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By Vince LaBarbera and Bonnie Elberson
FORT WAYNE — The Franciscan Brothers Minor and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception co-sponsored Fortnight for Freedom rallies July 1 and 2 on the plaza of the cathedral in downtown Fort Wayne. Each evening began with music by the group “Always Forward,” the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and speakers, concluding with a rosary procession to the Allen County Courthouse. It was the second consecutive year for the rallies.
The theme of the July 1 gathering of more than an estimated 200 concerned Catholic/Christian citizens was “Catholics and the Constitution,” featuring Attorney Jeremy Reidy, of Beckman and Lawson law firm, as the principal speaker.
Following an opening prayer and introduction by Father David Mary Engo, minister general of the Franciscan Brothers Minor, Reidy began by thanking and commending Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for “doing the right thing in this crucial time in our history by leading this Fortnight for Freedom because they know that if we don’t fight vigorously for our religious freedom we will lose it!”
“We are losing it and we’ve been losing it, slowly over time this past century,” he added.
He continued by defining the problems that led Americans to where they are today. Reidy next presented some of the founding principles on which the United States was founded and how the nation has drifted from these principles. He then discussed some of the specific attacks currently facing this country. And, finally, he gave the supportive crowd his thoughts on what can be done to change the tide of aggression and thereby protect religious liberty and bless the nation.
Reidy quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who told the U.S. bishops during their “ad limina” visits in 2012 that what the nation needs now is an informed and courageous laity to regain the culture.
In presenting the problems being faced, Reidy said, “There’s been a radical shift in our definition of freedom. Freedom has gone from the liberty to rule oneself according to reason to freedom as the absence of external restraints on actions. We live in a country whose populace sees liberty as letting everybody do what he or she wants. It’s what Pope Benedict XVI referred to as the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ The problem is that without objective truth there cannot be true freedom,” Reidy emphasized.
“The natural law has been slowly and surely pushed out of our legal system by a growing propaganda effort to infer that those who insist that the right to life and the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman are taking quote ‘a religious position,’ which has no place in policy for political discourse. … Because such natural law positions are quote ‘religious,’ they have no place in a public square and must be confined to church buildings, the culture is saying.
“Our nation began as a haven for people who were different in their religious beliefs,” he continued. “Our founders saw religious faith as vital to a life of free people. … They clearly understood that religion is a vital part of the social and moral code.
“The Supreme Court has had its share of problems with restricting religious liberty but the majority of recent religious liberty suppression has come from the executive branch of government. This is intentional,” he emphasized.
Reidy concluded his remarks by listing seven things to influence the culture and, hopefully, change the suppression of religious freedom: pray, vote, be Christ in the world, use the natural law to persuade, educate youth, stay involved, and support and pray for bishops and priests.
The second night of the Fortnight for Freedom rally in downtown Fort Wayne featured three area physicians who discussed the “Medical Moral Dilemma for Catholic Doctors” arising from the recently enacted Affordable Health Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare.
Dr. Thomas McGovern, local dermatologist, Dr. Kate Heimann, a family practitioner from Decatur, and Dr. Eustace Fernandes, a critical care specialist, presented their views on the challenges that Catholic physicians face in practicing medicine under the new law. Dr. McGovern is president, Dr. Heimann is vice-president and Dr. Fernandes is a board member of the Dr. Jerome Lejeune Guild of Northeast Indiana, an organization of Catholic physicians.
This Catholic medical association is a physician-led community of healthcare professionals that informs, organizes and inspires its members, in steadfast fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church, to uphold the principles of the Catholic faith in the science and practice of medicine.
Dr. McGovern revealed that he was subjected to harassment and ridicule for his Catholic approach to patient care during his medical training, and that ridicule continues and worsens each day as the government and society increasingly devalue human life. While the purpose of Obamacare sounds noble, i.e., providing affordable healthcare to all, there are many devils lurking within it, he said. The fundamental problem, in his opinion, is the overarching world view that money is more important than human dignity. The doctor-patient relationship is subject to the government’s “bottom line” and its concern for costs is trampling human rights, he said.
Dr. Kate Heimann spoke passionately about her life-affirming Catholic beliefs and how she applies them in the practice of family medicine.
“Our religious freedom is under attack,” she declared. She especially decries the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate passed in early 2012, which will require employers who offer health insurance to their employees to cover the cost of contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and sterilization. The government views pregnancy as a “disease” to be prevented, she said. In addition, the drive is on to end pregnancies when tests reveal the presence of Down syndrome in the developing fetus. And gender-specific abortions are now allowed by law.
“We are at the top of a slippery slope, put there by our government,” she declared. “We know life begins at conception. … we can’t let society dictate otherwise.” As a physician she encourages her patients to preserve life and embrace her life-affirming views. “Living out our faith is essential,” she pointed out. “It is our greatest strength.”
Dr. Eustace Fernandes, a critical care specialist, opened his remarks by reminding his listeners that even though they were hearing a lot about darkness, they must remember that God is the Lord of light who calls His people home and welcomes them into His light. As a physician who deals with end-of-life issues, he challenges the culture of death on a daily basis. Though society has little regard for the sick, elderly and infirm, he said, “even in its final stages, life retains its dignity.”
Dr. Fernandes made a clear distinction between Catholic tenets and the beliefs of those who embrace the culture of death. He said that a life-affirming conscience believes human dignity is from God, that efforts should be made to preserve life, that nutrition and hydration are necessary end-of-life interventions, that suffering has value, and that a patient’s faith is paramount at the end of life.
On the other hand, the culture of death teaches that human dignity is found only in what one can accomplish, that the body is just a machine to be abandoned when it ceases to function properly, that life-preserving measures are unnecessary, that there is no value in suffering, and that maintaining life should merely be a financial decision.
As Catholics “we must stand firm” in our beliefs, he said.
Dr. McGovern closed the evening by challenging his listeners to continue the fight for religious freedom through prayer and sacrifice, to tell everyone how the government is imposing a godless culture on society, to educate themselves and know the issues, to become politically active and to resist the culture of death.
He ended with a plea for prayer for physicians, health care providers and politicians as they deal with the Affordable Health Care Act and its consequences.
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