CSMG: The Importance of Advocacy and Faithful Citizenship

csmg_header_watermark2Picture this. The biggest blizzard in years is headed towards the Mid-Atlantic, but despite this, hundreds of Catholics committed to social justice gather in Washington D.C. to pray, learn, and advocate for “Living Mercy in our Common Home” at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) from January 23-26. While the storm blew on, the event continued. It was my first CSMG, and I was curious to see how the days would go.

Anna CapizziProviding a reflective beginning to CSMG, Bishop Nelson Pérez asked us to remember the encounters we had with Christ in the past that had become wellsprings for us. Christ’s love is the foundation that drew all of us together from different ministries, universities and dioceses to again encounter Him and one another.

Encounter leads to awareness and education. The days of workshops and presentations focused on community for mission, policy, and preparing for advocacy. I attended workshops on living the Jubilee Year of Mercy and Global Solidarity, Practicing Mercy in Parishes and Communities with Restorative Justice, and more.

The workshop on Faithful Citizenship reminded me that by virtue of our baptism, we are all missionaries called to evangelize and share the Good News. It struck me more deeply that there exists a connection between evangelization and participation in the political life and pursuit of the common good. Faithful citizens have a responsibility to educate themselves on current issues and the Church’s social doctrine. In Pope Francis’ address to Congress last September, the pope said, “Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.” This, and CSMG, reminded me of that fact that to whom much has been given, much is expected, and that advocating for the poor and vulnerable, the immigrant, the criminal, the environment, and so on is an act of love connected to our faith. This love sends us forth as missionary disciples.

In the same address, Pope Francis went on to say, “It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.” With well-formed consciences and a spirit of charity, Catholics can and ought to speak to moral and social issues in the public square. The bishops of the United States give examples of various forms of participation, such as “running for public office; working within political parties; communicating…concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, [and] community organizations.” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, no.16)

I left CSMG empowered and excited to meet with my members of Congress and to dialogue with them. Amidst the business of life, here was one concrete step I could take to keep the momentum of CSMG going. As I have been on a few district visits now, advocacy seems less daunting and more of a worthwhile challenge to be a missionary disciple, promoting encounter, human dignity, and the common good.

Challenge yourself to take some time to read up on the issues, study the talking points, and schedule a district visit with your member of Congress. Research from the Congressional Management Foundation shows advocacy is the most effective way of making an impact on policy.

See more resources on the USCCB website: http://www.usccb.org/about/justice-peace-and-human-development/resources-and-tools.cfm

Anna Capizzi is a former intern with the Office of Domestic Social Development at the USCCB. She is graduate student studying moral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University.

Laudato Si’: Communities Respond

Anna CapizziNearly two months have passed since the release of Laudato Si’, and Pope Francis’ words continue to spark conversation, transform hearts and prompt action. Indeed, his words remind the Christian community: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si’, no. 217).

Our efforts to care for creation reflect our love for God and neighbor, and contribute to the common good, which is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more easily and more fully” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 26). Environmental problems are social problems, and “social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds” (Laudato Si’, no. 219). As individuals, our lifestyles and daily actions are significant and necessary, but as members of a community, we need to address environmental degradation at a broader scale to effect lasting change in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and country.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) responds to Pope Francis’ invitation to create a sustainable, integral ecology by empowering grassroots organizations that give a voice to low-income people and help them to help themselves. Since 2013, CCHD has invested over $3.2 million in community organizations whose efforts further environmental justice across the United States. In the Laudato Si’, the pope praises local groups that enrich society through promoting the common good and defending the environment in natural and urban landscapes (no. 232). These community organizations are critical because the most vulnerable suffer the worst effects of environmental and societal degradation.

The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) is an organization whose work illustrates the natural relationship between environmental stewardship and community building through local participation, inclusive decision-making processes, and leadership training. NWBCCC’s multi-pronged green jobs campaign retrofits homes and churches, decreases energy bills, and creates local, green contracting and jobs. The 176th Street Community Garden adds beauty to the neighborhood, supports composting and recycling projects, and allows community members to interact, learn and recreate.

The United Workers Association stands out as another spotlight example of the power of local communities to advocate for sound environmental policies that help create an “ecological culture.” The organization successfully led a campaign to stop what would have been the nation’s largest trash burning incinerator from being built less than a mile away from two schools. Community members are now in dialogue with the city and other stakeholders to phase out the current incinerator and explore green alternatives.

How are you responding to Pope Francis’ call to be a protector of God’s handiwork? The pope reminds us that “we must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (no. 212). Is there a local community organization you can join (or even create) to promote the common good and build an integral ecology? To find a CCHD group, look on Poverty USA’s website. For more inspiration, read the Stories of Hope to learn of the good work being done by other CCHD funded organizations. And to start the conversation in your parish or local community, look at the discussion guide and other educational resources on the encyclical on the USCCB Environmental Justice Program website.

Anna Capizzi is an intern with the Environmental Justice Program at the USCCB. She is a graduate student studying moral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University.

More stories about how Catholic communities around the United States, including parishes, dioceses, schools, and religious communities, are caring for creation, are available at WeAreSaltAndLight.org.