When you think of March, St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s Day and the first day of spring probably come to your mind. There is another annual event, however, that occurs in March for those of us in New York State — Catholics at the Capitol. Cardinal Dolan and the bishops of New York State joined hundreds of other Catholic New Yorkers at the annual Catholics at the Capitol public policy advocacy day on Wednesday, March 19, at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. Participants from New York’s Catholic dioceses were also present, including over 100 participants from our diocese.
The day is devoted to advocacy on issues of grave importance. Many participants met with their Senate and Assembly representatives to present the Church’s teaching on these issues and everyone had the opportunity to participate in Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with Cardinal Dolan and the bishops.
Participants advocated on five issues identified as priorities by the bishops. The areas include:
Preserving our Catholic Schools through support of an Education Investment Tax Credit in the state budget. The tax credit would enable individuals and businesses to increase their charitable giving to public schools and to scholarship-making charities that help families choose private and religious schools.
“Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture . . .” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 2013).
“No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of the nation” (Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic Educators of
Supporting pregnant women and opposing abortion expansion by promoting the restoration of the Maternity and Early Education Childhood Foundation to the state budget. This program helps young, low-income pregnant women and infants with pre and post-natal care, parenting skills and other assistance. Advocacy in this area also includes opposing the abortion element of the “Women’s Equality Act,” which expands late-term abortions and allows non-doctors to perform abortions.
“It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day” (Pope Francis, State of the World Address, January 13, 2014).
“We promote a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion and by addressing poverty, providing health care, and offering other assistance to pregnant women, children and families” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2011).
Providing aid to vulnerable populations. Programs that serve vulnerable populations who are mentally ill, developmentally disabled and chemically addicted are often run by non-profits such as Catholic Charities agencies. These providers should be reimbursed for services at a level that reflects the value of their work.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. A stranger and you welcomed me. Naked and you clothed me. In prison and you visited me. When did we see you Lord?” (Mt 25:35-36).
“The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity” (St. John Chrysostom).
Ensuring humane treatment for the incarcerated by supporting the compassionate release of incarcerated persons who are elderly or infirm and are at low risk for re-offending.
“No cell is so isolated as to exclude the Lord, none. He is there, he weeps with them, works with them, waits with them. His paternal and maternal love reaches everywhere” (Pope Francis, National Congress of Chaplains of Italian Prisons, October 23, 2013).
Providing justice for farmworkers that will ensure that they receive the same protections as all other workers in New York State.
“Agricultural labor involves some of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, with workers exposed to harsh working conditions, pesticides and other chemicals, and long hours of labor-intensive work…. Labor protections for agricultural workers should be consistent with protections for other workers in the country” (USCCB, A Catholic Agenda for Action – Pursuing a More Just Agriculture System, 2003).
Each year when I participate in Catholics at the Capitol, I am reminded that there are many moral issues before us. These issues directly affect human lives, religious liberty, the definition of marriage, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, undocumented persons living within our borders and the war, terror and violence that cost lives within our own country and areas of conflict throughout the world.
As we keep informed on the many moral issues before us we need to keep in mind that respect for the dignity of each person is the core of our Catholic social and moral teaching. It is our responsibility to uphold the dignity of each person, focus on the common good rather than our own personal interests and participate in civic life. In order to fulfill this responsibility, our consciences need to be formed through the reading of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church, examination of the facts and prayerful reflection.
Catholics at the Capitol demonstrated the strength and unity of the Catholic voice to our state lawmakers. Hopefully, our efforts will not be reserved to one day in the year. In the days and years before us, let us continue to recognize Christ in our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable, and work on their behalf.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.