WASHINGTON, D.C. – A dozen Catholics from around Washington state joined “Team Catholic” in the nation’s capital for the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which included visiting members of Congress to advocate for the poor and vulnerable.
The conference “allows diverse individuals of faith to learn about what the church teaches and connect it to Catholic social teaching,” said attendee Crystal Cardona, coordinator of service and justice at St. Martin’s University in Lacey.
“We are advocating for people who may have not been seen with dignity and respect,” she said.
The February 2–5 gathering, with the theme “Let Justice Flow: A Call to Restore and Reconcile” (inspired by Amos 5:24), brought 580 Catholics from 42 states to the nation’s capital. The event was hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic of Bishops’ Office of Justice, Peace and Human Development.
“We are vehicles of God’s grace as we work to overcome injustice and poverty,” said Jonathan Reyes, USCCB assistant general secretary for integral human development.
Catholics from Western Washington, Yakima and Spokane were among the attendees.
“It was gratifying to see where the church is in supporting people around those issues,” said attendee Lee Miller, a member of St. Michael Parish in Olympia. “Praying and voting is not enough.”
Attending the conference is “a unique experience,” said Jim Thomas, senior policy analyst for the Washington State Catholic Conference.
Participants receive formation in Catholic social teaching and expert briefings on key domestic and international issues, he said, and it’s an opportunity for attendees “to contribute their voices to vital public issues.”
“In doing so they are supporting the work of the U.S. bishops,” Thomas added.
Seattle University student Luis Arias and Kelly Hickman, assistant director of the Missions Office for the Archdiocese of Seattle, were among a dozen Catholics from Washington state attending the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. Photo: Courtesy Kelly Hickman
Legislators hear migrant’s story
Luis Arias, a Seattle University student, said he attended the conference in hopes of learning more about what the church is doing to address immigration issues.
“I knew the information would help me be a better leader for my community,” said Arias, an immigrant from El Salvador who said he left for the U.S. because of violence in his country.
Last summer, Arias helped connect migrant farmworkers in Mount Vernon with services and resources as part of his internship with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.
Arias shared his migration story during the legislative visits. “The staffers at Sen. [Patty] Murray’s office were deeply impacted by Luis’ story,” Thomas said.
Conference participants asked their legislators to consider comprehensive immigration reform that would protect unaccompanied children and people seeking asylum, people with protected temporary status and those who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, commonly called “Dreamers.”
“Most people who visit their representatives are interested in how to make more money for their businesses,” Thomas said. “Although supporting business is important, we’re talking about saving people’s lives.”
After visiting the offices of Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, Arias said he was glad that they seemed to be “on our side.”
“They are supporting the same things our church is,” Arias said. “I thought it was kind of cool they got to have a reminder that people care.”
Claire Lucas, left, an intern with the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Missions Office; Jennifer Ibach, pastoral assistant for outreach at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Seattle; and Kelly Hickman, assistant director of the Missions Office, advocated for vulnerable members of society during a national social ministry conference in Washington, D.C. Photo: Courtesy Kelly Hickman
At an “Advocacy 101” workshop on the first day of the gathering, participants learned that emails and phone calls can be effective, but in-person visits are more likely to influence lawmakers.
In preparation for the February 5 visits to their senators and representatives, conference attendees spent two full days learning about the issues they would be discussing with their lawmakers.
The domestic issues included preserving funding for nutrition programs, investing in affordable housing and supporting environmental stewardship. International issues included investing in diplomacy and humanitarian aid.
“We’re not showing up on the Hill as Democrats or Republicans … we’re focused on what the church teaches on the issues,” Christ West, director of partnership, training and engagement at Catholic Relief Services, told those attending the advocacy workshop.
“You’re all a part of Team Catholic,” West said.
The delegates are already thinking about next steps.
When Arias returned to campus, he planned on telling his fellow students to get involved and advocate for others who are in need. And to attend next year’s conference.
“If any of them have the opportunity, they should,” Arias said. “They’ll learn a lot.”
Miller said she is looking forward to meeting with St. Michael’s social concerns committee and her interfaith network.
“I have an armload of materials to share for those who are doing the work,” she said.
Those materials include resources to help parishes and organizations reflect on “Open Wide Our Hearts,” a letter from the U.S. bishops that addresses racism as a life issue.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to address issues like racism and immigration,” Miller said. “We need to hear about the issues we’re talking about in the country when we’re in church.”