BATON ROUGE — Catholics emerged from St. Joseph Cathedral Parish Hall in Baton Rouge on a sunny, breezy day May 18 after praying together, learning about Catholic social justice teachings and getting updated on actions being taken by the Louisiana State Legislature.
They walked down the street with confidence and a sense of purpose in their step and entered the Capitol to watch the legislators in action. Most importantly, they gained an appreciation about their roles as Catholics in the political process.
The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored the day, with St. Joseph Cathedral as the gathering hub of prayer and hospitality.
LCCB Executive Director Tom Costanza explained to the attendees as they first gathered, about areas of priority for LCCB during the current session, which was scheduled to end June 6: Stabilizing the care of vulnerable children in intermediate care facilities; pro-life issues; promoting parental choice and religious freedom; continuing restorative justice programs; addressing poverty; and caring for God’s creation.
Speaking of the complexity of legislative activities, Costanza said, “It could be overwhelming, but I think they got a glimpse of how the Catholic Church is present and how they might participate more fully in the future.”
After a morning of participating in and observing committee hearings, the group returned to the cathedral for Mass, celebrated by pastor Father Cary Bani. Lunch followed, during which time four legislators and an elected official shared how their faith played a role in their public life.
Attendees then returned to the Senate and House chambers to watch legislators debate bills.
Participants came from different areas of the state and several were attending a legislative session for the first time.
Sister Mary Lou Specha PBVM, executive director of Hotel Hope, a ministry for women and children in New Orleans, was particularly interested in legislation relating to housing.
“What I see is that mental illness and related issues, such as drug addiction, are related to homelessness,” said Sister Mary Lou. “I really appreciate the voices of the bishops on behalf of those in need.
“I appreciate having the voices of the bishops. It’s important to bring forth our views as Catholics to the legislators on behalf of the ‘least of these.’ ”
There was also good representation among ministry program leaders from the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“In a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 16, 2013, Pope Francis stated that ‘Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good,’ ” said Randall Waguespack, Director Office of Life, Peace & Justice and permanent deacon candidate of the class of 2022 for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“We are all called to participate, but most of us don’t know where to begin. Faithful Citizenship Day at the Capitol showed me an easy way to keep up with House and Senate bills that address issues that are important to me as a Catholic and it gave me an opportunity to experience firsthand how I can advocate for or against legislation that impacts our rights, our most vulnerable citizens and the environment.”
He said monitoring all the bills and interpreting them in light of the Catholic faith is a full-time job.
“I could never keep up with this on my own. I was pleased to learn that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops does this for us and that their website has an easy way to access all the information on what is happening at the Capitol,” Waguespack said. “We also had a chance to experience how the political process works and how we can register our opinion on a bill before it is voted on.”
Deacon Joseph Bresowar, who was ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop Michael G. Duca at the cathedral May 28 and is scheduled to be ordained a priest next year, said he was intrigued by having a front seat to what happens at the Legislature.
“After attending Faithful Citizenship Day, I feel that I would be much more comfortable engaging in this process in the future,” he said.
He attended because he believed in his priestly formation and is also interested in learning “anything that benefit him as a priest,” including keeping up with issues that impact those whom he serves.
The deacon anticipates one of the issues shaping his ministry early on will be the decision U.S. Supreme Court will hand down this summer that can potentially overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 landmark case legalizing abortion.
Looking through the political process from a eucharistic perspective, Costanza noted that The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Eucharist commits us to the poor and vulnerable.”
“The Eucharist is the source and summit and what gives us the steadfast spirit to participate as faithful citizens,” said Costanza.
The LCCB provides information, resources and “take action” steps that Catholics can do to vote and become involved and make their voices heard on their website, laccb.org.