Reed Heidelberger doesn’t consider himself to be an activist, or someone who is politically involved, but he said he struggles with the feeling that he should be more engaged in the political arena.
“Being informed on issues is a two-way street for Catholics,” he said. “We need to be informed, quite frankly, for our own self-preservation sometimes, so we can be aware of policies or attitudes that might — intentionally or unintentionally — undermine our faith or the ability to practice it.”
On the other hand, he said, he believes that the Catholic faith has much to offer even a secular world in understanding how to have a system that helps people live well together, with peace, hope and dignity.
“As a parent, that is the kind of society that I want my children to be able to experience,” he said. “I also want them to understand the role they can and should have in helping to make that a reality. The first step in being able to do that is for them to be informed about what the issues are and what our Catholic faith has to say on those issues.”
That’s why Heidelberger is attending Catholics at the Capitol March 9 in St. Paul with his two oldest children, Lily, 14, and Jonah, 11.
The daylong event is an effort of Minnesota’s bishops, who are calling for Catholics from across the state to participate in a day of advocacy to promote life and human dignity.
The day, open to everyone, includes the opportunity to meet with state legislators and to hear from speakers including Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Gloria Purvis Scott, chairperson for Black Catholics United for Life.
The event focuses on three main issues: preventing the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, expanding school choice and addressing persistent family poverty.
“It’s an opportunity for citizens to get to know the people who represent them,” Bishop Donald Kettler said, “so that if something comes up you’re not afraid to talk to them. It is also important for people to know they have a responsibility as Christians to speak up on the issues. It’s not just our job as bishops to be engaged on these topics.”
A ministry of presence
The Heidelbergers heard about the event through an email from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota.
“When I think about why this event is important, the words that keep coming to mind are ‘witness’ and ‘ministry of presence,’” Reed Heidelberger said. “I don’t consider myself a political person. In fact, I often fall into a quite cynical or even despairing mindset when I contemplate the political landscape.
“The idea of ‘political homelessness’ for Catholics came up a lot during the last election,” he said. “I know that feeling well and have experienced it for years. That is a part of what left me feeling cynical and despairing. I feel like Catholics at the Capitol can be at least a partial remedy to that, by providing an opportunity for us to witness to our faith in the public sphere and be a ministry of presence for other ordinary Catholics like ourselves.”
Heidelberger also hopes that their presence can reach others — lawmakers, the media, non-Catholics.
“But I don’t even consider that the main focus of this event for me,” he said. “I really feel like it’s a chance for us, as Catholics, to be there for one another, to support one another. … Even if that doesn’t change a single law or public policy, if it can help push back against political and cultural despair to some degree and strengthen our faith, I think it will be a success.”
The Heidelbergers, members of St. Bartholomew Parish in Villard, have five children ranging in age from 1 to 14 who Sarah, Reed’s wife, teaches at home.
“Informing our children or deciding to make events such as this available for our children is important in educating them,” Sarah said.
“I believe that for them to identify real faces and places with an event sets a groundwork for them in the future,” she said. “It is one thing for them to hear us talk about it and explain the importance of these different issues that may impact them one day, but that all changes when they can hear and see others who explain it to them. … As parents, as with all life lessons, we can talk about them and teach all we know, but sometimes they need to ‘catch’ those lessons in other visible ways as well.”
Jonah said he is most looking forward to seeing all the bishops in one place and “hopefully getting to meet them up close.”
“The last time I visited the Capitol with my family was several years ago,” he said. “Now that I’m a bit older, I think it will be neat to be inside with a big group of people and see it differently.”
The day also includes Mass, lunch and a closing ceremony and send-off with the bishops.