Speaker: vote values, but don’t stop there

Photo Caption: Keynote speaker John Carr is applauded after his keynote speech at the 2008 diocesan Institute of Catholic Social Ministry hosted by Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.

By: By Tom Dermody

MORTON — The task for Catholics in these days before the national election is to “bring our deepest values to the voting booth” and then shape the debate after the outcome by continuing to promote the church’s vision in civic life.

That message was brought to the Diocese of Peoria last Saturday by John L. Carr, keynote speaker at the diocesan Institute for Catholic Social Ministry. The second annual event, which also featured three workshops, drew more than 100 participants to Blessed Sacrament Parish.

The church offers a “great vision” of the dignity of human life and requirements of justice that our “wounded nation” and “broken world” need to hear, said Carr, who serves as Secretary of the Department of Social Development and World Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“This is good news and we ought to act like it,” said Carr. In his institute talk, as well as a presentation to priests and permanent deacons of the diocese the previous day, he urged Catholics to “change the winds” of division and violence in our culture by learning, living and proclaiming Catholic social teaching, based on Christ and developed over centuries.

“Until we think about human beings in a different way, as long as we think of people as things, we’re not going to change,” said Carr, who was involved in the drafting of “Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops’ call to and explanation of political responsibility.

That challenge was echoed in a series of afternoon workshops at the institute, which was planned by Father Richard Bresnahan and Msgr. Doug Hennessy, co-moderators of social justice for the Diocese of Peoria.

“Our culture says get more, be more,” said Father Bill Creed, SJ, in a workshop addressing the poor and spirituality. The standard of the world, he said, is “you are what you have and possess, do and produce, what other people think of you, the power you have.”

But he encouraged Catholics toward a spiritual poverty that places God at the center of our lives. Father Creed also urged regular, “hands-on experiences with the poor” to cultivate compassion and “evoke the Christ within us.”

“We can build our cities to keep us ignorant of and ‘protected’ from the poor,” said Father Creed, a Jesuit priest from Chicago who for the last decade has conducted more than 100 retreats for homeless persons. But a life lived without interaction with the poor, he said, loses perspective, reality, and opportunities to encounter and serve Christ.

In his keynote address, Carr said the best mission statement he’s heard was that spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set oppressed people free.”

“That is our task today,” said Carr. And around the world, it is being carried out every day by Catholic institutions such as Catholic Charities, hospitals, schools, and Catholic Relief Services, which Carr noted is “serving the poorest people on earth in 100 countries in our name.”

“We were global before globalization was cool,” he said.

But the good work is only a “portion of our potential,” said Carr, noting there are 65 million Catholics in America and 25 million at Mass every weekend.

Carr’s presentations were spiced with humor. Once when he was introduced as coordinating efforts on war and peace, religious freedom, poverty, hunger and health care for the U.S. bishops, one woman told him, “You need to do a better job.”

“We all need to do a better job,” Carr told the group in Morton.

He also began his remarks with what he called “the least credible sentence” these days: “I’m from Washington and I’m here to help.”

Still, Carr said Catholics need to get more involved, not less, in politics. He encouraged faithful Catholics to communicate their concerns to elected officials and not be afraid to run for office.

“There are worse things than standing up for what you believe and losing an election,” he said.

Carr believes the most counter-cultural teaching of the church is that politics is a good thing. “Responsible citizenship is a virtue,” he said, “an essential part of what it means to be American and Catholic.”

“I’m convinced when people bring their deepest convictions into the voting booth, we enrich public life,” he said.

Other institute speakers included Maryknoll Father Bill Donnelly, a native of Peoria who served in Central America for many years, and Tom Shaw of Catholic Relief Services, who discussed creative opportunities to invest in the poor, including microfinance.

The 2008 Insitutue for Catholic Social Ministry was sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities.

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