By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
“All Catholics have a voice, and I think that was a really powerful takeaway from today,” said Elizabeth Peppel, a confirmation student from Assumption, Barnesville. She invited her sponsor, Lori Cook, also a parishioner of Assumption, to join her in attending Catholics at the Capitol on Feb. 19.
“You can make a difference,” Cook said. “Every person showing up is asking to honor our faith and our beliefs for the dignity of human life.”
Forty people from the Diocese of Crookston gathered with more than 1,000 Catholics of all ages in St. Paul for a day of education, civic engagement and meetings with state lawmakers.
The event, which was held for the first time in 2017, is sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), a ministry of the state’s six dioceses that serves as the public policy voice of the Church in Minnesota.
“A lot of times the focus is on the national scene and people don’t realize that many of the big questions really do get resolved at the local level,” said Gloria Purvis, the emcee for the event. Purvis hosts Eternal Word Television Network’s (EWTN) Morning Glory radio show and works in prolife advocacy.
The morning was spent at Saint Paul RiverCentre hearing from speakers and learning about current issues impacting life and dignity in Minnesota.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia delivered the first address reminding hearers that Catholics have a right and duty to bring their beliefs with them to confront the social, economic and political problems of our day.
“For Catholics, that’s not just a privilege. It’s not just a right. It’s a demand of the Gospel, and a practical application of Christian faith to the realities of daily life. We have a duty to treat other people with charity and justice even when we disagree with them, but that can never be an excuse for our silence on matters of importance,” he said.
He said bringing moral convictions into the public square is important for people’s integrity and the integrity of the country. He stressed the importance of backing up prolife convictions with actions.
“People change through a witness of nobility, dedication and love from other people – people like each of you here in this room,” said Archbishop Chaput.
The second keynote was delivered by actor Jim Caviezel, most known for his portrayal of Jesus in the 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ”. He spoke about his experience in that role and the witness of St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata and Mother Angelica, the religious sister who founded EWTN.
“You are here today because you heard the call to help the defenseless,” Caviezel said.
The rest of the morning program included a video message from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, panel discussions and presentations about issues currently being discussed by lawmakers, and songs performed by Catholic music missionary Danielle Rose of Duluth.
Bishop John M. Quinn of the Diocese of Winona introduced four bills with the power to impact the unborn, expectant parents and families with young children during the first 1,000 days of life, or from conception through age two. The bills address issues including prenatal care, breastfeeding disparity, home visiting programs and transportation for students who are pregnant or parenting.
Bishop Quinn emphasized the importance of protecting the first 1,000 days of a child’s life with dignity, love and resources.
“We are prolife at every stage of life, especially with our infants and growing children,” said Bishop Quinn. “Stay prolife and encourage the legislators today.”
Anadia Cruz, a high school student from St. Francis de Sales, Moorhead, appreciated the encouragement to live as prolife witnesses.
“I am very prolife, and I stand by that very strongly,” she said. The speakers helped emphasize the importance of speaking up about these strong convictions. “It’s OK to stand for your opinion and speak about it and always defend your faith,” Cruz said.
The second issue highlighted by Catholics at the Capitol was the Surrogacy Abuse Prevention Act. This legislation would protect women and children from being bought and sold by creating a regulatory framework for surrogacy arrangements that includes safeguards and legal protections. It would forbid for-profit commercial surrogacy arrangements and require licensing for surrogacy agencies through the Department of Health.
Bishop Paul D. Sirba of the Diocese of Duluth spoke about this bill.
“Minnesota has no regulation surrounding this practice, leaving women open to exploitation and inviting in a number of contractual complications. Although as a matter of ethics, the Church opposes all forms of surrogacy, we are advocating HF-1000 and SF-1152 The Surrogacy Abuse Prevention Act which will take a strong step toward the proper protection of women and value of life. This bill bans only commercial surrogacy and stops a commercial surrogacy market from being created in the State of Minnesota,” he said.
After being inspired and prepared with information about key issues, participants were transported to the State Capitol to meet with their legislators. Catholics at the Capitol attendees met with 120 members of the state legislature. During the visits, groups shared information about the two highlighted issues.
Yvette Bruflodt of Holy Rosary, Detroit Lakes, has frequently been involved in political advocacy, but said this is the first time she did so specifically as a Catholic.
“I thought they were all very willing to listen to what we had to say. I think it was so powerful that we were face-to-face because I do a lot of emailing to them on subjects I am passionate about and … sometimes you never know if it’s a group answer,” she said.
Peppel also appreciated the conversations with legislators.
“With the face-to-face contact, you get that reassurance that they are listening, that they do care. I felt like it would be a one-way conversation, but I really felt like they did care about what we had to say and that they were listening to what we were concerned about,” she said.
Father Chuck Huck, Pastor of St. Philip, Bemidji, said one of the lawmakers his group met with was unaware of the five bills they brought up, and promised to keep an eye on them.
“I think an event like this is important for us as the people of God to make sure that our message of Catholic values, Catholic morals and Catholic teachings gets passed on to the legislators who are forming the laws that we live under and with that message coming across strongly it just might influence them to make the right bills happen,” he said.
Father Huck encourages people to personally reach out to their lawmakers in St. Paul or at home when they hold meetings or appear at events.
“They do want to hear what you have to say and they listen to voters who walk in and talk to them. Share your knowledge, share your information and encourage the legislators to vote the way you would like, but also thank them for their service,” he said.
To learn more about MCC or to join the Catholic Advocacy Network, visit www.mncatholic.org.
Rachel Noel, Freelance Writer, OND, contributed to this article.
Click HERE to view more photos from the event.