Happy Fourth of July!
Independence Day, tomorrow, is also the conclusion of our Fortnight for Freedom, our two-weeks of prayer, penance, and advocacy on behalf of our “first and most cherished freedom,” that of religion. We thank God for it, and ask for the fortitude – - like that characterizing John the Baptist, John Fisher, and Thomas More, saints whose feasts we celebrate during the Fortnight – - in defending it.
Couple of weeks ago, I visited the Albanian Islamic Center on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island. (You may have seen the coverage in last week’s Catholic New York). What a grand day it was! I felt very much at home, and was welcomed as a family member. As one of the Imams pointed out, of course I was a family member, since we were all children of the same one, true God, the God of Abraham, the God revealed to and by Israel, Jesus, and Mohammed. With the same Father, the Imam concluded, we’re brothers and sisters!
One of the many fond memories of the visit was how glowingly the Imams and the people spoke of their love for America. The Moslems were clear that what drew them to our country was, yes, the promise of economic prosperity, and the appeal of Democracy, but also, religious freedom. Many of them were fleeing homelands where people of different creeds fought, often violently, and distrusted each other, and where governments opposed and oppressed religion.
Here, they boasted with obvious relief and gratitude, people of faith work together, trust each other, live next to each other, and welcome each other, as my visit displayed.
And here, the Imams and their people remarked, government protects religious liberty, and doesn’t impede or restrict it. In America, my Islamic friends observed, the conviction is that freedom of religion is a given in human nature, self-evident and given by God, to use the vocabulary of the Founding Fathers, not a concession or favor from big government. Here, they sighed in relief, the government leaves us alone, allowing us the free exercise of our religion. Here, they concluded, religion was looked upon as a plus, a blessing, to society.
Those radiant comments seemed even more compelling since, as we spoke, one could see the Statue of Liberty in the harbor; that the day I visited was right before our opening of the Fortnight for Freedom; and that Independence Day was near.
Part of my prayer this Fourth of July will be that my Islamic neighbors will never regret their decision to come here, and that the promise of religious liberty they found so magnetic will never become a sham in this “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”