If we continue to stay at home on Election Day, we have no one to blame for what is going on in our nation but ourselves. Your vote can make a difference.
I recall one Sunday morning in 1983 just after Mass before the big Columbus Day Parade in East Boston; several of the candidates for public office had attended the service and then proceeded to walk outside the church to greet the faithful. Everyone was surprised but happy to be so warmly greeted by so many of Boston's leading politicians. Even the media was out in force. I was thinking about this the other day when I read about the passing of Anthony Albano, a legendary East Boston political operative and a man whose heart was about helping people.
I knew Anthony long before politics. He once told me that if he could do anything well in life, he would like to be able to shoot a basketball like Ray Flynn. Even with that well intended compliment and our mutual respect for each other, Anthony did not support me for Mayor of Boston in 1983. "Ray, doesn't have any money, so he can't win," he famously told his political army in Ward One. But thanks to his friend and basketball competitor Brian Wallace from South Boston, we remained good friends over the years. Like Anthony, Brian would become a popular and outstanding political voice in his community, serving as one of its greatest state representatives.
Something that Anthony "The Great" said to me that day while standing outside of church says a lot about the importance of the Catholic vote. "Ray, every candidate is here because this is where the votes are," he said. My old friends Joe Arena from the Knights of Columbus and Joe Cuneo who did a lot of great work to help sick children at St. Jude's Hospital were with me that day in East Boston introducing me to his mostly Italian-American neighbors. Joe Arena said to the pastor, "Father, we should have elections every week. We would get the politicians to attend Mass all the time." We all laughed at Joe's comment, but it was not without relevance.
Over the past 15 years we have witnessed a dramatic drop in the number of people who vote and also the number of people who attend Mass each week. That 1983 election, in most parts of the city, almost 80 percent of Boston voters turned out to vote. We have seen a dramatic drop in civic interest, including in highly Catholic neighborhoods. "What's the point," it's often said. "My vote is not going to make any difference. Elections are controlled and dominated by big money and special interest groups, which often are contrary to our traditional Catholic values on life and family." That's why it's so critical that the Church and religious groups begin to get more involved in the civic life of our community.
This past week, I was asked to do a television message for the Massachusetts Family Institute about how important it is that people of faith be informed about the issues, the candidates' positions on them and vote in the upcoming election. This is what I said: "In an era when our nation's values and traditions are under attack both in the United States and abroad, patriotic Americans and people of faith must unite and vote with a united voice to help reverse the growing decline in our radical secular culture."
I also stated, "that throughout our nation's history, the Church has been a force for good in America and abroad, largely due to our Christian citizens and churches." I told the audience that I often heard my friend Pope John Paul II tell audiences throughout the world "that a good Catholic is a faithful citizen." But in recent years government has systematically eroded our free speech and religious expression. Prayer, the Bible and the Gospel have been banished from our public schools and public squares. With more than 75 percent of Americans calling themselves Christians, it's time for us to take action to turn the tide in our nation around. We have the numbers, the only question now is this; do we have the resolve?
If we continue to stay at home on Election Day, we have no one to blame for what is going on in our nation but ourselves. Your vote can make a difference. I concluded my TV appeal by saying, "Americans are good and caring people. Many Americans and a large number of them being Christians, fought and died to protect our freedom and our values. We all have a responsibility as concerned Americans to vote for those elected officials from City Hall, the State House, Congress and the White House, who reflect the real values for which our country was founded?"
But it all begins with you. Democracy and good government depends on good citizens.
Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and mayor of Boston.
Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.