As they head to the polls on Nov. 2, many Southern Tier voters will carry wisdom acquired through recent events staged by parish and diocesan groups.
In mid-October, the diocesan Public Policy Committee and Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier sponsored two forums on the topic of Catholic voting. The Oct. 13 session, held at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Ithaca, featured presenters Marvin Mich of Rochester’s Catholic Family Center and Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator. The Oct. 12 gathering, at the Parkview Restaurant in Owego, included Mich along with Ruth Putnam of diocesan Catholic Charities; Father Brian Cool, chair of the diocesan Public Policy Committee; and Kathleen Dubel, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier. Several ministries from Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s parishes also served as sponsors that night.
During the forums, presenters helped attendees clarify such principles as the role of the Catholic Church in politics; the role of conscience in political decision-making; the relationship between faith and politics in United States culture; and who may receive Holy Communion.
“I think that these kind of programs are very important in that they emphasize the civic responsibility that accompanies faith, and provide Catholics with the opportunity to reflect together concerning how their religious values can be brought to bear in assessing complex political issues,” remarked Edie Reagan, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, which oversaw the Oct. 13 program in Ithaca.
One month earlier, on Sept. 9, a diocesan Public Policy Committee-sponsored forum was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Painted Post. Special guests were Mark Assini and Jeremy Alderson, candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives 29th Congressional District. They answered prepared questions, as well as questions from the audience, on such issues as health care, housing and trade/outsourcing concerns. Dubel said the event was well-attended even though heavy rains hampered the Southern Tier that night.
“The Chemung River was flooding. Despite that, we had more than 60 people show up,” Dubel said. “It was very substantive, lively and respectful — not a debate, but a forum.”
Assini and Alderson were seeking the 29th District seat opened up by the impending retirement of Rep. Amory Houghton of Corning. Dubel noted that other two candidates, John R. Kuhl and Samara Barend, were also invited to the Sept. 9 forum but cited prior commitments. Since then, Kuhl has defeated Assini in the Republican primary and Barend has defeated Alderson in the Democratic primary.
Among the other recent election-themed events were a candidates’ forum for the Tioga County Legislature, held Oct. 4 by Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s; and a young-adult discussion night about the Catholic faith and voting, held Oct. 14 by All Saints Parish in Corning. The Corning event was headed by Paul Rossi, a Catholic who works for a political consultant group.
“We talked about the need for young people to vote, and our responsibility to not only go out and vote but to get involved,” said Alene Goodman, All Saints’ faith-formation coordinator. She added that the conversation was not so much about issues “but rather the impact and power of the Catholic vote … it was a great discussion.”
Dubel noted that social-ministry initiatives toward raising voter consciousness have been going on for several months in the Tier. For instance, a workshop on faithful citizenship took place in April for pastoral leaders and social-ministry leaders. And during the summer, Catholic Charities lent office space in Elmira to two college students for their summer internship involving voter-registration efforts (the interns were profiled in the Courier’s September monthly issue).
Dubel acknowledged that voter awareness is a prevalent topic since this is a presidential election year. Yet she said that Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s, for instance, has become so involved in arranging programs that she foresees an ongoing commitment from those parishes. “My sense is that Tioga will do it even in the off years,” she said.
Overall, Dubel said, such efforts reflect “a growing and developing awareness of how faith communities are called to engage in the big questions of our day.”