‘Catholics at the Capitol’ aims to inspire public policy participation

by Maria Wiering
The Catholic Spirit

ST. PAUL – Minnesota’s Catholics have a new opportunity to join their bishops and learn how to approach key policy areas through the lens of faith.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is hosting the first Catholics at the Capitol event March 9 at the St. Paul RiverCentre and State Capitol Building in St. Paul.

The event is intended to be more than an issue lobbying day, said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director. He hopes participants gain a deeper understanding of how Catholic teaching can shape their approach in the public square.

“What we need to do is inspire, engage and equip Catholics as Catholics to participate in the public policy process, and that’s what this day is meant to do,” Adkins said.

Scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the day will include speakers Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., and Gloria Purvis Scott, a commentator for the Eternal Word Television Network and chairwoman for Black Catholics United for Christ.

The event will also include prayer, as well as issue and advocacy training on education, anti-poverty efforts, and defense of life. All of the state’s active bishops plan to attend.

The initiative is the first of its kind for MCC, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota. The organization has long participated in advocacy days including the March for Life and the annual Joint Religious Legislative Coalition Day on the Hill, but never before has it brought together people solely because of their shared Catholic faith.

“A lot of our bread-and-butter issues were covered by other advocacy coalitions or advocacy partners that we could funnel Catholics into,” Adkins said. “What changed is that not only do we need a distinctly Catholic and faith voice at the Capitol, but we (also) need to equip Catholics to engage the political process.”

After the morning program at the RiverCentre, participants will go to the State Capitol to meet in groups with their legislators. Adkins hopes that encounter is the basis for ongoing relationships between the lawmakers and constituents.

“There are so many barriers to participation in the public policy process: ‘I don’t know what to say; I don’t know who to contact,’” Adkins said. “Most Catholics don’t know who their state legislators are, so what we’re really trying to do here is not just to go and tell legislators what the Church thinks about an issue, but really help Catholics – on whatever issue they’re concerned about – be better public servants and faithful citizens.”

Adkins expects participants to be well-received by their lawmakers.

“Legislators want to hear from their constituents because they want to know what their constituents are thinking,” he said. “Sometimes issues are not on their radar, and their constituents bring those issues to their attention.

“This isn’t about pressuring legislators or imposing our will on them,” he added. “It’s actually a service to legislators … (to offer) our perspective as Catholics, as a member of a particular parish, of a particular community, about what serves the common good. And it’s definitely important for Catholics like anyone else in society to offer that perspective.”

Early bird registration is $20. Youth ages 22 and younger are free. Registration includes continental breakfast and a box lunch. Catholics interested in serving as district leaders are encouraged to contact the MCC. For more information, visit http://www.catholicsatthecapitol.org.