Amarillo residents of all faiths filled the pews at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral on Thursday evening for an ecumenical prayer service held in conjunction with similar events across the country.
About 700 worshipers attended the service, which was presented as part of “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two-week period of prayer and other activities organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Amarillo described the time, designated for June 21 through Wednesday, as a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action (that) will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.”
While the event’s promotional materials cite a variety of grievances, pending federal regulations concerning insurance coverage of birth control are a central catalyst inspiring the effort. A document on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website refers to “Washington forcing Catholic institutions to provide services that contradict our beliefs.”
The diocese invited all area Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers to attend the service.
“As Catholic Christians, we are charged with being the conscience of our local communities,” said the Rev. Tony Neusch, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Shamrock and Our Mother of Mercy Church in Wellington. “We have a moral responsibility to participate in the political process of the country in which we live. This is an opportunity to pray for our country and her leaders with men and women of good will.”
Three Protestant pastors — Jimmy Witcher of Trinity Fellowship, Ty Jones of Arena of Life Cowboy Church and Gene Shelburne of Anna Street Church of Christ — spoke. Diocese Bishop Patrick Zurek delivered the main message.
“It’s very positive and very uplifting to see this many people coming together from all denominations,” said Robert Smith, a deacon at St. Mary’s.
“The bishop is concerned that pro-abortion forces in the federal government might be coercing churches to provide birth control against their conscience,” said John L. Denton, who attends Messiah’s House in Amarillo. Denton was one of several non-Catholic worshipers who were assisting by passing out programs and ushering.
“This (birth control decision) is a violation of the First Amendment,” Denton said.