A prayerful start to Fortnight for Freedom

GREENVILLE—Temperatures soaring into the 90s couldn’t keep people from taking their faith out in the open at the Diocese of Charleston’s third annual Fortnight for Freedom kickoff on June 21.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass for more than 500 people in St. Mary School’s gymnasium, then led a eucharistic procession down a nearby street and around the church campus.
The Fortnight for Freedom began in 2012 as a response to threats against religious liberty coming from the federal government, and continues to be observed because those threats have not diminished, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Running through July 4, this year’s theme is “Freedom to Serve,” focusing on the right to serve the poor and vulnerable in accord with Church teaching and human dignity.
Bishop Guglielmone gave a passionate homily that included specific descriptions of how limits on religious freedom are affecting Catholic education, outreach to the poor and immigrants, and health care.
He said that some Catholic universities have removed religious symbols such as crucifixes from classrooms in order to remain eligible for federal funding. As for Catholic health care, it is constantly threatened by a culture that disregards the sanctity of life from beginning to end.
The bishop also mentioned the HHS mandate, which requires employers to provide services such as contraception, which goes against Church teaching. The mandate was one of the rallying cries for the first Fortnight and is still being fought in the courts.
“Pope Francis just yesterday addressed a conference on religious liberty, and he said that freedom of religion is not just that of thought or private worship, but the freedom to live according to our ethical principles and core beliefs,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “That is why we are here praying. We need to have the ability to do things to make this world a reflection of the kingdom of God … This affects every person in the country. If we are going to continue to be the American people we have been all these years, we need to offer prayers for religious freedom every day between now and July 4.”
The celebration drew a crowd that included many different groups in the Upstate, including the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver, Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Gwen Whitner and Virginia Robinson, who attend St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, wore the white hats and dress that symbolize membership in the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary. Both women echoed the bishop’s call to prayer as the answer to the question of how to preserve religious freedom.
“We’re a prayerful people and we need to believe in the power of prayer,” Robinson said.
Children who recently received first Holy Communion donned their suits or ruffled dresses and veils, and scattered rose petals ahead of the procession. Young girls in white dresses and blue sashes from the Guild of Our Lady and St. Gianna, a girls’ faith group at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors, followed. Ashley Maddox’s two daughters, Alaina and Belle, belong to the guild.
“It’s important they’re out here today because I want these girls to be educated, to know what they’re up against and their responsibilities as Catholic women in this society,” she said.
Members of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville represented the growing Vietnamese community in the Upstate.
“We know that we have to fight for religious freedom today and we want to be a part of that fight,” said Lan Nguyen. “We have to let the younger generations know that they have a part in this too and it’s important to keep up the fight.”
Dustin Evancho, a member of St. Mary Church, said the freedom to express faith in all aspects of his life is especially important to him because he converted to Catholicism after spending years as an atheist.
“I understand and value what the Church gives me, and I’m only truly free with the Catholic faith,” he said.
In an effort to make young people more aware of the issues, the diocesan Office of Family Life sponsored an essay contest connected with the Fortnight for Freedom. 
Caroline Daly, a senior from St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach, won first prize. Her essay can be found here.
David Truluck, a senior from St. Michael Church in Murrells Inlet, won second prize. Honorable mentions were given to Taylor Lewis, a freshman from Corpus Christi Church in Lexington, and Patrick Daly, another senior from St. Andrew.
Each of the winners received a gift card.