Catholics at the Capitol draws more than 1,000 to Springfield

Photo Caption: Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, assisted by bishops from throughout Illinois, celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield on March 3.

By: By Jennifer Willems

SPRINGFIELD — Looking out over a church that was filled to overflowing, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois wondered aloud what day his listeners would be free next week.

“We want you to come back,” Robert Gilligan told the laity, religious men and women, and clergy from around Illinois who traveled to Springfield last Wednesday for the second annual Catholics at the Capitol. The day started with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and concelebrated by his brother bishops in Illinois, including Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at the newly refurbished Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

After Mass, Gilligan briefed participants about the eight issues the Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI) has on its agenda this session and then sent them to the State Capitol to meet with their state representatives and senators.

“It’s important that we be here, that we meet the people who say they represent us, that we encourage cooperation, that we’re at the table in the State of Illinois and that our concerns and our projects should be heard by the people who are elected,” Bishop Jenky told The Catholic Post.
“Some of our legislators who are not attentive to Catholic voters said to us, ‘Your enemies are here all the time. You have to start showing up,'” he said.

And they did.

Zach Wichmann, associate CCI director, estimated that the day of education, advocacy and networking drew about 1,000 people.

Last year’s event, which included a rally of 3,500 Catholic school students in the Capitol rotunda, was such a success at helping parishioners and church leaders establish relationships with their elected representatives that it had an influence on legislation, Gilligan said. He pointed to The Ultrasound Opportunity Act, which CCI supports, as a good example of what he was talking about.

House Bill 5743 has 18 sponsors this year, while it garnered five last year. Some of those sponsors came on board after Catholics at the Capitol last March, he said.

“You made a difference,” Gilligan told them.

Other issues that have CCI support are:

— House Bill 6096 and Senate Bill 3530, which would fund the Illinois Textbook Loan program. CCI has and continues to advocate for restored funding for the Educational Improvement and School Safety Block Grant, and Parent Transportation Reimbursement program.

— Senate Bill 2494, which would give tuition vouchers to students in the worst inner-city Chicago public schools so they could attend nearby private schools. Gilligan said it was rare for CCI to back something that is limited to such a specific part of the state, but noted it was a matter of social justice that would benefit Catholic school education in the long run.

— Maintaining state funding for English and adult education for immigrants, which would help them to integrate and participate in their communities and workplaces.

— House Bill 5287 and Senate Bill 3569, which would essentially abolish the death penalty by replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Among the legislation and issues opposed by the Catholic Conference of Illinois are:

— House Bill 6205, which is known as the Reproductive Health and Access Act and is sometimes referred to as Illinois FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act). Defeated last year, the new effort again requires public funding for abortion and contraception, and undermines the conscience rights of health care workers and parental notification statutes.

— Senate Bill 1716, which would provide benefits associated with marriage to those in civil unions between a man and a woman or same-sex couples.

— Cuts to human services funding. “We’re asking legislators, in a simple display of compassion, not to cut programs to people who need them the most,” Gilligan said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s try to maintain the safety net.'”

In his homily, Cardinal George reminded his listeners of “the people you carry with you today, the people you represent and have chosen to identify yourselves with.”

He mentioned those affected by the CCI’s legislative concerns: the unborn, the children who are being prepared for a life in Christ in Catholic schools, prisoners on death row, immigrants and their families, and the poorest of the poor.

“If you’re looking for the kingdom of God, it’s not a bad group to be with,” Cardinal George told them. Following the example of Christ, “we are to give ourselves, our lives, as a ransom for them today and always.”

Despite being dismissed as irrelevant by some who don’t care for the issues they would be advocating and isolated by some in an attempt to divert attention, Cardinal George said their first response must be prayer for everyone they would encounter — both friends and enemies.

While Agnes Christman of the Bishop’s Commission on Women in the Church and in Society was not able to meet with Gov. Pat Quinn as the Illinois bishops did, she made sure the governor received a letter stating the commission’s opposition to House Bill 6205.

“A copy of this letter will be sent to every sponsor urging them to take their names off the bill,” she told The Post. “Last year, three removed their names.”

House Bill 6205 were also issues for Father Attilio Morelli, pastor of Sacre Coeur Parish in Creve Coeur, and Father Timothy Sauppe, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Westville.

Father Richard Bresnahan of Moline, co-moderator of social action in the Diocese of Peoria and a member of the Catholic Charities board, said he was planning to visit Sen. Mike Jacobs of Moline to ask him to reconsider cutbacks to social services. His fear is that “we will pay even more for this in the long run.”

Rosemary Costello, principal of Holy Cross School, and Kathleen Scherer, principal of St. Matthew’s School, both in Champaign, were hoping to catch a few minutes with Sen. Michael W. Frerichs of Champaign to talk about education funding issues, such as the textbook loan program.

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