Prayer is an essential part in the fight for religious liberty

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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It was no coincidence to Mother Mary Salvador that she was admitted to the hospital on Feb. 10, 2012 -- the same day President Barack Obama announced his so-called "compromise" for religious employers who objected to the HHS health care mandate.

The Passionist Nuns' superior, who was treated for pneumonia and a collapsed lung, said there's value to be found in the kind of physical suffering she experienced. With all of the evil present in the world, it's especially important now, more than ever, to take human suffering and turn it to prayer.

Eight cloistered Passionist Nuns living at the Immaculate Conception Convent in Ellisville recently have taken that message to heart as they pray for the safeguarding of religious liberty in this country, joining with seven other contemplative communities in the St. Louis region to pray for religious liberty. Earlier this month, the archdiocese sent copies of a prayer card, with a letter asking each community to devote part of their daily prayer lives to the issue of religious liberty.

Speaking from behind the grille at the Passionists' convent last week, Mother Mary, joined by Sister Mary Veronica and Sister Mary Elizabeth, explained that the community's motto is: "May the passion of Christ be always in our hearts." She added that "we're taking ... the hopes and fears and sufferings of the world, and seeing what God can do with it" through prayer.

"As the mystical body of Christ, we can unite (the fight for religious liberty) to Jesus on the Cross," said Sister Veronica. "We say, 'Lord, we need your help.' We can offer this suffering of others to Him. Through this experience we have an opportunity to grow in humility and unite ourselves to the sacrifice."

Sister Elizabeth said, "This mandate has a lot to do with those very things."

Despite disconnecting themselves from most modern media, including television, the web and secular print media, the Passionist Nuns have remained informed on the HHS mandate and religious liberty primarily through the Catholic press, including the National Catholic Register, the St. Louis Review, Our Sunday Visitor and L'Osservatore Romano. Friends of the community who frequently visit the convent will share information, too.

Sitting on a small table in the vestibule of the convent are copies of a form letter, addressed to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, urging her to rescind the health care mandate and allow organizations and individuals to offer health coverage "that does not violate their moral and religious convictions."

Besides incorporating religious liberty into their daily prayer intentions, the nuns are planning to pray a special litany during a novena timed with the bishops' designated Fortnight for Freedom, June 21-July 4. They will hang an American flag outside the convent, and on July 4, when all churches around the nation are asked to ring their bells at noon, "we will gather up all the bells in the convent and ring them together," said Mother Mary. The sisters also will be be making individual sacrifices, as a form of penance, during the Fortnight.

Mother Mary said it's essential to remember the impact of prayer, when a community is united and "we all speak together. It's important that we do this unanimously."

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