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Upholding religious liberty must entail mutual respect, bishop says

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, carries the monstrance during Eucharistic adoration Jan. 19, 2023, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington after concelebrating the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

(OSV News) — Upholding religious liberty must entail mutual respect, said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.

On his most recent “Walk Humbly” podcast, Bishop Burbidge observed, “What we believe and know to be true is at odds with the popular culture of our world.”

Speaking of the June 16 LGBTQ+ Pride Night observance by the Los Angeles Dodgers, at which a satirical drag group costumed as nuns, the LA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, appeared, he said, “We accept and we respect people in their life situations even though we may not agree (with) with a position or what they stand for. But when you use that position to attack, or to make fun of, to discriminate against, that has to be unacceptable.”

The bishop’s remarks were made in the context of the June 22-29 Religious Freedom Week, a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Burbidge chairs the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

He also noted “an increase in violence and discrimination against Catholics in our own country. People are paying a very, very difficult price for living their faith or even speaking about their faith.”

In a related statement, Bishop Burbidge said, “When we experience an increased hostility towards the practice of faith, it can raise concerns that the peaceful practice of our religion might be endangered. For example, in the past year in our diocese alone, three churches have been subjected to anti-Catholic vandalism — including one case of attempted arson.”

The incidents included a fire and graffiti at St. John Neumann Catholic Community in Reston, Virginia, and graffiti at Nativity Catholic Church in Burke, Virginia, both in 2022.

“National news networks have reported similar occurrences throughout our country. Sadly, we have also seen that believers worldwide have suffered death merely for living their faith,” the statement said.

“In a democratic society,” it continued, “these antagonistic sentiments, along with apathy towards them, can quickly lead to legislative and regulatory hindrances to worshiping, living out our faith in public, and serving the common good.

“Recent examples of this include government mandates that require most employers’ health plans to cover contraception, sterilization, and some abortion-causing drugs; and attempts to require healthcare workers to participate in abortions or gender-changing surgeries.”

During Religious Freedom Week, the faithful are asked to pray, reflect and act on 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 (June 24) and Nigeria (June 26). In Nicaragua, Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa was sentenced in February to 26 years in prison after he refused to be deported to the U.S. with more than 200 other Nicaraguan political prisoners.

In Nigeria, a recent video of Nasir El-Rufai, the former governor of Kaduna state, showed him explaining to a group of Muslim clerics why he did not include Christians in the local government.

“We can’t be naive,” Bishop Burbidge, who has headed the Northern Virginia diocese since 2016, concluded in the podcast. “This is a reality certainly throughout the world in very serious ways, but even right here at home.”

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

Kurt Jensen reports for OSV News from Washington.

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