MYRTLE BEACH—Vacationers strolling along 37th Avenue North on June 20 caught a glimpse of something a little different than the usual beach attractions.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and more than 100 people streamed onto the shore shortly before sunset as part of a eucharistic procession to begin the annual observance of the Fortnight for Freedom.
The Fortnight runs from June 21 through July 4 featuring the theme “Freedom to Bear Witness,” based on the Gospel message that Christ was sent into the world to bear witness to God’s truth.
Fortnight observances started in 2012 in response to threats against religious liberty by the federal government from several fronts, including healthcare laws, and continue today because threats still exist, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The celebration was held at St. Andrew Church in the heart of Myrtle Beach this year and started with a speech by author and speaker Patrick Madrid, who discussed government persecution of Catholics in Mexico during the early 1900s. He described how the Mexican government in those years started by “scapegoating” people for their faith, then moved on to denying them the opportunity to attend Mass and eventually even imprisoning and executing people.
That sort of persecution should serve as a harsh historic lesson for those who live in a culture where public discussion or observance of religious faith is often discouraged, he said.
Attendees joined in Mass celebrated by Bishop Guglielmone, who led the crowd in silent prayer for the nine people killed by a gunman on June 17 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Tragedies like the shooting are a symptom of a culture that disregards both God and the sanctity of human life, the bishop said during his homily.
“The horrible events in Charleston stem from a secular society that has lost a sense of civility,” he said. “There is hatred, so much discord, and a lack of moral guidance that is part of the sickness of our society.”
Catholics can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and not respond when their values are attacked by things like healthcare laws that mandate coverage of contraception and abortion, plus other assaults on traditional marriage and family values.
“What will this world be if we don’t stand up for our beliefs and let them be heard in the public square?” the bishop asked. “We need to let people know that we take these issues seriously and they are worth making noise about.”
He said the eucharistic procession that would follow the Mass was a simple but vital way to show the importance of the Catholic faith. “We take the Eucharist, our most precious gift, and we will walk with it and pray that people’s hearts will be changed,” he said. “The most powerful weapon we have is prayer and the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
The procession made its way from the church across Kings Highway and down a tree-lined residential area. On the way, the crowd stopped periodically to pray together. Nine people carried electric candles in honor of the Charleston shooting victims.
Sean Ford, of Piqua, Ohio, was attending the regular Mass at St. Andrew with his family, as they do each year during vacation.
“When we saw the procession, we decided to take part because we’ve never done anything like this before,” he said. “It definitely had a big impact on me. I agree with everything they were talking about. Religious freedom is something we need to support.”
Miscellany photos/Christina Lee Knauss