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Romelia Gallego of St. Lawrence Parish in North Miami Beach prays the rosary with three others from her church outside the federal courthouse in downtown Miami.
MIAMI — Some shouted “Viva Cristo Rey” (long live Christ the King). Others stood quietly praying the rosary.
Amid a proliferation of American flags and “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” posters, about 200 people turned out June 8 to protest in front of each of the federal courthouses in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
The focus of their wrath: the Health and Human Services mandate that would require the Catholic Church and other religious employers to pay for medical procedures — abortion, contraception, sterilization — that they deem immoral.
“Since when has pregnancy become a disease? Since when is fertility a pathology?” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who addressed both rallies within the span of one hour.
He stressed that the Catholic Church is not opposed to universal health care. In fact, he said, the Church has been insisting on health care reform for 40 years, as long as it conforms to two basic tenets: include everyone and kill no one.
“The Health Care Reform Act fails on both counts,” Archbishop Wenski said. It excludes a significant number of immigrants from coverage, and it forces employers to pay for procedures, such as abortion, that will result in the deaths of many.
The mandate that employers who do not meet a narrow definition of church be required to pay for such coverage for all their employees is “an unprecedented intrusion of the state” into the workings of religious institutions, he said.
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Luke Getchell, who just finished the fourth grade at St. Theresa School in Coral Gables, reads the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution at the start of the Miami rally.
He noted that 1 of 6 of the hospital beds in the United States are found in Catholic institutions. If the mandate stands in its current form, “we would have to either close those hospitals and turn away the poor or violate our consciences,” Archbishop Wenski said. “Congress should revoke it or the Supreme Court should overturn it.”
A decision on the entire health care law is expected this month from the Supreme Court.
The archbishop thanked the people who came out to the rallies for doing “something that’s very typically American — making our voices heard in the public square.”
He said a trend in the U.S. today seeks to marginalize people of faith, to silence their voices in the public square. “Religion is personal. But it should never be private. As people of faith we have a right to make our proposals,” Archbishop Wenski stressed.
He noted that the purpose of the so-called “separation of church and state” is to “protect the church from the state, not the separation of religion from society or of society from religious belief.”
“People of faith have always played a role in the life of this country,” he said, citing most recently the civil rights movement of the 1960s, whose leader, Martin Luther King Jr., was a Baptist preacher. It was “a religious movement that touched the conscience of a nation and changed unjust laws,” Archbishop Wenski said.
The HHS mandate in essence is telling the Church “that we can only serve the common good if we agree to violate our consciences.”
“I’m here to protest the intrusion in the religious freedoms that are so important to our nation,” said Gladys Bernard, one of those who attended the rally in Miami. “If we allow this to happen, who knows where it is going to end?”
Nearby, Romelia Gallego and three others from St. Lawrence Parish in North Miami Beach were praying the rosary rather than shouting slogans.
“Prayer is more powerful than shouts,” said her fellow parishioner Maria Yasmin Rodriguez. “More powerful than anything.”
Both rallies began with prayers, led in Miami by Jesuit Father Eduardo Alvarez, pastor of Gesu Church downtown; and in Fort Lauderdale by Father Manny Alvarez, parochial vicar at St. Gregory Church in Plantation.
They were just two of a number of priests who attended both rallies, including Msgr. Vincent Kelly, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale and supervising principal at both Cardinal Gibbons and St. Thomas Aquinas high schools. He brought a busload of about 60 St. Thomas students to the event.