People of faith unite at Capitol to advocate for poor

| March 27, 2012 | 0 Comments

Rev. Alika Galloway, co-pastor of Kwanzaa Community Church in Minneapolis, gave the keynote speech at JRLC’s annual “Day on the Hill” March 20. Photo courtesy of Alison Bents Photorgaphy

“Today I’m looking at the face of God, for you are here to do God’s work. You are here to proclaim justice and the common good in the public square,” Rev. Alika Galloway, co-pastor of Kwanzaa Community Church in Minneapolis, told 750 people attending the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s “Day on the Hill” March 20.

Members of Minnesota’s Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim communities gathered at the RiverCentre in St. Paul for the annual event to learn about current legislative issues and engage in discussion before yellow school buses transported them to the Capitol to meet with legislators.

JRLC leaders briefed participants on several issues, including poverty initiatives, affordable housing, an impartial judiciary and protecting the social safety net, then gave them tips for presenting the JRLC’s positions to legislators.

The issues were selected and agreed upon by the coalition’s board, which includes members of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Minnesota Council of Churches, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Islamic Center of Minnesota.

Faith groups united

At the convention center, priests and ministers in white collars mixed with women in hijabs, men in yarmulkes and others in plain clothes at circular tables representing Minnesota’s legislative districts.

“Today we are patriotic strangers trying to connect around issues of poverty and the issues surrounding the safety net; homelessness; justice systems that are broken; and the insidious, insensitive assumption that only certain people in this nation have the right to eat and sleep in their own bed and send their children to day care and not have to trade sex for a loaf of bread or a diaper,” Galloway trumpeted, her keynote speech punctuated by shouts of “amen” and cheers from the crowd.

She encouraged audience members to stand up for their beliefs, even though it may be difficult.

“There are three kinds of patriots: two bad, one good,” she said. “The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry out a lovers’ quarrel with their country. . . . So today on the hill we are all here to have a lovers’ quarrel with our legislators.

“We love this nation and our city and our state enough to practice a type of tough love that demands a reciprocal justice for the nation’s poor, for the least, for the left behind, for the locked out, and for the lonely.”

Many groups descend on the Capitol to advocate for issues, but only one group — JRLC — represents Minnesota’s faith communities united, JRLC board member Bob Rubinyi said in a speech. Some 80 percent of Minnesotans who identify with a faith tradition are represented by the JRLC, he said.

“We show our love for God by showing our love for one another, by loving the stranger even if we do not know her, by demanding justice for the orphan and the widow and providing them with food and clothing,” he said. “And that’s exactly what JRLC is all about. That’s why we’re here today.”

Rubinyi asked those present to remain active during the entire legislative session. “Our work does not end today,” he said.

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, agreed. “Faithful citizenship is not just voting; it’s becoming an active participant in the grand experiment of self-government,” he said in an interview during the event.

It’s a “powerful witness” when faith communities unite to demand justice and advocate for policies that promote human dignity and the common good, said Adkins, one of four Catholics serving on JRLC’s 16-member board.

To stay informed during the legislative session, Adkins suggested that Catholics visit the JRLC website, JRLC.org, and join the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network, capwiz.com/mncc/home.

Real-life classroom

Matthew Goldammer, a senior at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, got a taste of government in action at Day on the Hill along with about 30 of his classmates, who stood out in the crowd dressed in their military-style school uniforms.

Goldammer said he had been learning about the legislative process and discussing the issues of the day in his Advanced Placement government class to prepare for the event.

During the 18-year-old’s first visit to the Capitol, he met with Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul) and witnessed a Senate session and Finance Committee meeting.

“To see that firsthand was an incredible opportunity,” he said. “. . . I really think [‘Day on the Hill’] is a good opportunity for all students . . . to really see how the legislative process works.”

Although Goldammer is interested in politics, he aspires not to be a politician, but a priest. In the fall he plans to attend St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. But, to Goldammer, politics and the priesthood are not mutually exclusive.

“All of us have the opportunity — and in a lot of ways the responsibility — to be active in the political spectrum and to voice what we believe is right,” he said.

Mike Harley, a member of the social justice committee at Lumen Christi Catholic Community in St. Paul, attended “Day on the Hill” for the first time last year. He was so impressed that he recruited 13 other members of the parish to join him at this year’s event.

“People are there to speak for the poor and the under-represented,” Harley said after the gathering. “It’s amazing that people take time off from work, they pay money, and they do something that’s inherently uncomfortable — and maybe even risky for them — and it’s for somebody else. . . . That makes me proud to be a person of faith and proud to be a Catholic.”

Harley, who visited Sen. Cohen and Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul), said he wanted to express his concern for the poor, particularly at a time when funding for programs that serve them has been cut.

“Our voices as individuals are small. Our voices as a parish are still small. Our voices as Catholics are a lot bigger. But our voices with these [faith] traditions together,” he said, “. . . that’s powerful.”

Moved by faith

Attorney Theresa Murray Hughes, a member of the social justice committee at St. Ambrose in Woodbury and the archdiocesan Sowers of Justice group, has attended “Day on the Hill” for the past seven years. She said her faith is what motivates her to participate.

“I take very literally the mandate from both the Old Testament and the New Testament that ‘whatever you do for the least of those, . . . you do for me,’ and to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit those in prison, and welcome the stranger,” she said.

No matter where people of faith stand on the issues, it’s vital that they make their voices heard, said Murray Hughes. “Part of living out the Christian faith is active participation. . . . I think that’s the call that Jesus gave all of us.”

Murray Hughes said preserving Minnesota’s safety net is her biggest concern. “I work with low-income people in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, and I see every day how crucial that safety net is for low-income Minnesotans.”

“What happens in North Minneapolis affects me in Woodbury; what happens on the Iron Range affects the people in Rochester,” she said. “So we all have to be in this dialogue together.”

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