In early February, nearly 600 Catholics from 42 states gathered in Washington, D.C. to learn more about and discuss a variety of social issues and policies in light of Catholic Social Teaching. Participants came from parishes, diocesan offices, schools and local, state and national Catholic charitable and justice-oriented organizations. The theme of this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering was
Among the issues discussed were racism, poverty, and immigration—each fundamental to JSRI's mission. These topics and others were presented in plenaries and/or in breakout sessions over the course of the first three days of the gathering.
On our last day, many of the conference participants went to Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives or their staff and lobby on particular pieces of legislation and general actions we hope they will undertake on pressing justice issues.
Our lobbying effort focused on the priorities of the Catholic Bishops, which they shared with us during the conference. Their domestic policy priorities include:
- Finding a solution to protect the DREAMERS with a path to citizenship.
- Finding a permanent protective solution for those under Temporary Protective Status (such as those from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti).
- Maintaining funding for critical nutrition programs such as SNAP and WIC
- Addressing the affordable housing crisis.
- Protecting the environment, including passing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.
For more information on each of these priorities and to find ways you can advocate on these important social and moral issues, you can go to this page on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website.
Climate change is certainly a critically important topic that we discussed and on which we lobbied. For those of us from Louisiana and Texas it is particularly important and challenging. These two states are major oil and gas producers—contributors to the global climate crisis. They are also among those areas of the nation most at risk from major hurricanes and rising sea levels.
“Today,” Pope Francis reminds us, “we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as the hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” So we must understand that climate change, though impacting virtually all corners of the earth, disproportionately impacts the poorest of our brothers and sisters. They are already vulnerable and they will be hit the hardest as droughts, storms, and damage to agriculture spread. And we also must be sensitive to and assist those workers who may be affected as we make the necessary shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
It should be noted that the CSMG was a lot more than a discussion of social issues and our advocacy on Capitol Hill. It was also an opportunity to reflect upon our relationship with others, with Creation, and with God. It was a time to share, laugh and sometimes cry together, as we consider the state of the human family, the condition of our planet, and our individual and collective responsibilities to care for and love each other and to serve God.
Finally, below are several wonderful resources that were shared at the gathering:
- www.povertyusa.org is a project of the USCCB on poverty in America.
- Network is the Catholic Social Justice Lobby founded by Catholic Sisters and the force behind "Nuns on the Bus."
- Catholic Charities USA provides vital help through their office of Immigration and Refugee Services.
- Justice for workers is the aim of the Catholic Labor Network.