In Rome this week for his ad limina visit, the Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, David Ricken, spoke with Vatican Radio about the major challenges facing his diocese, the broader Church, and the country generally. Religious liberty has been one of the main areas of focus in Pope Benedictâ€™s allocutions to the US Bishops as they have been visiting. Bishop Ricken says there are forces at pay in US society that would change the basic understanding of religionâ€™s role in public life â€“ and so challenge the place of the Church in the public square. â€œThey want to confine religions to the four walls of the church or synagogue, or whatever place of worship people have,â€ he said. The bishop went on to discuss what he is concerned is a growing trend to think of freedom of religion as merely freedom of worship â€“ a trend that has found some of its adherents even advocating a formal change to the text of the constitution to reflect it. Bishop Ricken said, â€œThat [would mean] that you have a right to an hour a week, or something like that,â€ while excluding religion from the public square. â€œWe simply cannot accept that. We are a religion. We are not just a house of worship. As important as our churches are, we have to live out the gospel, and this has always been respected by the Constitution.â€
During the course of his conversation with Vatican Radio, Bishop Ricken spoke of the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, which stands on the site of the USâ€™s only approved Marian apparition, and has drawn scores of thousands of pilgrims. The bishop also spoke about the importance of the upcoming Year of Faith and, within that context, the Churchâ€™s ongoing commitment to the New Evangelization. â€œThe stakes are high,â€ he said. â€œThe Bishopsâ€™ Conference is just beginning some of the planning phases,â€ adding, â€œthe New Evangelization is going to be a Conference-wide priority,â€ involving that every organ within the Bishopsâ€™ Conference is going to be involved in meeting the challenge.