Catholic Citizenship

March 18-24, 2004
Catholic Citizenship
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Young people Travel to Albany and Find Themselves on the Senate Floor LEE CENTER — Diane Kullmann, director of religious education at St. Joseph’s Parish, invited some of her students to travel to Albany as part of the New York State Catholic Conference delegation. Kullmann wanted to expose the youth to a unique opportunity that would allow them to see their religious beliefs carried over into the public sector. Jessica Malowicki, a senior at Rome Free Academy and Warren Debany III, a junior, are both parishioners at St. Joseph’s. They not only learned about public policy but also witnessed lawmaking in action when Sen. Raymond Meier invited them onto the Senate floor.

Jessica said that the experience was much more hands-on than she anticipated. “The adults, both politicians and event organizers, treated us like adults and actively engaged us in conversation,” said Jessica. “I didn’t feel like I was talked down to at all.” Jessica said that the best part of the day was visiting with legislators. “Actively participating in my government in a way that many people do not get to do was immensely interesting and fulfilling,” she said. Kullmann said that Catholic Charities had given her a lot of information on what to expect at Public Policy Day. She was very pleased to be able share the experience with the students. “Jessica is interested in journalism and Warren is looking at going into law,” said Kullmann, “so it was particularly interesting for them.” Kullmann said that she called Sen. Meier, who is her cousin, and asked him for tips on visiting the capitol. “He asked when we were coming and if we had a specific agenda for the day. I told him we didn’t and he asked us to track him down.”

When Sen. Meier was called to the Senate floor, he took his entourage with him and showed them to the gallery. He hadn’t anticipated that he would be opening the Senate session. “He had his aide come and get us and take us down onto the floor,” said Kullmann. “Being on the floor was breath-taking,” said Jessica. “Even from the gallery, the ornate interior of the room is beautiful. It is very reminiscent of a church. The stained glass windows gave it that feel. When we arrived in the gallery, above the floor, we watched as Cardinal Egan was introduced by Sen. Meier and then the cardinal gave the opening prayer.” When Jessica, Warren and Kullmann were summoned to the Senate floor, they waited behind large gates until they were invited to the floor. “While in this area, the cardinal came out. I was close enough to reach out and touch him,” said Jessica. “That was startling. One minute I was a speck in the crowd for the Mass and the next I was right next to the cardinal.”

Jessica said that non-contested bills were being passed and that the entire experience was impressive. Warren agreed. When asked what his impression was of being on the floor, Warren said it was more casual than he thought it would be. “I ended up having to borrow a suit jacket though,” he said. Warren thought the day ran rather well. “There were many activities, and the ability to pick and choose a few among them gave the day much diversity,” he said. “I’ve never attended a Mass given by a cardinal, so that was a new experience for me. I’ve also never seen a Senate session.” Warren said that he went to Albany with an open mind and left with much to think about.

Kullmann was thankful that her cousin spent so much time explaining procedures to the students. “Ray was great with the kids,” she said. “He told them what takes place and explained the whole process while they were doing it. The kids were only a few feet away from the man calling role call.” Kullmann explained that with non-controversial votes, a shortened version of role call is used. “However, anyone who voted ‘no’ on the bill and wanted to speak was given the opportunity to do so,” she said. Warren’s overall impression of politicians is a favorable one. “I find them to be efficient hard-working people,” he said. Jessica thought that they were welcoming and interested in what they had to say.

Both students feel that Catholics have a loud voice in Albany. “I do think we have a loud voice in government, especially in New York State,” said Jessica. “New York is one state with a high Catholic population and I think the politicians know this. Additionally, there are a number of legislators that are Catholic themselves, therefore, they are sensitive to the requests of the church,” she said. Warren agrees that Catholic voters represent a large portion of the total voters in New York State. “But whether or not a majority of them vote along religious lines is another question,” he said.

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