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Religious Freedom Week 2023 calls on faithful to pray for protection of religious liberty

People hold rosaries while participating in a roadside prayer rally marking Religious Freedom Week at St. James Church in Setauket, N.Y., June 24, 2020. The U.S. bishops' theme for Religious Freedom Week 2023 is "Embracing the Divine Gift of Freedom."(OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz)

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WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The U.S. Catholic bishops are inviting the faithful to pray for challenges to religious liberty both within the United States and abroad during the upcoming Religious Freedom Week.

The theme for this year’s annual June 22 – 29 event is “Embracing the Divine Gift of Freedom.”

“Religious freedom allows the Church, and all religious communities, to live out their faith in public and to serve the good of all,” the event’s website stated. “Beginning June 22, the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, the USCCB invites Catholics to pray, reflect, and act to promote religious freedom.”

Both saints are English martyrs who fought religious persecution, notably objecting to King Henry VIII’s claims to be the supreme head of the Church of England. Both saints were executed after being charged with treason in 1535.

During this year’s Religious Freedom Week, the faithful are asked to pray, reflect, and act on key areas where there are risks to religious liberty, and seek the intercession of the saints as examples of faithful citizenship.

Two of the days are devoted to prayer for ending religious persecution in Nicaragua and Nigeria. In the former, the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is accused of the persecution of Catholic leaders, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was sentenced in February to 26 years in prison the day after he refused to be deported to the U.S. with more than 200 other Nicaraguan political prisoners. In Nigeria, Christians have faced violence amid political and civil unrest.

Other areas of concern identified by the bishops include praying for the respect of sacred spaces amid incidents of vandalism at Catholic churches and pro-life centers across the country.

Another area is praying for the safety of the seal of the confessional in civil law. Some states are weighing whether or not to make such an expectation, adding clergy to their mandatory reporting laws for child abuse or neglect without an exception for the practice of confession. Church law strictly forbids priests from divulging what is revealed to them by penitents during the sacrament of reconciliation.

The faithful are also asked to pray for the safety of migrants and refugees, and for those seeking to serve them, citing efforts to restrict the ability of Christian groups to care for them as a threat to religious liberty.

Other areas identified for prayer include that schools and universities, hospitals and medical practices, and business leaders build a culture of respect for people of faith and for conscience rights.

The USCCB provides “Pray-Reflect-Act” resources at usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on Twitter @kgscanlon.

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