I am writing in Albany at the end of the New York State Catholic Conference’s Public Policy Forum Day March 11. That is a long title and it represents a great deal of good work people do to represent our values to legislators of New York state.
Present at the day are hundreds of representatives from the eight dioceses of our state. We are all here to present our hopes and concerns about a range of important issues. This year our priority issues are the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act proposed by Gov. Spitzer; support for education tax credits; expanded support for working families; expansion of access to health insurance; opposition to the legalization of same-sex unions; the provision to immigrants and migrants of access to essential services; and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources.
There are three major components of the day. There are educational fora and orientation sessions for diocesan delegations, especially for those who are first-time participants. The one I chose to attend dealt with “Responsible Citizenship” a pre-election publication published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The document intends to help prospective voters learn how best to form their consciences in preparation for their vote. The session was beautifully led by Bishops Howard Hubbard of Albany and Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. Both bishops have long experience in the public-policy arena. Their comments and reflections on the document generated excellent questions and comments from the people who attended.
A central component of the forum is the Eucharist. As usual, Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop of New York, presided and preached at this celebration. At the end of the liturgy the cardinal, on behalf of the NYSCC, recognized three individuals for their distinguished and consistent support of Catholic principles in the public arena.
The third feature of the day is always the conversations that diocesan delegations have with their respective state legislators or members of their legislators’ staffs. Even on this extraordinary day of upset and controversy swirling around the governor, these conversations took place.
The Public Policy Forum is a once-a-year event. But, the activity and conversations with state legislators go on all year. This includes the work of the NYSCC staff which is headquartered in Albany and ongoing conversations in the several dioceses.
A final note: One of the pleasing developments in this forum in recent years has been inclusion of young people in the day’s activity. This morning I went to a session for the teens and sat with a delegation from McQuaid Jesuit High School. At lunch I sat with a group from Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse. I also had a chance to chat with two students from Holy Family School in Elmira.
It’s such a pleasure to hear these friends speak about the issues that bring us together. They are well-informed and often bring a measure of passion to the discussions at hand. They may not yet have the right to vote but I am sure that our legislators listen attentively to these young voices. I do think that their inclusion in activities like the forum is yet another way of telling them that they are fully a part of our faith community and that we value their presence and gifts very highly.
My prayers are with you as we come closer to Holy Week.
Peace to all.