Picture this. The biggest blizzard in years is headed towards the Mid-Atlantic, but despite this, hundreds of Catholics committed to social justice gather in Washington D.C. to pray, learn, and advocate for “Living Mercy in our Common Home” at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) from January 23-26. While the storm blew on, the event continued. It was my first CSMG, and I was curious to see how the days would go.
Providing a reflective beginning to CSMG, Bishop Nelson Pérez asked us to remember the encounters we had with Christ in the past that had become wellsprings for us. Christ’s love is the foundation that drew all of us together from different ministries, universities and dioceses to again encounter Him and one another.
Encounter leads to awareness and education. The days of workshops and presentations focused on community for mission, policy, and preparing for advocacy. I attended workshops on living the Jubilee Year of Mercy and Global Solidarity, Practicing Mercy in Parishes and Communities with Restorative Justice, and more.
The workshop on Faithful Citizenship reminded me that by virtue of our baptism, we are all missionaries called to evangelize and share the Good News. It struck me more deeply that there exists a connection between evangelization and participation in the political life and pursuit of the common good. Faithful citizens have a responsibility to educate themselves on current issues and the Church’s social doctrine. In Pope Francis’ address to Congress last September, the pope said, “Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.” This, and CSMG, reminded me of that fact that to whom much has been given, much is expected, and that advocating for the poor and vulnerable, the immigrant, the criminal, the environment, and so on is an act of love connected to our faith. This love sends us forth as missionary disciples.
In the same address, Pope Francis went on to say, “It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.” With well-formed consciences and a spirit of charity, Catholics can and ought to speak to moral and social issues in the public square. The bishops of the United States give examples of various forms of participation, such as “running for public office; working within political parties; communicating…concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, [and] community organizations.” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, no.16)
I left CSMG empowered and excited to meet with my members of Congress and to dialogue with them. Amidst the business of life, here was one concrete step I could take to keep the momentum of CSMG going. As I have been on a few district visits now, advocacy seems less daunting and more of a worthwhile challenge to be a missionary disciple, promoting encounter, human dignity, and the common good.
Challenge yourself to take some time to read up on the issues, study the talking points, and schedule a district visit with your member of Congress. Research from the Congressional Management Foundation shows advocacy is the most effective way of making an impact on policy.
See more resources on the USCCB website: http://www.usccb.org/about/justice-peace-and-human-development/resources-and-tools.cfm
Anna Capizzi is a former intern with the Office of Domestic Social Development at the USCCB. She is graduate student studying moral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University.