Catholics at the Capitol draws 1,000 from across Minnesota

| March 9, 2017 | 0 Comments

State Sen. Melisa Franzen , D-Edina, right, talks with Catholics in her district during Catholics at the Capitol March 9. Students from Chesterton Academy in Edina were part of the group. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Ione Duff doesn’t consider herself a political person, but a commitment she’s made to put her faith into action compelled her to join 1,000 other Catholics from across Minnesota in St. Paul for the first-ever Catholics at the Capitol.

“I need to make a stand, but I’m not political, and the idea of it scares me,” said Duff, 54, a parishioner of St. Paul in Ham Lake.

She took the day off of work from her job with the Minnesota Department of Revenue to attend the education and advocacy event. She hoped to become better informed about public policy issues and how to articulate her stance.

She realized, however, that the day was about more than finding the right words.

“Just being here says something to people. Just being at the Capitol as a group of Catholics says something to people,” she said.

She was among Catholics who crowded into a RiverCentre conference room for an 8 a.m. Mass concelebrated by the state’s bishops. The liturgy kicked off a morning program of speakers and advocacy training before participants headed to the State Capitol to meet with lawmakers. Organized by Minnesota Catholic Conference, the event aimed to more deeply engage Catholics in the public arena through education about important issues and tools to help them advocate effectively.

The event drew Catholics from every senate district in Minnesota, said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director.

From left, Jeanne Dufault and Kathy Morales, both of Immaculate Conception in Columbia Heights; and Theresia Miller, Maria Miller and Marty Brazil of Divine Mercy in Faribault gather in the State Capitol rotunda with several hundred others at the conclusion of Catholics at the Capitol March 9. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In his welcome, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who, as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is MCC board president, said he hoped the day helped attendees “to be more effective faithful citizens and to join your bishops in protecting life and human dignity in Minnesota.”

“We’re trusting that God is indeed going to be blessing our efforts, and that this will be a good experience for all of us,” he said.

The event drew Catholics of all ages, the senior classes of three Catholic high schools, students from many others, and several families with young children. Adkins said the day was designed to serve as a resource for seasoned advocates and political newcomers. He quoted Pope Francis: “A good Catholic meddles in politics because it is one of the highest forms of charity.”

“It’s countercultural, but the Church sees politics as a form of civic friendship. At a time when polarization and partisanship are pulling us apart, the world needs the Church more than ever to renew public life by building bridges of friendship, including with lawmakers,” Adkins said.

When he asked who in the audience was meeting their lawmakers for the first time, hands around the room shot up.

Faithful citizenship does not end with voting, Adkins said. Lawmakers need Catholic constituents as their resources and friends.

“The relationships that you build today among each other … but also with your legislators, will hopefully continue as we work to protect life and human dignity,” he said.

The morning program included videos designed to explain Catholic political engagement and demystify constituent meetings, including one that featured a Paul Bunyan-like character illustrating Minnesota Catholics’ obligation to participate in the public square.

Three of the state’s bishops also spoke on key issues MCC is working on this legislative session: creating tax credits for school choice; increasing the funding for the state’s welfare cash-grant program; and resisting the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

After speaking about the positive impact school choice would have on Minnesota’s students, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis made a video for Gov. Mark Dayton asking him to support the legislation. It included Catholics at the Capitol attendees shouting in unison, “support school choice.” The bishop shared it via Twitter.

The morning program included two guest speakers, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Gloria Purvis, co-host of “Morning Glory” on EWTN Radio and chairwoman of Black Catholics United for Life.

Bishop Conley told Catholics that they must “build a culture of life, a civilization of love.”

“Our mission is to reflect the city of God by the way we live in this world,” he said. “We do that, in part, by our engagement in public life.”

He added: “Catholics are not politically liberal or politically conservative; we are simply Catholics, disciples of Christ and his Gospel. Our mission in the public life is to be faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ and his Church, and the truths he’s revealed to us.”

Purvis’ presentation rallied Catholics as they transitioned from the day’s educational component to meetings with lawmakers. She acknowledged that meeting with elected officials might seem intimidating for some, but “to remember that this is a mighty God that we serve.”

She shared an anecdote from 2016 about Sister Constance Veit, spokeswoman for the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been stalwart in fighting the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate in the courts.

Purvis heard a reporter ask the sister what her plan B was if they lost the court battle. “She said, ‘We don’t have a plan B, because we don’t believe that God will abandon us.’”

Purvis continues to be inspired by the bold answer.

“Do not be afraid,” she said. “We know the God that we serve.”

At the Capitol, attendees met with their elected officials. Some also prayed the rosary, toured the newly renovated Capitol and talked with their bishops before a final blessing in the rotunda.

In his closing remarks, Bishop John Quinn of Winona said his message was an opening of sorts.

“What we do now is really going to count,” he said. “We are not going to be afraid. We are not going to withdraw from the culture that more than ever needs the truth of Jesus Christ.”

The values that participants of Catholics at the Capitol expressed during the day don’t belong solely to Catholics, he said, but to the “human family.”

He added, “Now the work begins.”

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