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Capitol 101 events help Catholics work for the common good

By Ashlyn Daly/Freelance Writer, OND

St. Paul, Minn -- Pope Francis said, “Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good.”

This year, the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC) held three Capitol 101 gatherings at the Capitol in St. Paul to help Catholics learn how to serve the common good through politics in the state. During events in February, March and April, attendees experienced the law-making process, learned about faithful citizenship, identified key issues and prayed for legislators.

On April 17, roughly 60 Catholics – six of them from the Diocese of Crookston – came from around Minnesota to discuss how their voices can be heard in the state Capitol. The event focused on two main issues: human trafficking and commercial surrogacy.

“It is vital for us to have our voice in the mix,” said Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens, Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “We want to see Jesus’ mission lived in the world.”

“My voice, as a Catholic, matters,” said Rachel Herbeck, Outreach and Policy Coordinator with MCC. In her role, she helps others recognize their voices matter too.

As the voice for the Catholic Church in Minnesota, MCC supports the ministry of the bishops of Minnesota. The organization works to encourage political and community leaders to create legislation that protects human dignity and serves the common good. They also help citizens of the state contribute through education on issues and the political process. Capitol 101 provided the perfect opportunity for these goals to take action.

“Capitol 101 is an important opportunity where Catholics can go and have a voice in a place that we don’t always feel welcome,” said Bishop Cozzens.

Capitol 101 was a chance for people of all ages to expand their knowledge of how our government works. Shawn Peterson, MCC’s Associate Director for Public Policy, thoroughly explained the process of how a bill becomes a law. He also provided information about two key issues being discussed by state lawmakers.

Peterson spoke to attendees about the uncomfortable connection between pornography and human trafficking. Bill SF 2554 (Benson)/ HF 2967 (Lohmer) publicly recognizes the link between pornography and human trafficking. Making this connection helps by adding to the list of data that may be collected, thereby providing law enforcement better information to fight the commodification of human persons. This bill also directs fines collected for the offenses of child pornography and the dissemination and display of harmful materials to minors to the Safe Harbor Program. This bill does not make pornography illegal, limit free speech or redirect funds from any existing program.

The second bill Peterson discussed was The Surrogacy Abuse Prevention Act, SF 2740 (Benson)/ HF 2994 (Wills). This bill prevents exploitation of woman and commodification of children and forbids for-profit commercial surrogacy arrangements. This bill does not ban surrogacy.

“If surrogacy is allowed at all the goal is to make it look less like human reproduction trafficking and more like an adoption,” said Peterson.

Roughly 1,000 bills are introduced each month. Capitol 101 emphasized with that volume of legislation, legislators need the citizens of Minnesota to help them decide which are the most important issues to the public. It is critical for citizens to reach out to representatives to share their viewpoints, discuss problems and talk about how they can serve the common good. During Capitol 101, attendees set up one-on-one meetings with their lawmakers. These encounters help create a relationship and allow for sharing viewpoints and addressing concerns.

Taking time to pray for lawmakers and the issues impacting Minnesota was also a key component of the day.

Representative Joyce Peppin, Majority Leader for the Minnesota House of Representatives, spoke during Capitol 101. Part of her role as Majority Leader is to decide which bills are voted on.

“Catholics have to make it through the higher power to make those bills go to the floor,” she said.

For more information about MCC’s work, visit www.mncatholic.org. To receive updates and action alerts about current legislation in the state sign up for the Catholic Advocacy Network at www.mncatholic.org/actioncenter.