By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
Catholic Charities, the social service arm of the Catholic Church in Mississippi, is represented in both dioceses, Jackson and Biloxi, serving all 82 counties of the state. By far it is the largest social service agency in the state.
Catholic Charities of Jackson has a Poverty Task Force composed of members of the various parishes and other Catholics with an interest in serving the poor. Since its inception a few years ago its main project has been organizing Catholic Day at the Capitol. This year it will be February 11. In the last issue of Mississippi Catholic the schedule for the day, roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., was published.
Before I go on, let me say one thing, we need your support. We need concerned Catholics from parishes all over both dioceses, from Tunica to Moss Point, all the way to the coast, to show up and be active. One other thing, all those representatives you will meet represent YOU. You have every right, and duty to tell them what you want done. Democracy is the people.
You did your first job. You elected/re-elected the current legislature. You have a new job now: speak up. Over the years of advocating for those who have no voice, I can’t say enough about how important it is for legislators to have supporters in the galleries, in the halls, encouraging, talking or criticizing what they do. We hear a lot about the power of money, but people with passion over an issue carry a lot of influence as well. I hope to see you there.
I have written here and in many other places about Catholic Social Justice. I have often said it is a well-kept secret. Practicing social justice can be done in innumerable ways, I am not going to give a list. It is what Pope Francis has been saying since his election. He sees it as a response to his newly begun Jubilee Year of Mercy.
It is, simply put, doing the Gospel. It is, as he says so well, going to the margins, reaching out to the poor. He tells priests don’t be distant shepherds, but “smell like the sheep.” Get out there in the slums and barrios. Hear the people tell and share their life stories. Feel their pain.
All the social justice actions you see on TV or read about, are people sharing and expressing their pain to the larger society for whom many are unaware.
As Catholics who take the Gospel seriously, we are sensitive to those who suffer for whatever reason. And we try to change it. Pope Francis says, “Go to the margins and reach out to the poor.” He preaches Liberation Theology, once suspect, now giving us hope.
Its first premise is that everything must be weighed by the preferential option for the poor that it has. A policy’s harmful impact or positive impact it has on the most vulnerable is the first critical test.
So we are focusing a lot on the tax proposals that will emerge this session. We look at their impact on mental health services, on educating our children, on vital programs. Catholic social teaching says, “The tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor.”
Also we teach that, “A just and equitable tax system is one in which taxes are assessed according to one’s ability to pay.” So we promote progressive not regressive or flat tax reforms. They hurt the poorest the hardest.
We took a stand on Proposition 42 and lost. We still demand that our children’s education be fully funded, not the best go to the well off and the poor get the crumbs.
See, Catholic Social Teaching, simply put, is the Gospel. It is not some wild eyed radical upset the apple cart scheme. We hear a lot of things like that. Does it mean taking a stand? Yes.
This year’s Day at the Capitol offers all of you the opportunity to learn, to participate and take action, as Catholics with passion, to improve all our people of Mississippi.
Catholic Day at the Capitol starts at 9 a.m. at the Parish Hall of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle on Thursday, Feb.11. Speakers include Warren Yoder of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, who will give an update on the court proceedings against the foster care system in Mississippi; members of the staff at Catholic Charities who can talk about the real-life implications of public policy on the people of our state.
Father Fred Kammer, SJ, director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute out of Loyola University in New Orleans who will teach you how to be an effective advocate.
Register now at www.catholiccharitiesjackson.com.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)