South Jersey Catholics join Philadelphia rally

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Photo by Mike Chezik

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Father Joseph Capella, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Lindenwold, during the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally outside of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, March 23.

PHILADELPHIA — Here in the city where American independence was born in 1776, a new group of freedom fighters gathered on Friday, March 23.

In Philadelphia, Trenton and 141 other U.S. cities, people came together to protest a federal mandate they say violates their freedom of religion by requiring most religious employers to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage even if it is contrary to their beliefs.

Many South Jersey Catholics crossed the Delaware River to be part of the estimated 2,000 rally-goers outside of Independence Hall.

They came to “stand up for faith,” said Nick Rooney, an 18-year-old from Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown, who came with a group of approximately 30 others from that parish. The worshippers met at Our Lady of Peace, and took the PATCO Speed Line to Philadelphia, where they said a rosary at Independence Hall, before the noon rally.

For those unable to make the trip to Philadelphia, a rosary was said at noon, in front of Our Lady of Peace Parish.

“(Our religious freedoms) are being taken away from us, and we want them back,” Rooney said.

Deacon Albert LaMonaca, from Our Lady of Peace, made the trip to Independence Hall, and called the rally “vital,” likening those in attendance to those colonists in 1776, who declared independence from the British Empire on the same Philadelphia ground.

“They put their lives on the line, we have to do the same,” he said. “Our faith, our freedoms are at stake.”

“We have to show support and concern for our religious liberties,” said Mary Ann Chezik, who came with a group of about 15 from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Lindenwold.

“It was heartening to see others, concerned about our future,” she said.

For the past few months, Chezik’s parish has educated its parishioners about the proposed mandate and its impact.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Sanctity of Human Life,” wrote Father Joseph Capella, pastor, in a letter to parishioners in the Feb. 5 church bulletin.

“As Catholic Christians, (human life) is the defining issue of our lifetime,” Father Capella wrote. “With each passing day there are individuals and forces within our country who are trying to continue the erosion of the dignity of human life … this new ruling places our church in a position to violate a basic tenet of our faith. We see human life as a gift from God, given only by God that cannot be intentionally and directly ended by any human being. We do not consider any action that violates this belief as part of ‘health care.’”

Father Joseph Byerley, pastor of St. Rose of Lima in Haddon Heights, came with Father Alfred Hewett and about 15 other parishioners to Independence Hall, and noted the “energy, excitement, and enthusiasm for standing up” for religious liberty.

The Philadelphia event was sponsored by the Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Generation Life, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.