Dozens carried American flags. Even more carried crosses.
“Increasingly, there are more and more voices that want to silence the voices of faith,” said the Rev. Jerry Ragan, of St. Mary of the Hill Catholic Church, at the beginning of the hourlong prayer service and rally, held by the Catholic Deanery of Augusta and inspired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign.
The campaign is a nationwide time of prayer, fasting and public demonstrations in opposition to what U.S. bishops call attacks on religious liberty. They include aspects of President Obama’s health care overhaul and state immigration laws that prohibit the harboring of undocumented immigrants.
Though the rally was held in view of the city’s Federal Justice Center, it began hours earlier and miles away, outside St. Mary on the Hill.
The youth group from St. Mary marched 6- and 8-foot-tall crosses from their church in the Hill area of Augusta into downtown.
“The youths walked 41/2 miles carrying crosses because this is an issue they care about,” said Becky Wisner, a member of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church.
She made signs for the rally earlier in the day that read, “Stop HHS Mandate,” which was shorthand for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring most employers to provide health insurance that includes birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.
“The mandate is telling us to go against our faith and provide things we don’t agree with,” Wisner said. “This is not just a Catholic thing. This is a religious freedom issue for everybody.”
Kimberlee Wood, also of St. Mary, said: “People are standing up and saying we’ve got to pray. We’ve got to do something.”
The Fortnight for Freedom ends July 4, on Independence Day. It began June 21 on the eve of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, two Catholic saints martyred for their beliefs. Members of every Catholic church in the area were present Wednesday night, but a handful of non-Catholics also attended.
“We believe it is important not only to be able to worship God in there,” Ragan said, pointing to the church behind him, “but also, to be able to speak our faith here in the public square.
“I ask you, are you ready to stand up for your faith?” he shouted to the crowd. “Are you ready to profess your faith in Jesus Christ? Are you ready to live Gospel values in your everyday life?”
To each, the crowd replied with, “Yes!” “Praise Jesus,” and “God Bless America.”