Catholics at the Capitol: A faith-filled, public witness to legislators

| February 22, 2019 | 0 Comments
Bishop Cozzens gives the closing prayer at Catholics at the Capitol.

Bishop Cozzens gives the closing prayer at Catholics at the Capitol. Diane Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic

A group of 21 Catholics who gathered in Rep. Rick Hansen’s office prayed for him and his colleague, Sen. Matt Klein of Mendota Heights, at the conclusion of their visit during Catholics at the Capitol Feb. 19.

A few members of the group from Legislative District 52A, which includes primarily West St. Paul and South St. Paul, had visited with their representatives Hansen and Klein two years ago at the inaugural Catholics at the Capitol. Both DFL legislators said the group from 52A has been the largest group of constituents they’ve seen.

Meeting in person with constituents is “always more powerful,” said Hansen, who lives in South St. Paul. “It makes a difference, and it shows that people are engaged.”

The from 52A constituents were among more than 1,000 Catholics who gathered in St. Paul from around the state. Hosted for the second time by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the event is a day of learning about civic engagement and visiting with legislators. It began with Mass at Assumption in St. Paul and a morning session at the St. Paul RiverCentre for inspiration and instruction on engaging legislators. In the afternoon, participants met with legislators from their respective districts.

Policy topics for discussion included commercial surrogacy and the first 1,000 days of life. 

Commercial surrogacy involves paying women to gestate babies for other people. The MCC is helping craft legislation to ban that practice and create a regulatory framework for surrogacy arrangements.

The first 1,000 days of life effort includes a group of bills designed to support prenatal care and families of young children by increasing accessibility to health care and other initiatives.

Hansen said the group of Catholics he visited with helped inform him on the issues. He primarily serves on environmental-related committees. Klein serves on finance and policy committees for transportation, human services reform and health and human services.

“We’re so into our own committees,” said Hansen, adding there are limits to how thoroughly they can study all bills. 

District 52A group leader Cathy Frazier, a parishioner of St. Louis King of France in St. Paul, initiated discussion with the lawmakers on several bills. She explained their position, and said her group cares about the issues as Catholics because they want to protect the vulnerable.

“This is something that’s really close to our heart,” Frazier told the legislators.

Klein said he had met with surrogacy advocates and it was helpful to meet opponents of surrogacy, too. He said he appreciated the talking points.

Sophia Graner, also a member of St. Louis, King of France, and a junior at St. Agnes School in St. Paul, said she was inspired by the day. A member of the group from District 52A, she said the day was about “being courageous” and “standing up for your faith” in the public square.

Graner said it was the first time she had spoken with legislators at the Capitol. She described it as “kind of intimidating but also pretty cool.”

A call to ‘go out’

Bishop John LeVoir of New Ulm noted that nowhere in the Gospel did Jesus tell people to go home and sit in an easy chair after hearing the Gospel.

“Jesus says, ‘Go out, … go out in mission,’” Bishop LeVoir said in his homily during the 7 a.m. Mass at Assumption, which more than 80 people attended.

At the Mass, he joined bishops of Minnesota and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis presided. Other bishops present included Bishop John Quinn of Winona-Rochester, Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the archdiocese.

“We have a right to bring our Catholic social teaching to the public square, not to impose it, as St. John Paul II would say, but to propose it,” Bishop LeVoir said. “Let people think about it. Let people talk about it. And then, hopefully part of what we say will become part of public policy that we propose.”

Gloria Purvis returned as emcee for Catholics at the Capitol this year to encourage Catholics gathered for the morning session at the RiverCentre.

“Lawmakers need you as a resource. They need you as friends,” said Purvis, an EWTN TV host. “Because you are the community, you know the challenges and issues, and you bring to those issues a Catholic voice and perspective.” 

She facilitated two panel discussions, one with three advocacy leaders and another with House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of Nisswa. 

After the panel discussions, Purvis offered guidance for talking with legislators. She said Catholics at the Capitol “is just a starting point.” It’s important for citizens to follow up with their representatives, she said, even if there’s disagreement, because dialogue can continue by “being gracious.”

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