The next three days are very important days in the life of Ave Maria University.
I have written previously about the significance of the Jubilee Year of Mercy that the Church universal begins tomorrow when His Holiness Pope Francis opens the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica and inaugurates this special season of grace.
Today I write on the 50th anniversary of the Church’s declaration on religious freedom: DignitatisHumanae.
During his visit to America, Pope Francis referred to religious freedom as “one of America’s most precious possessions.” Ave Maria University has been in Federal Court since February 2012 defending our religious liberty and right of conscience. The Obama administration’s attack on our constitutional and federal rights will now be examined by the Supreme Court of the United States, and the case decided in the summer of 2016. We share the Holy Father’s fervent belief in the primacy of the right of religious freedom and the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae that it is grounded in God-given human dignity. That is why the interference by the state in the exercise of our sincerely-held religious beliefs is so objectionable.
If you want to understand Church teaching better, I urge you to attend Wednesday’s all-day conference, Religious Liberty: 50 Years After Vatican II, organized by Dr. Michael Breidenbach, thanks to the generous support of the Henkels Lecture Fund. Dr. Breidenbach has assembled an impressive array of nationally and internationally-renowned scholars from King’s College in London, Catholic University of America, Princeton, Fordham, and Ave Maria University. Among the speakers will be Ave Maria’s own Dr. Breidenbach, Dr. Joseph Trabbic and Dr. Steven Long. Dr. Michael Pakaluk, Fr. Matthew Lamb, Dr. Seana Sugrue, and Michael Novak will be commentators.
In addition to being the beginning of the Jubilee Year, Tuesday also is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the occasion for Ave Maria University to do something historic. Following a special 3:45pm Mass, we will process from the Oratory to an area on the west side of the canal, across from the women’s dorms and accessible via a newly-constructed footbridge, where a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, will be erected. The bronze statue is 10’ tall and weighs more than a ton. This beautiful image of Our Lady was fabricated in Thailand, shipped to California, and arrived by truck just three days ago. Jerry and Linda Stafford, who generously donated the statue, will be joining us for the rosary and prayers at the site. Other kind donors have helped underwrite the cost of the bridge, benches, and landscape.
The new site will be a place for students, faculty, staff, neighbors, pilgrims, and tourists to gather and pray. While it presently defines the westernmost edge of our campus, I believe one day it will mark the center of it (our campus footprint includes hundreds of acres on the other side of the canal).
On Tuesday at the Our Lady of Guadalupe site, students and all University community members will be invited to make or renew their vows of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I have been delighted to learn how quickly devotion to the Blessed Mother is spreading on campus. Over 175 copies of Fr. Gaitley’s “33 Days of Morning Glory” guide to consecration have been distributed, and more than 350 students have pledged to pray at least a decade of the rosary each day (courtesy of the “Decaday” campaign of the Leaders of Mary). We expect hundreds of students to be a part of making history on Wednesday. A fiesta, with Mexican food and mariachi musical accompaniment, will follow on the student plaza.
Ave Maria University is fortunate to be a beacon of devotion to Mary, our foundress. I urge you to attend the Mass and participate in the procession to the statue on Wednesday. Dignitatis Humanae urges us to give public witness to our faith, and to exercise our religious freedom in a manner worthy of our God-given dignity. As Saint John Paul II said at the time of the document’s drafting, religious freedom “is the most fundamental of rights in relation to a person’s primary duty; that is to say, the duty to draw closer to God in light of the truth with the movement of the Spirit, which is love.”
May we draw closer to God and each other as we celebrate these important days of glory.