Record Crowd Closes Fortnight For Freedom At National Shrine In Washington

A crowd of almost 5,000 people filled the 3,500-seat capacity of Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, July 4. The Mass in the nation’s capital was the closing bookend liturgy of the June 21-July 4 Fortnight for Freedom.

The Fortnight opened with another overflow Mass at Baltimore’s historic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, June 21.

Dioceses nationwide included local events to stress religious freedom during the two-week period, from special prayers and liturgies to processions, educational forums and picnics.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington celebrated the Mass at the Washington shrine, with 180 priest concelebrants.  Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia preached the homily and stressed that freedom comes from God.

“Real freedom isn’t something Caesar can give or take away," he said. “He can interfere with it; but when he does, he steals from his own legitimacy.” (The full homily is found at )

At the start of the celebration Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, read a message from Pope Benedict XVI, sent through the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

“The Holy Father encourages the American Catholic community, and young people in particular, to continue to bring the wisdom and insight born of their faith to the task of building a society worthy of America’s highest moral and constitutional principles,” it said. (The full message is found at

The Fortnight was called for by the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty last April as the signature spiritual and educational event for the launch of a campaign to highlight threats to religious liberty both in the United States and abroad.

On-going events include a text campaign, where those who would participate text “Freedom” or “Libertad” to 377377 to receive regular updates on the ongoing efforts to promote and protect religious freedom. One of the first updates sent to participants in the text campaign noted that the Affordable Healthcare Act is flawed because it compels religious institutions to pay for services it opposes morally, such as female sterilization and contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs.

Specific U.S. threats to religious liberty cited by the bishops include not only the HHS mandate but also threats to Catholic foster care and adoption services, unjust state immigration laws, discrimination against small church congregations, against Catholic humanitarian services, against Christian students on campus and forcing religious groups to host same-sex marriage and civil-union ceremonies (

Recent threats abroad include assaults in churches in Iraq, Nigeria and Kenya.