By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
“The work of faithful citizenship does not end with voting,” said Jason Adkins, director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
For some from the Diocese of Duluth, living that out meant getting up in the wee hours of the morning to catch a 5 a.m. bus, but all told more than 60 people from the diocese were among the more than 1,000 gathered at RiverCenter in St. Paul and later at the State Capitol for the first Catholics at the Capitol event, organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
|Bishop Paul Sirba of the Diocese of Duluth celebrates Mass at the beginning of Catholics at the Capitol March 9. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)|
Addressing the packed house, Adkins said it had exceeded expectations. “We have people from every single Senate district,” he said. “Amazing.”
Patrice Critchley-Menor, director of social apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth, said that coming from the diocese were three people from Senate District 3, which includes the North Shore and Iron Range, 15 from District 5 (Itasca County), six from District 6 (northern St. Louis County), 11 from District 7 (Duluth), seven from District 10 (Brainerd area), and 20 people from District 11 (Carlton County).
“There were a small handful of people who registered but had to cancel in the last few minutes,” she added.
The day was roughly divided into two parts — a morning of formation and inspiration at RiverCenter on engaging state politics and legislators followed by putting an afternoon at the State Capitol putting that into practice through meetings with legislators. And it started off with morning prayer and Mass, the latter of which was standing-room-only in a one of the RiverCenter conference rooms.
Minnesota’s bishops were all in attendance and took on a variety of roles throughout the day. For Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, it was being the principle celebrant and homilist at Mass.
Preaching on the commemoration of St. Frances of Rome, he said those in attendance were gathered to work for “good things for the common good of our state.” Among those are the right to life — “It’s been a long time since 1973,” he said, the year the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade swept away a host of state laws and effectively legalized abortion on demand nationwide. Now, he said, it’s expanding to the end of life.
“We need to persevere in our prayer,” Bishop Sirba said.
He held up St. Frances as an example, saying, “She was to Rome what St. Teresa of Calcutta is to us today,” and was able to calm the restless and pacify the angry by her presence.
“I don’t know that we’re all there yet,” he quipped, to laughter.
“May God bless our efforts this day.”
Adkins stressed that the point of the day was building relationships with legislators.
“The church views politics as a form of civil friendship,” he said.
|Part of a group of more than 1,000 Catholics makes its way up to the State Capitol for meetings with legislators. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)|
What followed were keynote addresses from Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Gloria Purvis of Black Catholics United for Life (see related stories), instruction on how to speak to legislators, and presentations on the three issues Catholics were taking to their legislators that afternoon: school choice, assistance to needy families, and opposition to assisted suicide.
For each of the issues, there was an introduction from one of the Minnesota bishops, followed by a video presentation and a discussion of talking points to help advocate for the church’s position.
One of the highlights was an interactive moment. With a smartphone, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, recorded a video message to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who was recovering from surgery, wishing him well and offering him the prayers of those gathered, then urging him to return to work soon, because 1,000 Catholics had a message for him: “Support school choice,” the crowd behind him yelled. Bishop Cozzens then quickly tweeted the message out to the governor.
Organizers for the diocese said those who participated were generally positive.
“I had the opportunity to ride back and listen to those that rode on the bus,” said Betsy Kneepkens, director of the diocese’s Office of Marriage and Family Life. “I heard words like ‘feeling empowered,’ ‘sense of pride being part of the process of change,’ and that the experience with their legislators reminded them that they are just like us.”
She said some were disappointed that they didn’t get to meet with legislators, but they hoped to follow up at another time. “Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the day and learned a great deal about politics in Minnesota,” she added.
Critchley-Menor said that despite the inexperience on the part of many of those meeting legislators, they spoke freely. She noted one meeting in which two Catholics, a pediatrician and a former hospice director, were able to offer “beautiful persuasion and personal experience opposing assisted suicide.”
She said the legislators were generally receptive too.
Her assessment of the event? “Very impressive. Although this was a first time event, the level of preparedness was fantastic.”
“The power of the day is the fact that there were 1,000 of us there representing several thousands at home, and that we all speak as one Catholic voice on our common issues,” she added.
As for long-term impact, Critchley- Menor said she could observe a change in people.
“At the beginning of the day, people were professing their inexperience,” she said. “One person emailed me the day before and said she was very nervous about it. By the end of the morning presentations, people were more confident, but still cautious. By the end of the day, every person I spoke to demonstrated a feeling of accomplishment. People knew they were not alone, so they were able to speak with courage and commitment about their values.”
By Maria Wiering
Catholic News Service
In his famous work “Democracy in America,” published in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “Where education and freedom are the children of morality and religion … democracy … makes better choices than anywhere else.”
|Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)|
Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, made the case March 9 that those words remain true nearly two centuries later, and that Catholics need to engage in the public square.
He made the comments in an address to more than 1,000 Catholics gathered for Minnesota’s first Catholics at the Capitol event.
A member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Conley noted that the Minnesota Capitol stands at the confluence of streets named for two prominent American leaders: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Irish-born Archbishop John Ireland, St. Paul’s first archbishop.
“Those two streets on which the Capitol stands,” he said, “should remind us of two fundamental and important truths: that democracies depend on believers to witness prophetically to virtue, to truth, to goodness, and to beauty; that believers have a critical and important role to play in the public life for the common good, to build a culture of life and a civilization of love; and we must do all of this as … missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Your state needs your faith and your witness.”
He told Catholics that democracy’s success depends on the “generous participation of believers.”
“Secular activists argue that our faith should stay out of the public square, that debates over public policy shouldn’t involve religious perspectives, [and] that we have no right to bring faith into the voting booth, or into the Capitol, or into the media,” he said.
But, he said, America’s Founding Fathers saw things differently. “The Founding Fathers believed that well-formed believers were essential and critical for maintaining the social contract underlying the U.S. Constitution,” he said.
He pointed to the words of President John Adams, written in 1798 to soldiers of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
“Public religious faith provides the ability to make moral judgments, which are rooted in a sense of common good rather than the individual good or personal gain,” Bishop Conley said.
He said in the first part of the 20th century, Catholics were observed to have kept their faith out of their political engagement, as they viewed it as a private or family matter “with no political implications.”
“But our faith is more than a family matter. Our faith is not private,” he said. “Our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is teeming with political implications, and we cannot live our faith in Jesus Christ as a private affair. We cannot be afraid to challenge our democracy with the truths of the Gospel. In fact, our democracy depends on that challenge.”
He said that our faith upholds a vision of the common good under which all people can flourish.
“The Gospel calls the world to objective standards of truth,” Bishop Conley said. “The Gospel promotes human dignity and protects the family and orders justice. Jesus Christ tells us what freedom is, what justice is, what it means to have peace, and what it means to prosper. The Founding Fathers knew that the American Experiment would depend on the public faith of religious believers, and they knew that democracy itself depends on people of faith.”
During the last election cycle, many American Catholics considered themselves “politically homeless” because their values didn’t fit easily in either the Democratic or Republican parties. While it’s true that neither party represents a Catholic worldview, Catholics should not feel “homeless,” Bishop Conley said.
“Catholics do not have a political party, but we do have a political home,” he said. “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.”
“Our political home is our eternal home, the city of God,” he said. “Because of that, our political mission in this world is to build a culture of life, a civilization of love.”
He said Catholics are meant to be prophetic voices who speak the word of God and trust in its power. He quoted G.K. Chesterton: “When the world is upside down, prophets are the ones who stand on their heads to see things as they are.”
“Today, in a world that is upside down, God calls us to stand on our heads … to see things as they are, and to speak the truth,” he said, pointing to abortion and other life issues, marriage, and the need to help people who are poor, immigrant, refugees, or incarcerated.
Speaking truth might mean that Catholics lose friends, he said. “If we are faithful witnesses to the church’s teaching, we will make our neighbors from every political party unhappy and uncomfortable,” he said.
Catholics also need to trust in God’s providence, he said. Success is measured by fidelity, not results, and God may use people’s efforts in ways they may never see.
“The time in which we live is a very difficult one for Catholics and for our nation,” Bishop Conley said. “May we together work for the kingdom of God, for justice, for truth, for charity. May we do all of this as disciples of Jesus Christ, and may we trust in the Lord, who calls us to be holy above all things, who has a plan for each one of us, and who knows how that plan will unfold in his glory, in the providence of eternity.”
Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
By Jessica Trygstad
Catholic News Service
The chairwoman of Black Catholics United for Life told a conference room of more than 1,000 Minnesota Catholics that they serve a mighty God and are willing to “speak the Gospel truth in the public square,” even if they were fearful.
“I am willing, and you are, too, and God knows that. And because you are willing, he has qualified you. As they say, ‘God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called,’ and that is you,” said Gloria Purvis, who is the co-host of “Morning Glory” on EWTN Radio.
|Gloria Purvis talks about the need for Catholics to get involved in politics during her keynote talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. More than 1,000 Catholics attended. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)|
Purvis rallied the full Catholics at the Capitol conference room after they received their marching orders for meeting with legislators at the Capitol from Minnesota’s bishops and Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Despite a late night after speaking at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul March 8 and not having a restful sleep at the hotel, Purvis told the crowd, “I ain’t no ways tired, and neither are you.” The phrase served as motivation throughout the day of education and advocacy.
Purvis, who also is a wife, mother, and Third Order Carmelite from the Archdiocese of Washington, highlighted two of the three legislative priorities on the day’s agenda — supporting school choice in the form of scholarship tax credits and opposing physician- assisted suicide through alternatively improving the state’s palliative care.
She spoke about J.J. Hanson, a Marine combat veteran with the same type of brain cancer as Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who chose to end her life through Oregon’s assisted suicide law in 2014. Before her death, she served as a “right-to-die” advocate.
“J.J. is offering his [life] in service of the truth,” Purvis said. “He was telling me, ‘You know, as a soldier, Gloria, when I see a bad guy, my instinct is to charge him, to stop him. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re supposed to do.’ And you know what, we are soldiers, too, except we’re soldiers of the cross. And I hope that when we see darkness, our instinct is to charge it and bring the light of Christ and not to be afraid. And that is exactly what you’re going to be doing today when you go to those legislators and you advocate for truth, beauty, and goodness.
“Don’t be afraid, and you can do this because … ,” she prompted her listeners. “I ain’t no ways tired,” the crowd responded.
Purvis also shared the story of how her mother went into a coma in 2005 and was pronounced brain-dead. After months in the hospital, doctors had told her father it was time to remove her mother from life support.
But “God is the divine physician, and she’s walking, talking, driving a car, and playing poker to this day,” Purvis said to applause. The experience gave her family a chance to be a witness to God’s glory, she added, an experience of which society often robs people.
In emphasizing the importance of school choice, Purvis said she believed the “four Rs” — reading, ’riting, ’rithmatic and religion — were instrumental in her education. Although her family wasn’t Catholic, Purvis attended Catholic school and decided to join the church at age 12.
“Catholic education gave me a lens through which I filter the moral challenges of our day,” she said, adding that it’s what brought her to the faith. “It really helped me understand that I follow Jesus Christ.”
Purvis also had an intimate meeting later that evening with black Catholics at St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, which has historically served black Catholics. As a national speaker, she makes a point of meeting with black Catholics wherever she goes.
Trygstad is assistant editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Bridget Ryder contributed to this story.