This election cycle is unlike any Jonathan Reyes has experienced. Talking with Catholics around the country, he's noticed an anxiety about the state of politics and disenchantment with presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle. People feel alienated from the party they've supported for years.
“People feel politically homeless,” said Reyes, the executive director of the Justice, Peace and Human Development Department at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “But (we're) not jobless. You can be politically homeless but that does not in any way limit our obligation as faithful citizens.”
Reyes was the keynote speaker at the diocesan Peace and Justice Commission conference titled, “Catholics and Politics: Faithful and Engaged Citizens,” held Sept. 17 at Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria. The 130 attendees were encouraged to stay involved politically during this election cycle - both locally and nationally, both by voting and directly serving their communities.
“We'll be discerning which of the candidates for president (will) support human life and human dignity better. But maybe a more important question is, how am I going to support human life and human dignity?” said Father Gerry Creedon, pastor of Holy Family Church in Dale City and chair of the commission.
Reyes suspects the problem cuts deeper than just politics. Within both political parties and society at large, there is a disregard for human dignity that offends faithful Catholics, he said. “Sure, we're happy to talk about human dignity on the right and the left, depending on the circumstance,” he said. “For us (Catholics), there are no exceptions.”
When confronting this kind of political homelessness, “there's a temptation to wash your hands,” said Reyes. But the voice of the church is even more necessary now. “Quitting is not an option for us. We're going to vote. We're going to pray and fast,” he said. “Let's say, 'Lord, thank you that I'm alive now; let me know what I'm supposed to do.' ”
Reyes also stressed the importance of solidarity - the formation of genuine friendships, especially with the most isolated and marginalized. “After the election, the divisions in our nation will not go away,” he said. “Can we as the church be a source of unity?”
The two panelists, Joan Rosenhauer of Catholic Relief Services and Anthony Granado from government relations at the USCCB, echoed Reyes' plea to stay involved. “When we fail to act in public life and bring our values to shape the decisions our government undertakes, I really believe it's a sin of omission,” said Rosenhauer.
Granado encouraged involvement at the local level. Catholics should be active politically because “political decisions are moral decisions,” he said. The conference program listed several organizations for engaged citizens to be aware of, including the Virginia Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Virginia bishops, Catholic Charities and JustFaith Ministries. Issue-based groups include Catholic Climate Covenant, Catholic Legal Immigration Network and CatholicVote.org.
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde opened the morning with Mass and prefaced the keynote address with a call for prayer, penance and involvement during these difficult times. As Reyes noted, “These are rough times, these are great times. The church's voice needs to be louder, not softer.”
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Arlington Diocese Peace and Justice Commission