The Catholics are coming.
Hundreds are expected to descend on Olympia March 26 for Catholic Advocacy Day, a chance to lobby their legislators on issues important to Catholics — things like housing for low-income families, human services for those unable to work, assistance for mothers and children in poverty, and hope for those struggling with addictions.
“The Catholics are here and we have messages to share with legislators,” said Patricia Repikoff, pastoral advocate for mission with Catholic Community Services.
Catholic Advocacy Day is part of Dialogue for Justice, a Catholic initiative working with and for the poor and vulnerable in communities across the state. The event is sponsored by the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center, the Washington State Catholic Conference (which represents the state’s bishops on public policy issues), Catholic Community/Housing Services, the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Pierce County Deanery and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, said the state budget is the number one issue. She worries what might happen to social programs because of the state Supreme Court edict that schools be funded by the state.
“This puts all social service at risk,” Sister Sharon said. “If we don’t have the revenue, we have to cut, and programs are on the chopping block.”
Dialogue for Justice is a powerful organization, she said, and every single legislative district in the state has a Catholic parish. Lawmakers do listen, she added.
On Catholic Advocacy Day, participants will gather at St. Michael Parish in Olympia for legislative issue briefings and Mass. Repikoff expects as many as 700 people will participate, and many will arrive via the 10 chartered buses scheduled to stop at various locations in western Washington. After Mass, the group will disperse and head to the state Capitol campus, where participants will have brief meetings with their state legislators or legislative aides to discuss issues identified by the Washington State Catholic Conference.
“It’s a big part of our identity as a parish, advocacy for the homeless and those with challenges,” said Teri McMahon, pastoral assistant for youth ministry at St. Joseph Parish in Vancouver, who will make the trip to Olympia.
McMahon said she worries that human needs might be on the chopping block this year, and hopes that by meeting directly with state lawmakers she and others convince them to spare cuts to the poor.
Another legislative priority of the state’s bishops is abolishing the death penalty in Washington, an issue that particularly resonates with Maureen Augisiak, a parishioner at St. Luke Parish in Shoreline. “It’s the brutality of it. This is not what America is all about,” she said.
“What we say is the right to live happens beyond conception and birth,” Repikoff said. “We want to create conditions where every child born has a decent life and the parents have the support they need.”