign and other means.
“It is not too late, and an outpouring of messages from the Catholic community is vital to this effort,” he said. “Whether or not our legislators typically vote with us has little bearing on this particular effort.”
Mrs. LeDoux said even legislators who favor a legal right to abortion might support whatever bill H.R. 940 is attached to.
“The new Congress should come together to respect life and religious freedom,” the postcards say. ”Please support and strengthen laws that (1) prevent federal funding and promotion of abortion, and (2) protect rights of conscience in health care.  Government must not force Americans to violate their religious and moral beliefs on respect for life when they provide health care or sponsor or purchase health coverage.  As your constituent, I would appreciate a written response telling me how you will vote on these matters.”
At church, parishioners will be asked to fill out the cards. The parish will collect them, mail them to the congressmen and women and report the total number of cards to the Diocesan Respect Life Office. Mrs. LeDoux said her office will then report the diocese’s totals to the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, the bishops’ public policy arm, which is coordinating the campaign.
Bishop McManus said preaching about the urgency, offering take-home educational materials and doing in-pew postcard signing help such efforts succeed. He also asked priests to use religious liberty intercessions at all Masses.
Educational materials include bulletin inserts with additional facts and a bulletin announcement directing people to the NCHLA Action Alert. Constituents are encouraged to ask their congressmen and women to include the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940) in upcoming “must pass” legislation.
The USCCB Secretariat for Pro-life Activities said H.R. 940 is needed to make truly effective the current federal laws that protect conscience rights in health care. The secretariat also said the HHS mandate revisions still leave many individuals and businesses ineligible for any exemption or “accommodation” which would protect their conscience rights.

Partners on way to goal

The Annual Partners in Charity Appeal has raised 75 percent of its diocesan goal of $5 million, according to Michael P. Gillespie, diocesan director of stewardship and development. Some $3,710,469 has been received in pledges and cash through May 1.
“Last year at this juncture we were at $3,475,756 which represented 70 percent. To achieve our 2013 diocesan goal we need to raise $1,289,531 more,” he said.
Many parishes are undertaking a second in-pew collection this weekend to aid them in going over their goals, he reported. Fourteen parishes, thus far, have exceed their goals.
The average gift is $289. Online gifts have now exceeded $220,000, he reports.
“We hope to complete the 2013 appeal as early as July! To do this, we will need the continued support of every parish.  Thank you for your hard work in reaching out to past donors and to those who have fallen away,” he wrote to the diocesan parishes.
Parishes at or over goal are: Christ the King, Worcester,  $148,575; Our Lady of the Rosary, Worcester, $75,000; Our Lady Immaculate/St. Francis of Assisi, Athol, $26,300; St. Joseph, Charlton,                                                                          $66,112; St. Denis, Douglas,  $36,570; St. John the Baptist, East Brookfield, $18,797; Sacred Heart of Jesus, Hopedale, $45,435; St. Aloysius/St. Jude, Leicester,                                                         $30,160; St. Rose of Lima, Northborough, $123,992; Prince of Peace, Princeton,  $34,206; St. Matthew, Southborough,   $66,050; St. Richard of Chichester, Sterling, $33,960; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, West Brookfield,   $33,293; and St. Louis, Webster, $53,627.