On Jan. 16, 1786, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom composed by Thomas Jefferson was adopted by the Virginia General Assembly. This statute would later inform our First Amendment, and so on Sunday, Jan. 16, our nation recognizes its great tradition of religious freedom by celebrating Religious Freedom Day.
Religious freedom means religion should be protected from government interference. It also means that people of faith should be able to worship and carry out their ministries without fear. Unfortunately, vandalism targeting Catholic sites seems to have increased over the past couple of years. The Committee for Religious Liberty has been documenting attacks on Catholic churches, schools, and statues since 2020. One of the most recent incidents took place on Dec. 7, 2021, when a vandal entered a garden at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and used a hammer to deface a statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
In response to this hateful act, the National Shrine is organizing a Rosary recitation for Religious Freedom Day. The recitation will take place at 1:30 pm EST, and it can be livestreamed at www.nationalshrine.org/mass. You may send questions about the event to Joshua Maxey, Assistant Director of Communications and Development for the Shrine, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage you to share this information in your dioceses so that we can take this opportunity to come together and pray for peace in our nation.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, has issued a reflection in anticipation of the annual commemoration:
“Our great tradition of religious freedom has allowed beauty to flourish in our cities and across the American landscape. Diverse religious communities have built beautiful houses of worship, adorned with stained glass, statues, and symbols of faith, in earthly reflection of the glory and majesty of God. In the midst of a popular culture that too often caters to our basest appetites, sacred art and architecture calls all of us to think about ultimate things. All Americans benefit from these religious displays.
“For nearly two years, the U.S. bishops have noticed a disturbing trend of Catholic churches being vandalized and statues being smashed. We are not alone. Our friends from other faith groups experience these outbursts too, and for some communities, they occur far more frequently.
“An attack on a house of worship is certainly an assault on the particular community that gathers there. It is also an attack on the founding principle of America as a place where all people can practice their faith freely. And it is an attack on the human spirit, which yearns to know the truth about God and how to act in light of the truth.
“Religious art instructs and inspires. It reminds us that we live most fully when we direct our lives toward our Creator and our neighbors. On the other hand, the defacement of such public symbols of the sacred degrades our life together and harms the common good.
“On this National Religious Freedom Day, let us resolve to promote religious freedom for all people, and to honor the place of the sacred both in our lives and our landscapes. In response to the recent vandalism of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the National Shrine is hosting a rosary on Sunday, January 16. I encourage all Catholics to participate in this event, as we pray that all religious communities would be free to worship without fear and to continue to bless this great country.”
For further information about the Religious Freedom Day rosary, please visit https://www.nationalshrine.org/event/national-rosary-for-religious-freedom/.