Who can forget the 1970s TV ad Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet? The jingle went on to say, They go together in the good ol USA. More than 35 years later, the catchy car commercial still resonates in this great land.
Long before the marketing gurus on Madison Avenue convinced us that a frankfurter and the Chevy Vega symbolized our nation, there was something more important that defined America: our freedom. Today, that freedom is in grave danger thanks to a government mandate requiring most employers to provide health insurance that would include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.
The mandate clearly violates the core values of the Catholic faith. While our parishes would be exempt, Catholic institutions that serve people of all faiths schools, hospitals and Catholic Charities would not. Think about it. The agencies carrying out Jesus command to teach, care for the sick and serve the poor are apparently not Catholic enough for the government.
As many have joked, if Jesus and his apostles were ministering today, it seems that they would not even qualify for the exemption.
Supporters of the mandate are attempting to make this issue about the Catholic Churchs position on contraception.
Dont be fooled. The reality is that people of all faiths including faith traditions that do not even object to contraception are stunned by and opposed to this mandate.
They recognize it for what it is: a blatant attack on religious freedom that threatens all Americans regardless of their religious affiliation, beliefs or practices. If this is allowed to stand, what other freedoms are in jeopardy?
Bishop Mark Bartchak has joined bishops from around the country in opposing this mandate and in defending religious liberty.
Despite the bishops clearly pointing out their grave concerns, the government has taken no serious steps to widen the exemption so that we can continue serving Gods people without being forced to violate our principles.
Now the bishops have turned to something else that defines us as Americans: prayer. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a Fortnight for Religious Freedom, a great hymn of prayer for our country. Recognizing the power of prayer, Bartchak will preside and preach at a Holy Hour for Religious Freedom on four occasions in our diocesan church:
Thursday at St. John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown;
June 24 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona;
June 28 at St. Benedict in Carrolltown; and
July 1 at Our Lady of Victory in State College
Each gathering will begin at 7 p.m. and include the celebration of evening prayer with eucharistic adoration and benediction.
On behalf of Bishop Bartchak, I urge the faithful of Altoona-Johnstown to attend any or all of the holy hours. I urge people of all faiths to unite in prayer throughout this Fortnight and ask God to bless our nation and to give its leaders wisdom and the courage to do what is right.
For more information on the Fortnight for Religious Freedom, please visit the diocesan website at www.dioceseaj.org. This Fortnight falls during the time when Catholics celebrate the feasts of various martyrs of the church men who stood firm in the face of religious persecution. Now it is our turn.
It is our faith and our freedom that define us as a nation, and they really do go together in the good ol USA. We do not need a TV advertising campaign to remind us that we must always celebrate them and defend them.
Tony DeGol is secretary for communications with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona- Johnstown.