Around the world – and now in the United States – Catholics are losing their right to freely practice their religion, and it’s time for them to pray and speak up for that basic and cherished freedom. This was the message Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz and missionary to Russia Father Michael Shields delivered at the evening vigil Mass and a talk on June 30 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage.

“The reality is right here in our world today. Christianity is being challenged by forces that are hostile to its Gospel,” Father Shields explained during the homily.

The homily and subsequent discussion were part of the nationwide “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day, nationwide campaign of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The campaign, which concluded on July 4, was spurred by the Obama Administration’s move to require employers – including Catholic organizations – to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs – even when this contravenes their conscience and the moral law.

“We cannot allow that to be part of our health care for our institutions,” Father Shields said, echoing the stand of the U.S. Catholic Church on the issue.

Even more “devastating” than the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate itself, Father Shields noted, is that in the regulation, the government defines – for the first time in the nation’s history – what constitutes a religious entity. As a result, the government would exempt some religious entities such as churches and synagogues but not others like religious hospitals.

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