On March 9, 70-plus people from the Diocese of St. Cloud joined others from throughout Minnesota for the first Catholics at the Capitol event. This well-organized gathering included addresses from each of the bishops of Minnesota, outlining the three key issues we were to focus on in our legislative meetings later in the day.
Along with the excellent presentations from the bishops, there were impactful videos for each topic, illustrating the necessity of the bill proposed. We were given materials, talking points, biographies of each of the legislators we would be visiting, and backgrounders on legislative principles.
Slate of issues
The first topic presented was on expanding educational opportunity. Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, highlighted that parents are primary educators of their children and should have the opportunity to choose a school where their children can thrive; that to close the education gap in many areas of our state, non-public schools can be partners in this endeavor; and that educational choice has proven to help everyone.
At the end of his inspiring talk, he asked all of us to be part of a short video for Gov. Mark Dayton to encourage him to sign the bill when it comes to his desk. Can you imagine the impact that 1,000 voting citizens shouting “Support School Choice” can have on a decision to sign a bill?
Bishop Donald Kettler was up for the second topic: fostering family economic stability. We had discussed this at a recent curia meeting. It was clear that Bishop Kettler has a deep concern for struggling families, particularly in rural areas of our diocese. This issue is dear to our bishop’s heart. The Minnesota Family Investment Program’s assistance has not increased since 1986, and overcoming poverty cannot happen using 1986 dollars in 2017.
Another piece of this topic is to eliminate the marriage penalty tax. Discouraging the bond of marriage for families only puts added strain on the children that it affects so greatly. At a time when the number of marriages has dropped to a new low, and in light of the fact that the majority of people under the poverty level are single parents, it does not make sense that we continue to punish people for being married by extra tax burdens.
Bishop John LeVoir of the Diocese of New Ulm spoke about protecting life and advancing care, particularly with regard to the threat of assisted suicide becoming legal in our state.
Bishop LeVoir referred to St. Teresa of Calcutta and how she saw the face of Christ in suffering people to whom she ministered. He reminded us that if a person was suicidal, we should offer them hope, compassion and assistance. But this bill instead would offer people who are ill pills to end their life. Where is our compassion? If we are truly loving as Christ taught us to be, we should provide them a safe environment and palliative care to provide comfort in their last days.
So, guided by all the words of wisdom and armed with talking points and handouts, we boarded buses at the RiverCentre in St. Paul to travel to the Capitol! The people from my legislative district met with all three of our legislators — two representatives and one senator. We had appointments with all three and, as we waited for our meeting time, we were greeted by the secretary or assistant. They were all very friendly and seemed appreciative that we cared enough to make the trip.
Since this took place during the legislative session, there were a few times we needed to wait as our representative raced through the tunnels from the Capitol to their offices and entered almost breathless for our appointment. We in turn had only 15 minutes to go through those same tunnels for our next meeting. All in all, each legislator was genuinely happy to greet us, wanted to hear our areas of concern and offered his or her insights on the topic.
Because this was during a legislative session, you can imagine all the bills they had floating in their brains. We at times had to remind them of the nuisances of some of the bills proposed since some had not had their hearings to date. This led to more than just a campaign slogan or sound bite on the issues. It turned out to be an easy and engaged conversation with the group.
This day was very well spent. It gave me more confidence than ever to continue writing and calling my representatives when important legislation is presented. Even if I get a form letter as a response, knowing that truly our voice is considered and taken seriously is encouraging; it isn’t an exercise in futility. Please consider joining the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network so you, too, can be alerted when to be part of the political process. Isn’t that what being a faithful citizen is all about?
To join the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network, visit: https://mncatholic.org/join-mn-catholic-advocacy-network-mncan.
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.