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“Today everybody’s a Catholic,” said an Anglican priest from the speaker’s platform at the media-ignored Federal Plaza rally for religious freedom on March 23 attended by hundreds. He was Rev. Stewart Ruch, senior pastor of the 950-member Church of the Resurrection, in Wheaton. On the platform with him was Rev. Kevin Miller, associate rector, who gave the closing prayer.

A deacon from the same parish, Rev. Keith Hartsell, associate pastor for mission, stood in the rear of the crowd, making quite a figure in his jeans-cum-clerical collar, standing with two (“the middle two”) of his and his wife’s four children, pre-schoolers ensconced in a double stroller.

The parish has a grand total of four priests and four deacons on staff, Deacon Hartsell said. It’s enough to remind one of Roman Catholic parishes of old, with rectories full to bursting with priests, though these priests with wives and children — the senior pastor and his wife have six — do not inhabit the same building, rectory or otherwise.

While the deacon and I chatted, Mary-Louise Hegensbaugh (nee Kurey), director of pro-life activities for the archdiocese before she was married, delivered an animated pep talk. Allowing that “some of [her listeners] have voted for President Obama,” she said regarding the much-discused HHS mandate requiring Catholic schools and hospitals to carry birth-control and abortifacient insurance for their employees, “We’re not going to stand for it.”

Over a portable sound system that defeated several other speakers — power reportedly had been cut off on the plaza — so that their words couldn’t quite carry over noontime traffic and other noises, she came through loud and clear, going non-stop, eliciting repeated non-perfunctory applause, skilled in what she was doing. She closed with strategic advice offered also by others: “Put something [of the day’s message] on your Facebook.”

A high-school-age boy from northwest suburban Volo — home-schooled, he said when asked — passed out “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” flyers, one of a number doing so. A girl from Willows Academy, in Des Plaines, with “Willows soccer” on her shirt, was there with a number of school mates. When the speeches were done, they gathered in a circle and sang a staple of civil-rights rallies of the ‘sixties, “This Little Light of Mine” (“let it shine, let it shine”).

The Volo parish, St. Peter, is operated by Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, a community of priests and brothers founded by the St. John Cantius pastor, Fr. Frank Phillips. The St. John Cantius boys, also home-schooled — the parish has no school — couldn’t be missed, largely because of the heavy platform a dozen of them raised and held on their shoulders while one of their number stood on it, holding a banner.

They had walked from the parish, two miles away, accompanied by Father Jim Isaacson, who on this rainy day carried a quiver full of umbrellas on his back. He wore a cappello romano, or Roman hat, with a wide circular brim — what Chesterton’s priest-detective Father Brown wears in 1970s movies. The boys and girls, he told me, belong to Crusade for Life, an evangelical pro-life organization based in California. It was more evidence, in addition to the evangelical-Anglican priests in attendance, of the affinity between tradition-oriented Catholics and their separated evangelical brethren.

Another kind of contingent were young mothers and fathers, each with two or more small children in tow. Some of them greeted each other as if at a soccer game or supermarket. At the close, one of them gathered others for a stop at a nearby McDonald’s.

I have to admit, dropping my veneer of objectivity for the moment, that it was a tonic being among such people, who also included senior couples and other seniors and “dads for life,” so designated by signs they carried.

One of these latter paused in the middle of his rallying, leaning his sign against his leg, to light a cigarette, proving it takes all kinds to protest a governmental mandate that makes people do what goes against their consciences.

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