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Prayer has been central to the Church's observance of Respect Life Month each October since 1972. We pray for the protection of human lives wherever they are threatened, for our nation and leaders, and for God's mercy toward those who have taken innocent lives, promoted such killing, or neglected to care for the most vulnerable.
This Respect Life Month, we face an unprecedented new threat. Ever since the Bill of Rights was ratified, Americans have enjoyed the assurance that the Constitution secured our God-given rights to religious liberty and freedom of conscience. But in 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that virtually all employers will be required to include sterilization, abortifacient drugs and contraceptives in the health care plans offered to employees. Only the narrowest and most inadequate provision was made to accommodate employers or employees who object in conscience to that coverage.
In light of this and other threats, the bishops urged an intensification of prayer and fasting for religious freedom in our country. New prayer resources (tinyurl.com/7uhcf7z) are now available in English and Spanish to help us learn more about our forebears in the faith, call upon their heavenly intercession, and follow their example of courage in the face of adversity.
The "Rosary Novena for Life and Liberty" is meant for use in parishes and homes from Sunday, October 14 through Monday the 22nd. Available as a 2-sided booklet (English/en español) and also in a simpler one-sided format (English/en español), the novena highlights the courageous saints who witnessed to our faith, to the sanctity of every human life, and to religious liberty and conscience in our country. Among them are the North American Martyrs—St. Isaac Jogues and companions—who were slain for their faith in Christ; Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk maiden who was also persecuted; Mother Marianne Cope, OSF who spent 35 years in Hawaii caring for the needs of women and girls with leprosy; and Pedro Calungsod, a missionary catechist who was martyred in Guam, now a U.S. territory, while still in his teens.
In addition to praying the novena privately or with others, consider making a pilgrimage this October – or at some point during the Year of Faith – to one of the shrines and devotional sites throughout the United States dedicated to our Blessed Mother and many remarkable saints. A list will be posted with our other prayer resources.
Those in the greater Washington, DC Metro area are invited to attend the Mass and Pilgrimage for Life and Liberty on Sunday, October 14, at 12:00 noon (Eastern) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. A plenary indulgence may be gained through participation, provided the usual conditions are met. It includes Sunday Mass, opportunities for Confession and Eucharistic adoration, and the first day of the rosary novena. It will be televised live on EWTN. For more details, visit our Facebook event page or the bishops' page on religious liberty: www.usccb.org/freedom.
Finally, the Prayer for Religious Liberty, distributed during the Fortnight for Freedom this summer, has been incorporated into a special "Holy Hour for Life and Liberty" for use in parish churches, Catholic schools and hospital chapels. It entrusts the protection of life and the defense of religious liberty to the Lord present in the Eucharist.
However you join the bishops in prayer for life and liberty this month, may we have "a clear and united voice" so that this great land will always be "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Policy & Communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops' activities defending life and conscience rights, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.
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