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Catholics at the Capitol 2019: ‘Amazing’ talks and good meetings with reps

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

This year’s Catholics at the Capitol event drew Catholics from across the state to learn about how to engage as “faithful citizens” and engage their representatives in state government. Among them were about 30 to 35 Catholics from the Diocese of Duluth, representing every legislative district in the diocese, said Patrice Critchley-Menor, diocesan director of Office of Social Apostolate.

Catholics at the Capitol group with bishop
Faithful from the Diocese of Duluth met Bishop Paul Sirba outside the Capitol building Feb. 19 for the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s Catholics at the Capitol event. (Photo courtesy of Patrice Critchley-Menor)

Some of them carpooled, some of them drove, and some of them hopped a 6 a.m. bus from Duluth.

“The people that were there were really happy to be there,” Critchley-Menor said. In particular, she said, they were “really excited to see Jim Caviezel,” the actor who played Jesus in the 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ” and embraces his Catholic faith.

Betsy Kneepkens, the director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the diocese, was one of those glad of hearing Caviezel and the other big-name speaker of the day, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, calling them both “amazing.”

She was impressed with Archbishop Chaput’s explanation of how Catholics have a right as citizens to share their vision on how policies should be shaped. “We continually propose our ideas as Catholics, to help improve the common good and make for a better world,” she said.

Kneepkens, returning to the event after attending the first one two years ago, said she was less intimidated by another aspect of the day — actually going and meeting with the legislators to advocate on issues those in attendance had spent the morning learning about, the issues this year being commercial surrogacy and a group of legislative proposals aiding people in the first 1,000 days of life.

“I was not as fearful the second time,” she said. “I knew what I was getting in for.” She had learned that “politicians are just people” and that they appreciate hearing the Catholic voice. Critchley-Menor said her impression is that people generally enjoyed meeting their legislators, even though it was a busy day. “At noon, the governor released his budget,” she explained, “and so everybody’s trying to figure out what’s in it.”

She said one of the legislators a group from the diocese met with Rep. Mary Murphy, agreed to co-author the bill on commercial surrogacy.

Critchley-Menor said the “First 1,000 Days of Life” legislation is “both policy and catechetical.” It identifies conception as the first of those days of life and covers things like supporting prenatal care, and it extends to a child’s second birthday, covering such things as nutritional support and home visits, reflecting the consistent ethic of life advocated by Catholic social teaching.

She summed up the message of the day simply: “Pro-life people get perceived as we only care about life till it’s born …. We’ve got 1,000 people in this room who are here because they aren’t like that.”

Kneepkens said that message may have surprised some legislators. “We don’t really fit in a party,” she said. “We really dabble in both parties because we care for the whole continuum of the human person.”

Regarding commercial surrogacy, Critchley-Menor again had a pithy summation of the message: “Women are not for rent, and children are not for sale.”

Characterizing it as “the Wild West,” she said that currently in the state there is no legislation governing commercial surrogacy, making it easy for people to be taken advantage of or put in painful situations.

Kneepkens said the events have created a change in her. She said she is much more likely now to write to a legislator about an issue of concern before she started going to Catholics at the Capitol. And as for event, she said it’s great being around all those faithful Catholics with hearts ready to bring the faith into the world.

“… [I]t’s neat just to be in the presence of those folks, all in one room.”