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Local Catholics make their voices heard

By Gail Besse Special to The Pilot
Posted: 3/2/2007

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Looking for a Lenten action that’s grounded in Scripture? Becoming a little more politically active is one response to Christ’s call to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14).

It’s a response that Catholics of all ages are feeling the Holy Spirit prompt them toward as the disconnect widens between religion and public life.

Take 30-year-old Victor Pap and his 26-year-old wife Mary, for example. Concern about the world that their infant daughter will face led this Weymouth couple to sacrifice their time in order to work with VoteOnMarriage.org, the coalition of faith-based groups backing the Protection of Marriage Amendment.

On the other hand, Jane Wilcox of Assonet found she had more time to read up on issues since she retired from teaching. “I realized there’s a need for Catholics in the pews like me -- who never did a thing -- to say my vote counts, too,” she said.

Wilcox now volunteers with the lay-run Catholic Citizenship as a legislative liaison. She lets parishes in her district know what their Beacon Hill lawmakers are doing on issues like cloning, stem-cell research and education.

“People need to understand how politics affects our kids and grandchildren,” she said. “I wasn’t that comfortable with this at first, but I felt like it was a moral obligation. And it’s really not that hard to simply say: this is my opinion.”

Likewise, Patricia Stebbins of East Sandwich found that as she spoke out on pro-life issues, other Catholics found their voices. Now she and people from 14 churches -- the Cape Cod Family Life Alliance -- meet monthly to exchange ideas.

“It’s an exciting group,” she said. “We promote education, arrange for speakers, tape cable shows. Our meetings don’t go into politics, but of course we’re involved as individuals.”

Stebbins would love to see similar cells multiply statewide. “We started with just two friends who had met for lunch and talked about the need to communicate,” she said.

Politicians who do support Judeo-Christian values urgently need support, as recent news reports reveal. The Boston gay advocacy newspaper In Newsweekly Jan. 25 detailed a well-organized strategy to lobby Bay State legislators.

And a March article in Atlantic Monthly disclosed how former state Rep. Phil Travis of Rehoboth -- who led the fight to defend traditional marriage before his retirement -- was among those targeted for defeat by Colorado software mogul Tim Gill’s nationwide network of gay political donors.

Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly urged Catholics to exercise their political right to speak out on key life and family issues.

In his address to the Roman Curia on Dec. 22, the pope defended the right of the faithful, and the Church itself, to resist attempts to legally redefine marriage. He explained that it is our duty to defend the human person, according to ZENIT News Service.

The theme of civic responsibility permeates Catholic doctrine.

In “Gaudium et Spes,” the 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Second Vatican Council wrote that “laymen are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society.”

Pope John Paul II further spelled out mankind’s urgent need for a Christian witness by the lay faithful in his 1987 Apostolic Exhortation “Christifideles Laici.”

“If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle,” he wrote.

And in their 2004 document, “Catholics in Political Life,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops noted, “The separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices, but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.”

Catholic Citizenship began in 2004 at the prompting of the bishops of Massachusetts, who asked former Vatican Ambassador Raymond Flynn to head up a civic association that would encourage Catholics to participate in the legislative and electoral process so as to support public policies faithful to Catholic values and the teaching of the magisterium.

“It’s time we let our elected officials know how we feel, and more importantly, what we believe,” Flynn said in a statement on the group’s Web site. “If they ignore us, as most of our present Catholic elected officials do, we must be ready to make them pay the price. We should, just like our Irish forebearers did, learn to use the voting booth to send a clear message.”