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A Message from Bishop James Conley

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May. 03, 2012

“The great debates take place on college and university campuses and our young people must get involved,”
- Bishop
James D. Conley, S.T.L. Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Religious freedom is in the news — again — almost 2000 years since a tiny group of inspired and passionate disciples gave their lives to live as Christians; more than 200 years since a tiny group of equally as passionate colonists gave their lives to establish this country in freedom. And today, Catholic Americans are called again to defend our most sacred freedom.

“Religious freedom is becoming less and less a reality,” said Bishop James D. Conley, S.T.L. Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver. “The effort to block religious freedom is anti-American and it’s always the most important freedom because people came to the United States for religious freedom.”

Prominent on the home page of the Archdiocese’s web-site is the most recent statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published April 12, encouraging readers to become informed of recent government encroachment on religious freedom so that they may then take action.

“We must go back to the Declaration of Independence,” Bishop Conley continued. “We are one nation under God and we have these inalienable rights that come not from government, but from God. We should know that and be able to articulate that when we get into conversations with our friends. The great debates take place on college and university campuses and our young people must get involved.”

Those debates must include the issues confronting religious freedom cited by the USCCB: “HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs; state immigration laws; altering Church structure and governance; Christian students on campus; Catholic foster care and adoption services; discrimination against small church congregations and discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services.”

Having spent both his education and the greater portion of his career on campuses, Bishop Conley understands and intimately relates to young adults. He is also aware of how significant their impact is on social change.

“I discovered my faith at a huge campus — the University of Kansas in Lawrence,” he continued.  “My faith developed through the great books program — that was one of the seeds that helped generate many conversions. It was a two-year program with all the great pagan literature, for example the Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives, Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the first year and then the Bible, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Knights of the Round Table  and The Little Flowers of St. Francis the second year. We memorized reams of poetry and it changed so many lives — my life. It’s when I discovered my vocation.”

He converted to Catholicism in his junior year, then entered seminary for the Diocese of Wichita and on May 18, 1985 was ordained priest.

“The University of Kansas didn’t have a Newman Center then,” he said. “Now they have the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center that is wonderful.  I spent most of my priesthood in teaching and campus ministry. There are a lot of great Newman Centers at major universities.  And there is certainly a great need — 90 percent of Catholic students go on to public universities and that’s why the Catholic student centers are extremely important.”

Bishop Conley is confident in the great debates that are occurring in those Catholic student centers and in the future that is in the hands of young adults.

On February 9, 2001, Pope John Paul II blessed him with the privilege to be named “chaplain to his holiness.” And in the footsteps of his mentor, he began World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain, by leading a group of young adults on a five day, 105 mile walking pilgrimage — the Camino de Santiago to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela — the tomb of St. James the Apostle.

“Everyone is seeking something, something more in this world,” he said of the pilgrimage in an interview with EWTN’s Life on the Rock. “It’s God. We know that it’s God. St. Augustine said, ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.’”

In his final words for young adults, Bishop Conley challenged, “There is a truth. It can be known and it will set you free.”