On Catholic Advocacy Day, faithful from across the state share opinions with Texas legislators

North Texas Catholic
(Mar 31, 2023) Local

students at rally

Cassata Catholic High School students Wyatt Scagel and Nicholas Gustafson cheer as Bishop Michael Olson is introduced during a rally at Catholic Advocacy Day in Austin, Texas on March 28, 2023. (NTC/Thao Nguyen)

AUSTIN—Texas Catholics made their voices heard in Austin on Catholic Advocacy Day—both quietly in one-on-one visits with state legislators and loudly with more than 1,000 Catholics cheering, chanting, and praying at a rally on the steps of the Capitol on March 28.

From the Diocese of Fort Worth, about 60 clergy, students, and lay leadership from Catholic Charities Fort Worth, the Advancement Foundation, and the diocesan central office attended the daylong event, held every two years while the legislature is in session.

This year, as per the norm, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops identified bills with moral and social effects for participants to advocate for or advise against, on topics such as education, health care, restorative justice, immigration, religious liberty, and support for the poor and vulnerable.

But Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the TCCB, noted this particular Catholic Advocacy Day was historic. After the rally’s opening prayer and introduction of bishops, she said, “I want to pause a moment to let it sink in that this is the very first Catholic Advocacy Day at the Texas State Capitol where we do not have to march into that building and ask that the lives of the unborn be spared, because our generation ended legal abortion in Texas.”


“Sure, I’ll listen”

Father Anthony Chandler, interim CEO of CCFW, and Safe Environment Director Sandra Schrader-Farry visited State Representative Chris Turner, who was elected by voters in parts of Arlington and Grand Prairie.

The discussion began with thanks to the legislator for his past support of legislation benefitting veterans and children. Rep. Turner in turn thanked Texas bishops, and Bishop Michael Olson in particular, for their efforts to eliminate predatory lending. Fr. Chandler pointed out that CCFW, in partnership with Frost Bank and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, now offers low-interest emergency loans, which was welcome news to Rep. Turner, who thanked CCFW for its sustained assistance to the poor and vulnerable in the community.

Then the conversation, totaling almost 30 minutes, moved to proposed legislation supported by the Catholic bishops. The lawmaker and his Catholic visitors found common ground on the accessibility of background checks and juvenile sentencing and shared mutual concern on protecting the most vulnerable in society.

Schrader-Farry asked if she could broach the topic of parental choice in education.

“Sure, I’ll listen,” replied Rep. Turner.

A respectful dialogue about the pros and cons of state funding of private school education ensued, although neither viewpoint changed.

After the visit, Fr. Chandler described the conversation as “a dance.”

The interim CCFW president said that rational debate is scarce in today’s society. “If you can get people to listen, and if you can have a dialogue—we may disagree, but we can always discuss [viewpoints]. Maybe we can begin to chip away each other’s position and have an understanding of why we hold a position.

“Will you change some minds? You’ll change some. Will you change some votes? You’ll change some,” he continued.


Catholic visitors with Sen. Kelly Hancock
Senator Kelly Hancock (right) sits with Don Wagner, Cindy Casey, Nolan student Kate Farry and Cassata student Nicholas Gustafson during a legislative meeting for Catholic Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, at the state Capitol in Austin on March 28, 2023. (NTC/Thao Nguyen)

Young voices

At 5:15 that morning, nine students from Cassata Catholic High School and 26 from Nolan Catholic High School boarded a bus to travel to Austin.

Several students made visits to legislators, and others observed bills being debated on the floor of the Texas House Chamber from the upstairs gallery. The students also attended the rally on the steps of the Capitol, where several bishops gave brief explanations of the Catholic viewpoint of legislative priorities.

Bishop Olson spoke to the Nolan students, emphasizing their rights and responsibilities as citizens and Catholics.

The students’ afternoon concluded with a mock hearing on predatory lending.

Lynne Burns, who teaches history and government at Cassata, said the visit to the Capitol was beneficial to the students as both citizens and Catholics.

The students will soon be voters, she said, and firsthand observation of legislators in action bring a reality to state government beyond what a textbook can provide.

The rally, she explained, exposed the students to other Catholic schools across the state, plus they heard the bishops’ stances on various issues, along with an overview of legislation that supports those issues. The experience demonstrated the universality of the Church and its teachings on social justice.


Faithful citizens

Catholic Advocacy Day is a unique opportunity to educate, inform, and be a witness to the Catholic faith in state government.

Fr. Chandler said, “It’s good for us to be seen in the political realm. We’re part of it, whether we like it or not. We pay taxes, and our tax money is used for everything, so let’s help decide where that money goes.

“As Catholics, we always talk about our faithful citizenship. As Roman Catholics, we are people who have a moral compass. We are people who have a moral stance on many, many things, most especially our respect for all people. It’s important, as voting members of this country, that we look out for the needs of all of our brothers and sisters, and not just ourselves,” the priest continued.

Schrader-Farry said participation in Catholic Advocacy Day is “imperative. This is our house, and we need to visit it. Our voices, the voices of the Catholic parishioners and faithful in our diocese and across the state, need to be heard, in a very friendly and respectful way, but they need to be heard.”

While the 88th Texas Legislature is in session, may those Catholic voices echo in the rotunda.

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