Like most Catholic dioceses across the country, the Diocese of Allentown is participating in the "Fortnight for Freedom," a two-week observance called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to highlight the importance of defending the first freedom. The diocese is calling its observance "Let Religious Freedom Ring."

The fortnight begins with mass on June 21, the vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More. The mass will be celebrated at St. Thomas More Church in Allentown at 6:30 p.m. by Bishop John Barres, as the principal celebrant. Father Thomas Dailey, OSFS, associate chaplain to the diocese's St. Thomas More Society and director of the Salesian Center of Faith and Culture at DeSales University in Center Valley, will be the homilist.

Bishop Barres said, "The Fortnight for Freedom is a reminder that Catholics and all Americans need to be vigilant and proactive in prayer and sacrifice for religious freedom and in proactive activity in every sphere to raise consciousness about protecting and defending our country's rich legacy and heritage of religious freedom."

A number of public events are scheduled. On Saturday, June 23, there will be a panel discussion and public forum on religious liberty at DeSales University at 9 a.m. A similar forum is to be held at Alvernia University in Reading on Saturday, June 30.

On four evenings the week of June 25 there will be catechetical presentations in each of the five counties that make up the diocese. Each event will include a presentation on the USCCB document "Our First Most Cherished Freedom," a talk on religious liberty by a local attorney or pastor, and prayer. These events are being organized by local councils of the Knights of Columbus.

June 25, Knights of Columbus Home, 101 N. Sixth St., Pottsville, at 7 p.m.; June 26, St. Joseph Church, 468 W. Ludlow St., Summit Hill, at 7 p.m.; June 27, Notre Dame Church, 1861 Catasauqua Rd., Bethlehem, at 7 p.m.; and June 29, St. Joseph Church, 5050 St. Joseph Rd., Limeport, at 7 p.m.

At each parish in the diocese on the weekends of June 23-24 and June 30-July 1, the Diocese of Allentown's Commission for Women will sponsor a letter and petition signing drive, urging support of religious freedom.

The signature event of the fortnight will be its close when bells will ring throughout the diocese at noon on Wednesday, July 4. The bell ringing is designed to show support for religious freedom as "our first, most cherished liberty." Earlier that day, Bishop Barres will celebrate the 9 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Catharine of Siena in Allentown. Msgr. Andrew Baker will be the homilist.

A special web site has been established to include news about the fortnight, resources to educate people about religious freedom, a calendar of activities, and videos and photos of events. The website address is www.LetReligiousFreedomRing.org. The site will also include a digital countdown to the July 4 bell ringing.