Several hundred Catholics from throughout the state of Maryland gathered in Annapolis Feb. 15 to meet with state lawmakers and to put forward the Church’s position on several key legislative issues being considered by the General Assembly.
“There are so many important issues affecting the state of Maryland,” said Craig Hostetler, a parishioner of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg. “We want to make sure the precepts of the Catholic Church are being heard by our legislators.”
This is the 33rd year that the Maryland Catholic Conference – the public policy arm of the three dioceses that encompass the state – has sponsored the event.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl thanked participants for making their voices heard and noted he is “proud of the rich Catholic heritage in Maryland and equally proud of it in Washington, D.C.”
He urged lawmakers to visit the state’s Catholic schools, parishes, social service agencies and Catholic Charities’ outreach centers. He said that Church consistently strives “to build a truly good and just society resting on the common good of everybody.”
“We come from different backgrounds, but we are all one in building a just society based on the common good,” he added.
Before meeting with their individual lawmakers, participants gathered with Maryland Catholic Conference staffers to for a briefing on issues the MCC considers most pressing this legislative session:
• Physician-assisted suicide. Participants were encourage to urge lawmakers to reject a proposal allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of pills to terminally ill patients.
• The BOOST Scholarship Program. The MCC supports the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program that provides scholarship assistance for students from low-income families who attend a nonpublic school. Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed increasing funding for the program to $7 million.
• The Healthy Working Families Act. Catholics were encouraged to voice their support for the proposal that allows all workers to earn paid sick days. The MCC said the measure supports both the dignity of work and shows a priority concern for the poor and vulnerable.
• The “Trust” Act. The Maryland Law Enforcement Government Trust Act would clarify and define when state and local law enforcement would take part in federal immigration enforcement activities. The act would protect immigrants from being stopped, arrested, searched, or detained solely for determining whether or not
an immigration violation exists. The MCC supports the measure because “it works to restore trust within the immigrant community and to help individuals feel comfortable enough to reach out to local and state law enforcement for help or to report a crime.”
Carrying bright red tote bags emblazoned with “Catholics In Annapolis,” several hundred of the state’s Catholics visited the House and Senate buildings to meet with lawmakers and share the Church’s stand on those issues.
Martha Monzon, also from St. Martin’s Parish, said her presence was intended to serve a dual purpose: “I want legislators to recognize the Hispanic presence in Maryland and to know what our Catholic position is on the issues.”
Francis Cusato, a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Upper Marlboro, attended the advocacy event for the first time. He said he was drawn to participate because “I hope to make a difference. You have to put your face in the place to be heard.”
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori praised participants for “coming together on a broad range of issues.”
“I am grateful to the many, many Catholics who brought to our legislators in Annapolis the Church’s love, concern and care for our most vulnerable citizens,” he said.
Noting that the Church’s stance on issues “is neither conservative nor liberal, nor is it Democrat or Republican,” Archbishop Lori noted that Catholics along with representatives of other faith communities “have come together as friends and neighbors.”
“Political discourse – as we have seen – has gotten pretty raw, pretty divisive and pretty unproductive,” Archbishop Lori said. “It is my hope the Catholic Church fosters a common dialogue where we bring to the public forum a consistent message of human dignity.”
Sarah DeMaio, a parishioner of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, noted that her brother is disabled, “and as an advocate for the disabled I am here because I am concerned about physician-assisted suicide.”
Del. Anne Healey, who represents District 22 in Prince George’s County, met with about a half dozen Catholics who spoke about a variety of concerns.
“I appreciate that you took your time to be here today,” she told participants. She also invited them to share their concerns and leave literature with members of her staff.
Deacon Steve Robinson from St. Mary Parish in Landover Hills, said the Feb 15 event was his 26th time attending the lobby effort in Annapolis.
“You have to be a committed voter,” he said. “You have to be here because legislators like to count noses. They need to know that we vote.”
Deacon Robinson said he was particularly concerned about the proposed physician-assisted suicide measure. “There are so many inherent problems with that and the abuse would be phenomenal,” he said. “As a deacon, I am involved in hospital ministry. I see sick people. They want to live. If a person wants to commit suicide, then that is a sign they are severely depressed.”
Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout, a native of Bowie, gathered with Catholics from Prince George’s County. “It is important they (state lawmakers) see us here and know that we are interested,” he said. “This does make a difference.”