Oklahoma City's Catholic archbishop calls for religious freedom, protection of churches from controversial HHS mandate
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Published: 24-Jun-2012

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was filled Friday (June 22) for the Eucharistic Celebration marking the start of the “Fortnight for Freedom” in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley was principal celebrant for the Friday evening Mass, held in conjunction with the memorial feasts of two English Church martyrs and saints, Thomas More and John Fisher. 

Coakley delivered the Homily for the event, saying it gladdened him to see the Cathedral packed with worshipers for a week night, evening service.

Coakley focused his remarks on the Scriptural readings for the evening, 1 Peter 4:12-19 (NAB Revised) -- in which Christians are encouraged to “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ” – and Matthew Chapter 10: 34-39, the provocative narrative in which Jesus warns his followers, “I have come to bring not peace, but the sufferings of the sword.” 

Coakley said the two challenging readings “are the light of truth,” illustrating contemporary “divisions in our own hearts, in our communities, our nation.” He pointed to the executions of Fisher and More as injustices, and praised their heroic decisions to follow God rather than culture. The pair opposed King Henry VIII's establishment of the Church of England.

Coakley praised them as men who refused to compromise their conscience, recalling the final words of More, who had served as King Henry's Chancellor: “I die the King's good subject, but God's subject first.”

Coakley said the Catholic Church in the United States and other faith communities now face “an unimaginable situation” – as a federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate has been promulgated to require church-affiliated institutions to provide health insurance coverage to include abortafacients and other practices contrary to long-established doctrines, teachings and practices.

Coakley characterized the mandate as “unconscionable interference in religious ministry.”

He stressed his view that the controversy is “not about contraception, it is about religious freedom.” Coakley also emphasized his view that “This is not a Catholic issue, it is an American issue.” He continued, “Religious freedom is not a right doled out to us by the largesse of our government, but given to us by God.” 

He expressed gratitude to a wide range of non-Catholic Christian leaders who have joined Catholics in opposing the HHS mandate, and encouraged attendees at the Mass to participate in the Rally for Religious Freedom on Saturday (June 23). U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma City, a Republican and a Baptist, spoke at that rally, introducing state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, a Democrat and a Catholic.

At Friday's service, the Cathedral Choir led congregational singing of “Faith of Our Fathers” and “You Call to Us, Jesus.” The pair of hymns were filled with imagery of sacrifice and surrender of worldly things as part of the Christian walk. 

Joining Archbishop Coakley in the Liturgy were 24 priests, including Our Lady's pastor, Rev. John Metzinger, 17 ordained deacons, men and women with the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and an honor guard of 10 uniformed members of the Knights of Columbus. Parishioners estimated attendance at the liturgy at more than 700 people.

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