Solidarity, education draws for Catholics at the Capitol

| February 17, 2017 | 1 Comment

In the past, Lucy Johnson might have waffled about attending the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s Catholics at the Capitol event March 9, but not now.

“It’s a different year,” said Johnson, 59, a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales in St. Paul and a former Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women president.

She wants to accompany a like-minded group with the potential to make a big impact, she said. She liked the idea of the local Women’s March in St. Paul Jan. 21, but she did not attend because she felt her pro-life beliefs were not welcome. The energy around the march, however, made her wish she could join in something similar, but in the context of her Catholic faith. She hopes to find it in Catholics at the Capitol.

Held for the first time, Catholics at the Capitol includes both education and advocacy, with a focus on key issues gaining traction in the State Legislature: physician-assisted suicide, poverty relief for families and school choice. The 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. event includes a morning program at the St. Paul RiverCentre in St. Paul with prominent Catholic speakers, and an afternoon opportunity for Catholics to apply what they learned in meetings with state lawmakers.

Participants aren’t going to the Capitol as a lobbying group, but rather as individual citizens representing their legislative districts, said Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

“I don’t see this as an arm of the Church as much as an initiative in which lay people become well informed about a variety of issues,” he said. “This gives an opportunity to put a name and face together for us to be seen, and our hope … is that the individual legislators will clearly meet with their constituents whether or not they’re in agreement with issues that people bring forward.”

Father Ubel plans to attend and has encouraged his parishioners to go and represent their districts.

Rosie Huray, who lives in Ham Lake, also noted that distinction. She will represent state District 31B, which includes her city but not her parish, St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. She recognized that Catholics as a whole need to improve their civic engagement after working in 2012 for an ultimately unsuccessful push to defend Minnesota’s legal definition of marriage.

“We were not instrumental [enough] in getting our message out about why we believe that marriage was the union of one man and one woman,” she said.

She hopes Catholics at the Capitol will give Catholics the tools to examine public policy from a Catholic perspective and to articulate how those positions aren’t just for Catholics, but for the common good.

Education is a big draw for many Catholics planning to attend, including Beth Wollerman, a parishioner of Holy Childhood in St. Paul. As her parish’s pro-life chairwoman, she has dedicated many years to educating women about abortion.

“I’m real thrilled about it,” Wollerman said. “I think that our Legislature has to know the pro-life issues, which I think probably many of them do. But, I think it’s a wonderful way of us getting to know our legislators up [close] and personally.”

With Catholics at the Capitol, MCC has extended a particular invitation to young adults by waiving the $25 registration fee for ages 22 and younger. Susanna Bolle, a millennial who works in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, said the event is attractive.

“I see the importance of public advocacy, and I think it is especially important for young people to go and speak out on the issues that matter to us,” she said.

“Oftentimes, millennials fall into complacency and comfortability.”

The more Johnson learns about the Church, the more she appreciates the wisdom behind its social teaching, she said.

“We are a Church that has social justice values. We’re a Church that speaks out against this immigration ban. … We’re also very pro-life, so sometimes we’re left out of the [wider political] conversation,” she said. “I think it’s important to stand up and demonstrate what you believe.”

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