Observed June 22 to June 29 each year, Religious Freedom Week offers Catholics an opportunity to pray, reflect and take action to promote religious freedom to live out their faith in public and to serve for the good of all.
The annual observance is an effort of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and begins on the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, two English martyrs who were executed for defending their faith.
Observing the saints’ feast days and the start of Religious Freedom Week, the St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania sponsored its annual Mass on June 22 at St. Margaret Mary Church in Harrisburg.
Father Paul Clark, the Bishop’s Liaison to the Society, Diocesan Judicial Vicar, and pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Dauphin, was the principal celebrant for the Mass.
Deacon Timothy Shultis, a civil lawyer and longtime member of the Society, served as homilist. He told the congregation of lawyers, judges and lawmakers gathered for the Mass, “The Church is facing unprecedented pressure to conform itself to today’s society.”
“The best way to deal with bad news is to know the Good News. The bad news is that we are at war…. We must be courageous witnesses of Christ,” he said.
St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were beheaded in 1535 by the order of King Henry VIII for refusing to sign the king’s Act of Supremacy – making him head of the Catholic Church in England – and Act of Succession – that only his children with Anne Boleyn, and not of he and his wife Catherine of Aragon, would be successors to the throne. The two martyrs were canonized on May 19, 1935.
The St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania was established in 1990 by a group of Catholic lawyers. The Society, among several initiatives, aims to “promote the study of the principles of the Catholic Church relating to moral and legal problems encountered in the practice of law,” and to “promote the study of the application of Christian principles to modern problems.”
To learn more about the St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania, please visit www.saintthomasmoresociety.com. More information and activities for Religious Freedom Week can be found at Religious Freedom Week | USCCB.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness