Diocese’s Catholic women urged to take place in public debate

By: By Jennifer Willems

Inspired by the Declaration of Independence and his faith, Martin Luther King Jr. was not afraid to proclaim to anyone who would listen that we are all heirs to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Catholics must not hesitate to stand up and tell people what they believe either, according to the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.

“My point today, my sisters, is that we have someone who steps up in the public eye, the public forum, to speak out — mainly motivated by religious principles — and to fight for the dignity of the human person,” Father James Heyd, Cardinal Francis George’s liaison for pro-life ministries in the Archdiocese of Chicago, told the 45 women who gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria for the convention on Oct. 16.

“That is what we consider to be faithful citizenship. That’s something we should take note of,” he said.

In addition to Father Heyd, the women heard about the progress of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s cause for sainthood from Julie Enzenberger, consecrated virgin, who is assisting the Sheen Foundation. They also received words of encouragement from Msgr. Dale Wellman, their spiritual moderator and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline, who celebrated the convention’s opening Mass.

The day included the installation of new officers, who will serve the organization for the next two years. They are: Nympha White of St. Columba’s Parish in Ottawa, president; Agnes Christman of St. Paul’s Parish in Danville, vice president; Maralyn Guthrie of Sacred Heart Parish in Annawan, secretary; and Jane Harris of St. Jude’s Parish in Peoria, treasurer.

Outgoing president Joan Weber, also of St. Jude’s Parish, has been named province director. The Chicago Province of the National Council of Catholic Women includes all six of the dioceses in Illinois.

Just as King’s example inspired people to go forth and make a difference in terms of civil rights, the U.S. bishops are calling on Catholics to take their place in the debate about issues that affect society, Father Heyd said.

He reminded them of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” a document by the U.S. bishops that was first published in November 2007.

“They make this point: ‘Why does the church teach about issues affecting public policy? The church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith.’ Those are pretty strong words,” Father Heyd said. “‘It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ.’

“As a people of both faith and reason, Catholics are called to bring truth to political life,” he said, “and to practice Christ’s commandment to love one another.”

Father Heyd said that as we look at what’s happening around us and consider what we want our country to be “we shall not be intimidated. We shall not be quiet. We shall not hide from our responsibilities, but really make a difference — to go forth.”

He warned them that people will try to invoke the separation of church and state as reason for Catholics to remain quiet. The right to speak out is protected by the Constitution, however, and “it’s well worth fighting for.”

Msgr. Wellman thanked the women for the many causes they have championed over the last 71 years, including the right to life, issues that have an impact on women and families, caring for the poor in Tutwiler, Miss., and Jamaica, and seeing to the needs of the women incarcerated at the Dwight Correctional Center.

“As we gather today we may be small in numbers, but we can mighty in voice about the things that affect us,” he said.

Another person who used his voice to teach the world about God’s love and give people hope was Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and the world needs another saint like him right now, said Julie Enzenberger.

The “positio” or summary of his writings, talks and television and radio shows, should be completed and in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI by the end of the year, she said. In the meantime, the Fulton J. Sheen Foundation continues to send out his “Wartime Prayer Book” to military personnel serving overseas, and “The Priest Is Not His Own” to every American seminarian.

“We want to give them people they can look up to,” Enzenberger said.

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