Our Religious Freedom to Worship and Freedom of Religious Liberty 

A very sad thing happened at our churches, both in Mount Carmel and Pottsville, PA, within the past few months.   

 On a Monday morning in April, it was discovered that our Church had been vandalized by unknown persons.  

The church marquee outside showed the signs of having been beaten with a heavy object before being broken off its base and thrown to the ground. 

 The beautiful flags of the United States and of our cathedral—of our Church—were desecrated.  

This must have happened sometime on Sunday evening or early Monday morning.  

 Was this an act of random vandalism?  

Or was it an act of contempt for religion, or a hatred of the Arabic Catholic Church, or of the Catholic Church and Her teachings? 

Perhaps we will never know, but I have a feeling that this was not the work of kids.   I do know this much: the sight of the flag of our country and the flag of the Church strewn onto the sidewalk in front of the cathedral amid broken pieces brings sorrow to the soul.

 As a young man, a Christian growing up in Jerusalem, I did not enjoy religious freedom.  We Christians lived in fear of who might come to harm us during the night, or on our way to school.  

Priests and nuns were killed. Churches and steeples were taken down.  There are some countries where you cannot wear the cross as a symbol of being a Christian.  We saw people killed in God’s name.  

But even on the way to church and on the way home, witnessing violence to the old and the young, we received strength from God.   

 When I reflect on what I experienced growing up (which was not easy for anyone, much less a child, to live through the shouting, and the killing, and the blood on the streets), I think of how the United States has always been a haven for faith, for religion, as it was for so many others.  

Then I saw our church sign smashed, and our flags on the ground of the Cathedral Church of Saint Ann, willfully damaged by human hands.  

Could this be a symbol of a sea-change in what has always been our land of faith and freedom?  
Does it tell us something of what people of faith can expect, of what Catholics, Christians, Jews and Muslims can expect, in days to come? 

   Let us hope not, and let us pray not.  

 But let us all remember the great lesson of our nation’s Founding Fathers: the price of liberty is vigilance and hard work. 

 Today we exist, as a prayerful, vigilant, and hardworking community of faith, as Arabic Catholics, because of our love for both our faith and our country.

  But right now, in an absolutely unprecedented way, the federal government is demanding that, individually and as a whole, we act against our consciences, against the teachings of our faith.  

  Others may go their own way.  Others may claim the right to redefine morality and God-given truths about the human person, but we remain firm in a Christian moral teaching that is as old as Christianity itself. 

 This teaching prohibits us from facilitating or providing sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.  

We cannot compromise, and so we will not.   If this were the only thing challenging our constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom, the situation would be bad enough.  But it is not the only thing. 

Because we will not provide or refer women for contraceptive and abortion services, we as a Church can be excluded from federally-funded humanitarian services for the victims of human trafficking.  

The Church is also being driven out of adoption services, thus far in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the State of Illinois.  

Why?  Because we will not place children with same-sex or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabitate, because we believe that a marriage with a father and a mother is the proper home for a child or children.   

 The redefinition of marriage is a very real threat to religious freedom.  In Canada, the government recently mandated gay-straight alliances for all Roman Catholic schools.  

And in news this month, the Danish government passed a law ordering the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark to perform gay marriages.  

 Do not be fooled into thinking that such things cannot happen in the United States.  

In Alabama, state law now makes it illegal for a priest to baptize undocumented immigrants, to hear their Confessions or confer on them the Sacrament of the Sick. 

In Connecticut the Judiciary Committee of the state legislature tried to force a civil restructuring of Catholic parishes to conform to a congregational model that is contrary to our Catholic Faith.  

In California a religious student group is excluded from recognition by a state university only because, as a religious group, it limits its leadership positions to those who share the group’s religion.   

 These are just examples of a growing phenomenon.  The printed space in this letter does not permit us to consider the discrimination, hardship, and even death and destruction that is being visited on people throughout the world, especially Christians, as a result of religious persecution.  

 Our beloved country, America, is the land of the free.  Our right to worship and our right to religious liberty should not be infringed upon by anyone, let alone the government we have elected to protect those rights.

   But our beloved country is also the home of the brave.  I urge everyone to take the time the time to educate themselves about what is really going on in our country and the world, and then to commit to prayer, fasting and action in upholding religious freedom.  

I include fasting, because Sacred Scripture shows us time and again, in both the Old and New Testaments, that prayer accompanied by acts of penance and self-denial is especially pleasing in the sight of the Almighty God.   

 In the Gospel of our Holy Mass we heard Our Lord speak of the “necessity to pray always without becoming weary,” without losing heart, because God “will secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.” We know He will not be “slow to answer them.”  “He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” But Jesus also asks: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This is how important it is to remain strong in faith and prayer.   

 I began by writing of our vandalized parish sign at Our Lady of Fatima Arabic Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, PA, and of our desecrated flags at Saint Ann’s Cathedral in Pottsville. 

Let it be our earnest prayer that as American citizens and Catholics, our religious beliefs will not be trampled by any man, nor any government, as our church marquee and the flags of these United States and of our Church were.   

 Let us pray that the principle of religious freedom on which our great country was founded will be vindicated, upheld with the greatest respect and honor, and that people in this land and all over the world will enjoy the freedom to worship, the freedom of religious liberty.

   Only then will the vision of Isaiah 32 will be fulfilled: “…the desert will become an orchard and the orchard be regarded as a forest. Right will dwell in the desert and justice abides in the orchard.  

Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security. My people will live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places.”   

 I pray as the Bishop of the Arabic Catholic Church that we too can live in this land, respecting the life in every soul completely.  

It is my hope that we as a nation, from every state and every city, can worship in peace and love, enabling the rights, respect, and honor of every citizen, in concordance with the Constitution of our United States of America. 

Holy Mass to be celebrated for the protection of our freedom at our Lady of Fatima On Sunday July 1, 2012 at 3:00p.m. Community is invited to attend!

 In Christ,

 Most Rev. Ramzi R. Musallam Archbishop, D.D. 
 Arabic Catholic Church
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