The Fortnight for Freedom has begun and I would like to draw our readers attention to the activities of Occupy Catholics in NY. On June 21st, a group of Occupy Catholics held an event on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to engage in prayer, reflection, and as is the custom in the Occupy Movement – hold a general assembly. Beginning at 6pm, the group spent the night on the steps of St Patrick’s in a prayer vigil.
In an Open Letter to Cardinal Dolanin advance of the vigil, they explained:
Our purpose is to help ensure that ordinary, faithful people of our church can play a participatory role in this important campaign, especially in helping to define which freedoms matter to us most and speak to us as Catholics, Christians, Americans, and human beings — made in God’s image, seeking God’s justice. As you and the bishops have called us to action and anchored it to that day which, in 1776, the Continental Congress issued their Declaration, we feel privileged to exercise our rights of assembly and speech to discuss and debate the breath of our religious freedom.
We write to inform you of our gathering, so you know that we gather as part of one church, in enthusiasm for the call to action that you have promulgated. Especially in light of the repression against the Occupy movement’s freedoms of speech and assembly by the New York Police Department over the past year, we hope that you will help ensure that our event can proceed peacefully and prayerfully.
The following morning, many of us look forward to sharing the Fortnight for Freedom mass with you.
Approximately 25 people participated in the event, which produced a “Declaration of the General Assembly on Freedom” The 2 freedoms focused on in their statement – freedom from discrimination and freedom from complicity:
- Freedom from discrimination. Policies like the NYPD’s use of “stop and frisk” have the effect of criminalizing whole populations, thereby supporting a prison-industrial complex that profits from the suffering of vulnerable people. Police departments lack sufficient oversight over their increasingly militarized powers to control and subjugate. Meanwhile, women in our church are increasingly being silenced and victimized for speaking out and following their conscience in ministry. We intend to support the struggle to end such policies through our movement and in our parishes, joining with allies of other faiths and backgrounds, knowing that in God’s eyes the dignity of each depends on recognizing the essential equality of all.
- Freedom from complicity in war and the economy of the 1%. We want to be able to love our country, but our faith does not permit us to tolerate its practice of perpetual war, aggression, and domination around the world. Life everywhere is good and comes from God, and we have no right to destroy it, least of all in wanton pursuit of profits for the wealthiest, who stand to benefit from war while the poorest are the ones who die. We stand with Pope Paul VI, who said before the United Nations, “No more war, never again war!” Our church and the Occupy movement have often been silent on the evil of modern warfare, which takes ever more insidious forms, and we will work within both to be a voice for a future of justice and peace.
The next morning they got up at 7am for the Cardinal’s mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral. I highly recommend taking a look at Occupy Catholic’s website and their facebook page (where I got this photo) where one can see photos, archived live video of the discussion and other information. As you can see from the photo, they were not allowed to use the steps of St Patrick’s Cathedral for their vigil, which all of the information made clear was not a protest. There is an example here in these committed Catholic’s public discussion and vigil – the role of prayer, dialogue, community, and the Eucharist. Here is an example of taking seriously the call for a fortnight for freedom and responding in faith (albeit not as many would expect) and as such should challenge all of us to think more deeply about freedom and the Body of Christ.
From what I read the focused on three “freedoms”, the third being “Freedom to self-govern in our church and society.” That is certainly the most challenging and controversial one, and the one where I lose connection with their message. But overall their activity raises some good questions. Why are the bishops promoting such a narrow and Americanized version of freedom, rather than more broad and holistic Christian version of freedom? And why are they promoting freedom only for their own corporate entities and not for all Catholics? All faithful Catholic employers, not just official Catholic institutions, are threatened by the HHS mandate with an untenable moral dilemma. Likewise all Catholics are coerced into supporting unjust wars, and Catholic soldiers are coerced into fighting unjust wars. Why aren’t the bishops calling us all to support those people’s religious freedom?