Participants at a 2019 Catholics at the Capitol event meet with Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, second from right. NEBRASKA CATHOLIC CONFERENCE

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Online sessions offered to help give Catholics a voice in state lawmaking

This Lent Archbishop George J. Lucas has encouraged Catholics to stay away from media sources that stoke animosity and division – but he’s not asking the faithful to disengage altogether.

In fact, he’s calling them to be active in the state’s legislative process – sending them out as Christ’s disciples to be informed and to advocate for the common good of Nebraskans, especially the most weak and vulnerable.

“Most of us are not capable of changing the world or the whole direction of the country,” the archbishop said during a March 9 online session of Catholics at the Capitol, organized by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC). “But we can have a profound influence in our … state and local communities.”

Every year the NCC invites and helps Catholics across the state to become more involved in public policy issues and the legislative process through a Catholics at the Capitol gathering in Lincoln.

That event has continued this year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s been offered virtually, via Zoom, and split over three sessions.

Two were held March 9 and March 16 and featured Archbishop Lucas; Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln; Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, speaker of the Legislature; Lt. Gov. Mike Foley; Nikki Shassere, a stay-at-home mom with a passion for advocacy who has worked for the Church and in politics; and NCC staff.

Recordings of these sessions are available through links on the Catholics at the Capitol page of the NCC website, www.necatholic.org/news-events/catholics-at-the-capitol.

A third session will be March 23, noon to 1:30 p.m. It will dive into the NCC’s top priority bills and address how, during the pandemic, Catholics can have their voices heard by elected officials. Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn will talk about school choice legislation, and Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha will talk about closing the unemployment gap for immigrants.

To register for the final session, go to the NCC website: necatholic.org/news-events/catholics-at-the-capitol. A Zoom link will be sent to participants, who also will receive an NCC advocacy packet.

The packet includes advocacy tips and information on dozens of measures before the Legislature, including those aimed at protecting religious freedom, helping parents who’ve experienced a stillbirth and expanding food assistance for the poor. The packet also includes a holy card, a gift card for a free coffee (to “jolt advocacy efforts”) and a stamped postcard and thank-you note ready for writing to a senator.

“Catholics at the Capitol is always a great opportunity for Catholics to get engaged on our priority bills for the session and to build relationships with legislators,” said Lauren Garcia, communications and outreach specialist at the NCC, which represents the public policy interests of the three Catholic dioceses in the state.

“While this year the event looks a little different, we are still happy to feature several elected officials and our bishops,” she said.

The online sessions have offered Nebraska Catholics ways to be active and involved, Garcia said.

“Lt. Gov. Mike Foley always says, ‘Decisions are made by those who show up,’ and I think that is great motivation for getting involved,” she said. “It’s easy to despair or complain about the political climate in our state or country, but it takes effort and time to get informed and stay engaged. We hope these events help Catholics do just that.”

Archbishop Lucas said he is grateful for the NCC and the opportunities it provides for Catholics to be advocates and witnesses for their faith.

“We put ourselves on the line a little bit, not for controversy’s sake,” he said, “but for the sake of the truth and the sake of the common good in our state.”

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Other upcoming scheduled events include:

  • March 19 – The second session, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., will feature Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and Nikki Shassere, a stay-at-home mom with a passion for advocacy who has worked for the Church and in politics.
  • March 23 – The third session, from noon to 1:30 p.m., will dive into the NCC’s top priority bills and address how, during the pandemic, Catholics can have their voices heard by elected officials. Also, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn will talk about school choice legislation, and Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha will talk about closing the unemployment gap for immigrants.

These online sessions offer Nebraska Catholics ways to be active and involved, Garcia said.

“Lt. Gov. Mike Foley always says, ‘Decisions are made by those who show up,’ and I think that is great motivation for getting involved,” she said. “It’s easy to despair or complain about the political climate in our state or country, but it takes effort and time to get informed and stay engaged. We hope these events help Catholics do just that.”

People can participate via Zoom in one or more sessions. To register, go to the NCC website. A Zoom link will be sent to participants, who also will receive an NCC advocacy packet.

The NCC suggests getting a small group of friends together to take part. The sessions will also be recorded for later viewing.