Catholics advocate at state Capitol
April 25, 2017
Nearly 1,000 from Galveston-Houston attend Austin’s Faith in Action Catholic Advocacy Day
AUSTIN — With blue shirts that matched the wide blue sky above, Catholics by the thousands joined their bishops who lead the state’s 15 dioceses at the Texas Capitol as one voice advocating for a number of issues as legislators met April 4.
The event, which is organized by the Texas Catholic Conference, the public policy voic
e of the Catholic bishops of Texas, included a rally on the Capitol steps with the state’s bishops, several of whom addressed the crowds. More than 4,000 Catholics from across the state were registered to participate.
Daniel Cardinal DiNardo opened the rally with prayer, calling the faithful to “be the voice of the voiceless” invoking God’s blessing upon the efforts that support life, charity to all, welcome to the stranger and religious freedom.
PHOTOS: Thousands of Catholics gather at Texas State Capitol
Raising up life issues, Bishop Michael J. Sis of San Angelo said during the rally, “we must see the ugly truth of what is being allowed to take place in Texas, and then we must offer a word of hope, that we can do better and we can demand better and we can protect the basic right to life.”
According to Vice Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary Father Brian Eilers, the 75 seminarians who attended understand that the Church advocates for people and issues, but not candidates.
“Advocacy Day gave us a way to let these future priests see how they can influence laws and encourage their people to be involved so that the laws of the state reflect respect for life and human dignity,” he said.
Like several seminarians, and dozens of Archdiocesan staff and Galveston-Houston parishioners who met with legislative officials, Julie Fritsch, director of Office of Pro-Life Activities, and her group met with several offices.
“We might assume legislators have already taken a definite position on each bill and that our visit won’t make much difference,” she said. “In our group’s experience, the legislative staff was very willing to hear and consider new information and to ask questions about bills they weren’t familiar with. I was pleasantly surprised that we truly had an opportunity to educate the legislators’ offices about particular issues and to provide the staffers with new information that might alter a vote in favor of the Catholic position.”
Following Bishop Sis, Austin Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, who is the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, spoke on immigration.
“Catholics have a long and rich tradition of helping migrants.”
“Catholics have a long and rich tradition of helping migrants. Each of us can trace our own personal heritage to recent immigrants,” he said, with many seeking a better life, fleeing violence, much like the Holy Family. Immigrants are Christ’s face before us, he said. “We ask for justice, mercy and laws that respect the dignity of migrants.”
Matt Johns, director of mission integration programs at Catholic Charities of the Galveston-Houston, said Catholic Charities’ goal at Advocacy Day was to “give voice to the poor and vulnerable in our Archdiocese. It was great to have an opportunity to share that voice with the people who make the policy that structures our society. Every day we see the needs of our clients and we take it on as our duty to be their voice with legislators, particularly the Texas legislature.”
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio encouraged the Catholic school students in attendance, saying, “Catholic education carries the same values presented at the Capitol. As a people of faith, we are committed to help build up the kingdom of God: a place of justice, reconciliation, peace and unity.”
A first-time attendee, Lytia Reese, assistant superintendent of urban and rural achievement with the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese, said she agreed.
“Advocacy matters! Our active engagement in the legislative process gives voice to those who are marginalized or vulnerable. I am grateful that I could participate in this extraordinary day. It has inspired and empowered me to follow-up with my representatives and senators about the issues that are important to me and our Catholic community,” she said. “Being one of thousands of Catholics from all over Texas praying as one community and speaking with one voice in support of human rights and dignity gave me hope that substantive change can be achieved.”
Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of Victoria led the Senate’s opening prayer just prior to the rally.
The primary focus of Advocacy Day was to bring awareness to policies and programs that support the life and dignity of every human person from conception through natural death, as well as policies that protect and provide for the poor and vulnerable, ensure justice for immigrants, strengthen the family unit and those that ensure all people have easy access to adequate medical and behavioral health care.
Like in Texas, Catholics around the country gather in their respective state capitals each year to be a voice for life and dignity and ensure lawmakers hear the Gospel message about caring for most vulnerable in society.
Cardinal DiNardo said Advocacy Day was “of great importance to our Church, to our state’s legislators and to the people we serve.”
“We travel to Austin to discuss and advance the social teachings which come to us from Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, and are inseparable from what we believe: that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and has an inherent dignity and the right to life,” he said.
“It is encouraging to know that thousands of Catholics took time away from their schedules to support our bishops and to advance the social and moral concerns of the Church in pursuit of the common good,” he added.
“The pursuit of social justice is integral to our Catholic faith.”
“The pursuit of social justice is integral to our Catholic faith,” said Deacon Sam Dunning, director of the Office of Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. “Advocacy Day provides the Catholic faithful with an opportunity to live out the social mission of the Church; to incarnate these teachings in the real world — it is a great opportunity to both learn and live the social teachings of the Church.”
Having several thousand Catholics from across the state go to the Capitol as a unified group with one voice has a strong impact, Dunning said.
Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said the day was an exciting for constituents because they could stand in solidarity with their bishops and meet their local legislators who heard their points of view on important issues.
“The Catholic Church has a huge presence in Texas,” noted Dunning. “I know from personal experience that in the immediate wake of Advocacy Day, certain legislators are more attentive, have displayed interest in the areas of concern and many sign on as co-sponsors to bills the group is supporting.”