Catholic Day organizers hope to start conversations, foster relationships

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Catholic Day at the Capitol, set for Thursday, Feb. 11, has two goals “to expose legislative issues as they relate to social mission of the Catholic Church and to provide an opportunity for every Catholic to put their faith into action through legislative advocacy,” said Dorothy Balser, director of parish based social ministry for Catholic Charities Jackson.
“Our focus for advocacy is for the most vulnerable among us – and for this year in particular – on behalf of people served by the mental health system, children’s services and the foster care system,” said Balser.
Guest speakers include Warren Yoder of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, who will speak about the state of the lawsuit against the foster care system in Mississippi; Amy Turner, head of children’s services for Catholic Charities, who can speak about the work her staff is doing with kids who need help and Valerie McClellan, who heads up counseling services for Catholic Charities, who will offer perspective on the need for mental health care services in the state.
Once people have heard about the issues, they will get some tools to use to take action on them. Matthew Burkhart of Catholic Relief Services is coming to talk about public advocacy. “Legislative advocacy is one way we can be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and to work for justice,” he said. Burkhart said a one-to-one approach works best. “We have found that visits and building relationships is the most effective type of advocacy you can do,” said Burkhart.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz and a delegation from Catholic Charities engaged in this kind of advocacy Thursday, Jan. 28, at Mission Mississippi’s Legislative Prayer Breakfast at First Baptist Church in Jackson. At this event, leaders from different denominations pray for the governor, speaker of the house and other state leaders. Gatherings such as this can augment events like Catholic Day at the Capitol by allowing lawmakers and their constituents to get to know one another and find common ground.
“Hopefully people won’t see this as a one-off event, but an opportunity to start a long-term conversaion,” said Burkhart. He said while it is good for attendees to engage their lawmakers at events such as Catholic Day at the Capitol, the real work is in building a relationship with the representatives both on the grounds of the capitol and in their home districts. If people take the lessons home, they can get to know their senators and representatives and engage in more meaningful dialogue with them throughout the years.
The day starts with check in at 9 a.m. Father Ricardo Phipps, executive director of Catholic Charities, will offer a welcome and Bishop Kopacz will give opening remarks. After him, participants will hear from the speakers and adjourn for Mass at 12:05 p.m. in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle followed by lunch.
At 1:30 p.m. the group will depart for the capitol where Bishop Roger Morin of the Diocese of Biloxi will lead a press conference on the south steps of the capitol. People can then join a guided tour, engage their lawmakers or observe the legislative session. A new offering this year is an afternoon break out session on advocacy or discussion with a facilitator about issues of concern.

Preview event aims to inspire youth
Catholic Day at the Capitol organizers have added a preview event this year, for youth and families set for Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 5:30 p.m. at Jackson Christ the King Parish. A representative from Catholic Relief Services is coming to talk about ways to live in solidarity with the poor during Lent.
“We will be using the format of Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl program – sharing about experiences of the poor in other countries as well in the U.S.,” said Dorothy Balser, director of parish based ministries for Catholic Charities Jackson.
The evening event, open to anyone, will start with a simple meatless meal at 5:30 p.m. The presentation starts at 6 p.m. followed by Ash Wednesday Mass. Let Balser know if you are attending so organizers can make sure they have enough food.
Register by calling 601-326-3725 or emailing
Our hope is that the CDAC participants leave with a stronger sense that their participation in legislative advocacy is linked to the core social teachings of our faith,” said Balser.
“We hope that each participant will be energized with the belief that their voice is important, thereby mobilizing them to continue to advocate with their legislators in their local communities as well as on the state and national level,” she added.
Anyone is welcome to attend the whole day or only one part, but organizers need people to register so they can provide food and space. Register online at