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November 14. 2012 8:12PM

Forum speakers urge Catholics to get involved in social issues


Sue Gabert, campus ministry director at St. Anselm College, and Bob Dunn, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Diocese of Manchester, offered their ideas on moral issues and public spending during a discussion last Saturday on Catholic citizenship and budget choices at Bedford's St. Elizabeth Seton Church. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)
BEDFORD - For Sue Gabert, candidates in last week's election missed the mark when they repeatedly asked voters if they were better off now than they were four years ago.

"The question should have been, 'Are we better off?'" said Gabert, director of Campus Ministry at St. Anselm College in Goffstown.

Gabert was one of several speakers who outlined the fundamental links among politics, social responsibility and Catholic teachings, during a public discussion last Saturday on the moral questions involved in budget choices.

Sponsored by the Diocese of Manchester and hosted by St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Bedford, the program was part of an ongoing series, "The Mission of New Hampshire Catholics in the Public Square."

"We are actively trying to talk about public policy and Catholic social teaching," said Meredith Cook, director of the Public Policy Office for the Diocese.

The discussion never stops. Every year, the Diocese highlights a particular issue in a presentation that draws some of the most active members of churches throughout the state. The goal is for those members to carry ideas home and launch similar discussions within their individual parishes.

Past presentations explored the death penalty and immigration policy. This year the topic was public spending.

John Carr, a resident fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, told the group of about 50 people who turned out for this year's program that the challenge for Catholics is to find ways to remain true to the values of Jesus Christ and ensure the life and dignity of every adult and child is protected.

"We've got to find a way to orientate the people and institutions of our society to that principle," Carr said.

Carr stressed that, for Catholics, salvation depends on their response to the people and world around them.

"Everything in our faith tells us we personally need to be involved," he said.

But, Carr said, individuals, and even parishes, lack the resources to ensure that everyone in need receives adequate food, shelter and medical care.

"We can't do it alone; we need government," he said, adding that faith should shape government policies.

Gabert also stressed the importance of taking an active role in society and explained that the idea of the common good is a core principal of Catholic social teaching.

She said Catholic intellectual tradition has focused on the importance of reasoning and how that ability reflects the belief that humans were created in the image of God. But, Gabert added, that status also comes with an obligation to step up.

"We're all called to be co-creators," she said. "It's a huge responsibility but also a huge empowerment. We're all about building up God's kingdom."

Gabert said Catholic thought emphasizes the idea that everyone has a responsibility to contribute to society.

"We all need to take suitable action in regard to civil, social and political issues," she said.

Carr and Gabert said that Catholic principals aren't aligned with any one political party. The Catholic reverence for life and opposition to abortion and euthanasia are values held by many Republicans and conservatives, they noted, while the belief that society has a responsibility to provide economic support and justice to all people, particularly the most vulnerable, leans more toward Democratic policy and the left.

With choices on how society spends its money and shares its resources,

Londonderry resident Robert Dunn, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Diocese, said New Hampshire's large, citizen-populated Legislature gives the state's Catholics an advantage: They can play a part in the budget process by engaging their state reps and explaining how budget choices reflect moral values.

"We have access to our legislators to a degree that people in other states don't have," he said.

Dunn also presented an overview of how the state budget process works and offered advice on the best times to get involved in the process.

"If we are going to be effective, advocacy has to be done during the preliminary part of the process, with phone calls, letters and conversations," he said.

In addition to the general discussion of why and how Catholics should be involved in budget choices, Cook prepared a take-home list of tips for speaking with legislators.

Cook urged people to present themselves as Catholic citizens with concerns about how votes on issues may affect the common good. She also advised people to be specific, to volunteer to help get bills passed and to follow up to check on whether a state representative did what was promised.

She also advised individuals to use personal stories and family perspectives to illustrate the importance of certain budget decisions.

"People need to stay informed and involved with building up Catholic advocacy," said Dunn. "We need to spread the word and build up the idea of Catholic citizenship."

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Barbara Taormina may be reached at btaormina@newstote.com.

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