March 11-17, 2004
By Kristen Fox / SUN Staff Writer
Catholic Advocacy Network Helps Catholics Put Their Faith Into Action
One of the greatest rewards of living in a democracy is the ability for its citizens to have a voice in government. Catholics have a special obligation to exercise this right to promote policies that will respect human life, meet human needs, promote social justice and serve the common good. A new initiative by the NYS Bishops in collaboration with the NYS Catholic Conference will help more Catholics put their faith into action.
The Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) is a new way for the 7 million Catholics statewide to lobby and become active participants in the political process in Albany. The website, www.nyscatholic.org, keeps Catholics informed on social, economic and political issues that confront today’s Church. It also provides people with educational materials, alerts on breaking issues and –– through the click of a button –– allows them to communicate with representatives in Albany and Washington during important times. “Advocacy is an important role in the church,” said Father Charles Vavonese, administrator of Holy Trinity Church in Syracuse and a member of the State Coordinating Committee for School Advocacy. “CAN gives Catholics a flexible, easy way to lobby.”
Father Vavonese said that Catholics have a two-fold obligation to get involved in political issues. “As members of society who pay taxes, we have this right as an expression of our citizenship,” he said. “We also have a duty from a theological perspective to join with other members of our church to help those who are disenfranchised.” Bob Bergeson is a DPC and parish council member at Holy Trinity. He pointed out several issues of particular concern to Catholics.
“Health insurance with regards to birth control and affordable housing are important topics right now,” said Bergeson. One of the issues of greatest concern to Catholics is proposed new bills which threaten the livelihood of church and other non-profit groups, said Father Vavonese. The NYS Senate is considering a package of bills that would re-write the laws regarding real property tax exemptions and expose parishes, schools, retreat houses, nursing homes, camps, and charities of nearly every kind to crippling taxes with potentially devastating results. According to Bergeson, the way that CAN is set up keeps the seven social justice issues at the forefront. “Catholics have an obligation to be conscious of social justice teachings. To remain silent is to condone,” said Bergeson. Catholic social teachings include; life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community and participation, rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, dignity of work and the rights of workers, and solidarity and care of God’s creation.
Citizen input helps shape decisions of state and national lawmakers. Lobbying is another way that Catholics can help their neighbors, said Father Vavonese. “As Catholics, we have a prophetic role to directly care for our neighbors. Another way is indirectly, by seeing that our society takes care of those who are disenfranchised,” he said. Churches are trying to get as many parishioners as possible involved in CAN. Father Vavonese held a CAN sign-up during all Masses at Holy Trinity on the weekend of Feb. 20. Approximately 55 Holy Trinity parishioners signed up for CAN, but Father Vavonese would like to see everyone take advantage of the opportunity. As more Catholics get involved in shaping public policy, the Catholic voice will become louder in Albany, he said. “To generate a lot of email is to our credit,” said Father Vavonese. “We need to show our legislators how seriously we take our prophetic role.” There are two simple ways to join CAN. Those with computers can log on to www.nyscatholic.org. Those without computers can sign-up via mail. Pamphlets are available at churches.
Once members sign up, they will be kept informed on issues of special significance to them through emails, educational materials and newsletters. Father Vavonese hopes that CAN will get more Catholic involved in the political process. “I don’t think the Catholic agenda is taken seriously,” he said. “Research shows that many Catholics don’t vote. If we don’t vote, we disenfranchise ourselves.”
Bishop James Moynihan urged all Catholics to take part in the unique program. “It is the right and responsibility of every Catholic to put his or her faith into action by advocating with legislators on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, the unborn, the sick and the oppressed,” he said in a CAN pamphlet distributed to diocesan parishes. “It is important that the Catholic voice be heard.”
Catholic Press Association