From February 6 to 10, I joined several hundred clergy, religious and lay women and men in Washington, D.C. for the annual “Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.” This event brings together leaders of the Church involved in many social ministries throughout the United States.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was represented by a good number of our members, including President Sheila Gilbert, Executive Director David Barringer and National Chair of the Voice of the Poor, Jack Murphy.
During the Gathering, we heard presentations from organizations such as Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Campaign for Human Development. We had a meeting of members of SVDP Voice of the Poor committee from various parts of the nation and we had the opportunity to participate in workshops on various topics related to serving the needy.
One of the highlights of the Gathering was for attendees from the various states to go to the Hill and meet with our Representative and Senators, or their assistants. Beforehand, we were briefed on two international and two national issues that the U. S. Bishops wanted us to focus on in the meetings. This year we focused on maintaining sufficient funds in our national budgets to continue to provide humanitarian aid to those in need internationally, as well as nationally, especially regarding programs dealing with children. We also continued to support the two state solution to the situation between Israel and Palestine, as well as comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.
Members from SVDP went with their own state delegations to urge their Congress men and women to support our positions on these issues. I went with Tom Costanza and with Fr. Etido Jerome from Xavier University and seven of his college students. We met with staff members of both Louisiana Senators and two Representatives.
I write about this gathering to show you that our U. S. Bishops do want us to advocate with our government leaders to support programs and issues rooted in Catholic Social teaching.
Too often, I have heard that the SVDP ought not to get involved in politics and that the Voice of the Poor program is too political. The reality is that we need to be involved with political issues related to Catholic Social teaching. One way we do this is by advocating with our government leaders. We do not support individual candidates, but we do support many issues that affect the poor, so that our leaders are able to make laws and provide financial support to the needy.
As you probably have heard, Pope Francis is going to address a joint session of Congress on September 24.
What he will do in his presentation is advocate for those who are in need and call our leaders to focus not on their own political interests, but on the common good of all and on the needs of those who are voiceless, the poor. In making this presentation, Pope Francis is going to remind all of us that we have a right to advocate for those in need and we therefore ought to call our congressional leaders to hear the voices of the voiceless as we speak for them.
Sincerely in St. Vincent, Blessed Frederic and Blessed Rosalie, Fr. Louis Arceneaux, C.M