Drowned out, almost, by the roar of motorcycles

ROME – The pope made headlines throughout the world Sunday, June 16, when he welcomed and blessed the gifts of two Harley Davidson motorcycles given to him by a delegation of bikers. Once again, an event provided a lens to the world of marginal Catholics and non-Catholics that our new pope is not only a holy leader to millions who offers a worldwide welcome and the message of hope through Jesus Christ, but also that he, as a person, is a nice, approachable guy, and even, well … cool.
For those of us in Rome that week, we are thankful for those big honking Harleys and Hondas in the land of Vespas and Smart Cars, for their presence gave us many smiles while tooling around Vatican City.
But while the bikers made the headlines they were not the only story, or even the most important story, coming out of the Vatican at the time.
The photographs of motorcycles in St. Peter’s Square were taken following a Mass that was the culmination of a weekend dedicated to “Evangelium Vitae” (the “Gospel of Life”), a pilgrimage organized for the Year of Faith and named after the 1995 encyclical by Blessed John Paul II on the “value and inviolability of human life.”
In addition to greeting Harley Davidson enthusiasts that day, Pope Francis followed his usual practice of individually greeting a number of disabled persons among the congregation.
The pope offered many lessons in his homily on “Evangelium Vitae” Day, the overriding one being “The Lord is the Living One, he is merciful.” He roused the crowd to repeat this three times.
“Whenever we want to assert ourselves, when we become wrapped up in our own selfishness and put ourselves in the place of God, we end up spawning death…. Selfishness leads to lies, as we attempt to deceive ourselves and those around us,” the Holy Father said.
Pope Francis reminded us that living within God’s laws – the 10 Commandments – gives rise to freedom because you are saying “yes” to God who is “the Living One,” and a “yes” to God is a “yes” to love and to life. And because God is merciful, we always have the opportunity to say “yes.”
The pope’s emphasis on joy and hope, and above all on the sanctity of life, seems especially important as the church in the United States observes the Fortnight for Freedom, an initiative aimed at protecting religious liberty from government infringement.
Chief among perceived threats to religious liberty in America is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that most employers, including Catholic hospitals, schools and charities, provide insurance coverage for artificial contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, which the church morally opposes.
On the day that the pope made time for both those who ride motorcycles and those who ride in wheelchairs, he said ideologies and practices that destroy human life arise from false ideas of freedom without God.
“Let us say ‘yes’ to love and not selfishness,” Pope Francis said. “Let us say ‘yes’ to life and not death. Let us say ‘yes’ to freedom and not enslavement to the many idols of our time.”
It is a message worth remembering, and praying that others will understand, as we observe the Fortnight for Freedom.

Mary McWilliams teaches at Atlantic Cape Community College.

The U.S. bishops’ second annual Fortnight for Freedom – a period of prayer and fasting to raise awareness of challenges to religious liberty, both nationally and internationally – began June 21 and ends July 4.

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