Catholics at the Capitol helps make voices heard in government
More than 160 Catholics from across Nebraska – even as far west as Scottsbluff – attended Catholics at the Capitol March 21 in Lincoln. The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) was honored by the turnout and hopes the event will continue growing. While this is a once-a-year event, Catholics are always encouraged to make their voices heard at the Capitol.
For those unable to attend, I want to highlight some insights. For those who attended, consider this a refresher.
Opening Remarks. Grand Island Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt began by underscoring the critical role of the laity in the life of the church and referenced a Second Vatican Council document, "Apostolicam Actuositatem" (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity).
The document expresses that the laity is called and sent by God to make disciples of all the nations, which includes renewing the whole temporal (earthly) order. The call to evangelize and sanctify demands that we be salt and light to the world.
Yet, Bishop Hanefeldt noted, "our culture today wants us to put our light under the bushel basket at best." Nevertheless, he went on, we have an "obligation to stand up for what is good and true and right."
Bishop Hanefeldt referenced hostility that occurred the previous day on the legislative floor when the work of the Catholic Church and the NCC was undermined and misrepresented.
In a time where the truth of Jesus Christ is routinely ignored, Bishop Hanefeldt’s call to courageously engage society as faithful laity is more important than ever.
Legislative Updates. While offering updates on legislation, NCC staff discussed the need to engage with and educate senators.
Jeff Kanger, associate director for pro-life and family, noted that senators are not always aware of the charitable works Catholics are doing across Nebraska. Jeff encouraged attendees to share their stories when meeting senators, provide information about their local parishes, and detail the charitable works undertaken in the name of Jesus Christ and for the good of society.
Michael McHale, general counsel/policy analyst, emphasized the need to communicate fundamental principles when engaging senators as these principles are not always understood. For example, McHale said many people do not realize justice and tax equity demand government provide concrete opportunities for parents – especially those in low-income situations – to send their children to the school of their choice.
I highlighted that while some senators speak ill of the church, many senators admire the work of the church and are fellow believers in Christ. I also reiterated our duty to pray for our government officials and their families.
Keynote Speakers. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley provided an energetic talk about the need to be active at every level of government. He also quoted Pope John Paul II’s words from the saint’s 1979 Mass in our nation’s capital: "When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy human life."
These very words led Foley to become more personally involved in the pro-life movement, and he used these words as an invitation for every attendee to defend unborn human life.
Former state Sen. Tony Fulton insisted that everyone remember the humanity of state senators, and that each senator is no different from you or me. He shared memories of interactions with constituents and emphasized the importance of standing out when talking with government representatives. Fulton also stressed the power in numbers. He said eight to 10 contacts from constituents on an issue would gain his attention and lead him to more closely study the issue.
Meeting State Senators. The capstone of the day (besides celebration of the holy Mass) was watching the 160-plus participants make their way to the Capitol, observe the Legislature, be officially recognized by the Unicameral, and engage with their state senators. One by one, senators left the legislative floor to talk with Catholics. Some encounters lasted only a few moments while others lasted a half-hour – all of them fruitful.
Closing Words. As Lauren Garcia, NCC communications and outreach specialist, ended the morning program, she told participants to never be shy to reach out to the NCC. We are here to serve the people of God.
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.