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6/15/12 | 3 comments |
Catholic women defend religious liberty
With impassioned discussion and collaboration, 36 women gathered Thursday evening at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria to kick-start a women-initiated grassroots effort in what they hope is a burgeoning battle to protect religious liberty.
Coordinated by the Virginia Catholic Conference (VCC) and the diocesan Family Life and Respect Life offices, the meeting at Blessed Sacrament was one of several similar events held simultaneously in five of the six diocesan deaneries. The goal of each was the same: to enlist the women at the meetings to go back to their individual parishes and engage more women to educate, advocate and pray in the name of religious freedom.
Most notably, this means fighting the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that requires most private organizations, including Catholic institutions, to cover Church-opposed contraception, sterilization and abortifacients (Plan B) in their health insurance plans; as well as advocating for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.
With women stepping up as leaders against the mandate — and as leaders for religious liberty — organizers hope to diffuse the misconception of the Church being anti-woman.
“The culture and our media has really started this false notion of a ‘war on women’ and the Church wanting to suppress or do something harmful to women,” said Sister Clare Hunter, director of Respect Life, who led the meeting at St. John the Beloved Church in McLean. “The women we know want to set that record straight and look for ways they can be a voice in the culture. This is not, in fact, a war against women, but the Church upholding the dignity of women.”
With the goal of empowering the women gathered at Blessed Sacrament, Diana Sims Snider, assistant for communications, research and outreach with the VCC, handed out talking points on conscience protection and religious freedom from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Snider asked the women to encourage others in their parish to sign up for the VCC’s email advocacy network, to find those who are comfortable leading prayer and fasting efforts, and to identify strong speakers to educate others on the subject of religious liberty.
Through advocacy, “many voices can make a big impact and we can flood Washington, we can flood HHS, we can flood our congressional representatives,” Snider said. Through education, the women can be prepared — and prepare others — for what is still to come.
And, she added, the prayer and fasting will help build a spiritual renewal within the women, which they can then spread to others.
The meetings took place one week before the June 21 launching of the 'fortnight for freedom,' a national effort initiated by the USCCB to educate about and witness for religious liberty. The fortnight, Snider said, is intended to be just the beginning in this vital struggle.
“We want people to know that it doesn’t end with the fortnight for freedom,” Snider said. “It can’t end with it. We want to be able to practice our faith without being hindered and this mandate hinders it.”
“The way we see this, this is not a war on women, this is a war on women’s faith,” Snider added. “What we want to do is make sure that everybody knows how our faith and other faiths are threatened by this mandate. We also have to be on guard for other areas where (religious liberty) could be threatened.”
“This is possibly just the beginning,” Sister Clare said. “I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think not every aspect of life will be touched.”
Though the meetings targeted women, the groups are by no means excluding men, children and families from the efforts, the organizers said. But a women-initiated effort on such an important issue has a nice ring to it, said Mary Claire Hayes, a parishioner of St. Louis Parish in Alexandria.
“The media really sees the Catholic Church as being led by a bunch of old men, and I think it’s important for us women to say, ‘No, this is not something the Church is imposing on us. This is something that’s good for women,’” said Hayes, who attended the meeting at Blessed Sacrament. “I’ve already been concerned about (protecting religious liberty), but now I feel like, ‘OK, I really want to do something about it.’ I hope everybody will get fired up about this issue as well.”
How to help
Contact Therese Bermpohl, director of the Office for Family Life, 200 N. Glebe Road, Ste. 523, Arlington, VA 22203; call 703/841.2550; or email email@example.com