MCC: Catholics at the Capitol momentum to continue through advocacy network

| March 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

Attendees of Catholics at the Capitol walk up to the State Capitol March 9 for visits with legislators. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Many of the people attending Catholics at the Capitol March 9 had never been to the State Capitol before, let alone met with a legislator in person.

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which organized Catholics at the Capitol, said his staff heard that often.

Adkins said the event “proved that if you make the invitation, they will come and deliver. So, we’re excited to build off this success and explore new ways of channeling this momentum.”

Many came to deliver their concerns on issues Catholics are called to defend, with a focus on protecting life and human dignity.

Julie Such, a parishioner of St. Michael in Prior Lake, had a particular interest in physician-assisted suicide, one of the three legislative issues MCC highlighted for discussion with legislators. If passed, she believes the legislation could affect her work in the hospice field and affect the well-being of hospice patients.

Presentations and videos during the morning session at the St. Paul RiverCentre prepared the attendees before they bused to the Capitol to meet with lawmakers, talking points in hand.

John and Sally Bowlin, a retired couple and parishioners of St. Odilia in Shoreview, similarly looked forward to the opportunity to defend the dignity of human life. Both volunteer in multiple pro-life ventures.

“They prepared us very well,” John said of the morning program.

Most students from Holy Spirit Academy in Monticello attended the daylong event, which provided them an opportunity to learn more about state government. The students also had a certain appreciation for school choice, another of the three issues presented in the morning session.

“It was kind of inspiring because it’s easy to take your education for granted, but at the same time, it’s important to realize not everyone has the same opportunities that you had,” said HSA senior Maddie Haberman.

HSA sophomore Olivia Boldischar said both the presentations and talking points equipped them for future dialogue with legislators.

HSA students found the whole process of visiting their representatives to be rewarding.

“They asked questions, and they really seemed to care about what we had to say,” Haberman said.

John Bowlin observed that, too.

“The representative was very open, and he admitted there’s some things he wasn’t up on,” he said.

A number of the HSA students said they would be open to visiting with legislators again.

“I would definitely go back,” HSA junior Analise Nielsen said. “[It was] a lot less scary than I thought it would be. Your voice can be really important.”

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, appreciated the constituent visits.

“Things can get lost down here in St. Paul as you fight about budget numbers and the different kind of politics and political issues of the day,” Zerwas said. “It’s visits like this that kind of really help ground you as to why you’re really here, why you really ran, and who you’re supposed to be looking out for [and] advocating for while you’re down here.”

Zerwas said he gets some visitors during legislative sessions but not “broad coalitions” such as Catholics at the Capitol. He welcomes the idea of more constituents coming to see him, though.

“We are down here solely to serve our constituents,” Zerwas said. “I think if you have an issue or if you have a concern, you should make it a priority to come … or e-mail or call your legislator and stay involved.”

Adkins reiterated that need.

“As Bishop James Conley [of Lincoln, Nebraska] noted in his keynote address, today America needs citizens who are not only faithful, but [also] citizens who are faithful in a public way,” Adkins said. “If not us, who? I think everyone who attended not only now sees the need for this type of public witness, [but] they [also] feel emboldened and equipped to provide it.”

Adkins considers the turnout of 1,000 constituents with Catholics at the Capitol to be more significant than raising some issues, since the event “inspired many Minnesota Catholics to be more engaged as faithful citizens, no matter the issue,” he said.

“We brought them together, gave them the tools to succeed, and helped them realize that Catholic voices really do count — that their voice counts — and that citizen advocacy isn’t as hard as they might have previously thought,” Adkins added. “We even heard some attendees ruminating about running for office themselves. That is a big win.”

Adkins said MCC plans to use its Catholic Advocacy Network to keep building the “civic friendships” formed through Catholics at the Capitol.

“Legislators need us as a resource; they need us as friends,” Adkins said. “And now we as a Church need to continue to equip the people in the pew to be faithful citizens in Minnesota moving forward.”

The Catholic Advocacy Network will provide resources at the parish level to help people engage in dialogue with legislators.

“People don’t need to come to the Capitol building itself to build relationships with legislators or to be faithful citizens,” Adkins said. “It begins in our own backyard.”

Adkins said the next Catholics at the Capitol date has yet to be determined, “but whether we do Catholics at the Capitol again in one year, two years or five years, MCC is committed to providing ongoing opportunities for Minnesota Catholics to stay informed and engaged through our Catholic Advocacy Network.”

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