This year’s 25th annual Catholic Social Ministry gathering in Washington DC took place January 22-27 despite the blizzard and canceled flights. Skypeing in speakers who couldn’t make it made this conference a success. Out of the 350 registered, 150 brave souls made the journey.
The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering sponsored through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides a voice in the leadership of our Social Teachings. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, our Pope set the theme with his encyclical Laudato Si, on the environment.
In his September 2015 address to Congress, Pope Francis acknowledged that “much has been done in the first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty; ” however, he reminded our nation that “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
Washington D.C. is the necessary place to meet with our national political leadership and the best place to gather Church leaders and experts in civil society to examine our sense of justice, how we create domestic and global change affecting the least of these and the rest of us, in response to our Gospel message. Capitol Hill is an Experience of the beatitudes brought to life.
The California delegates who made the trip, whose flights weren’t canceled, and who weren’t snowed in at the airport were: Sharon Miller, Diocese of San Jose; Deacon Warren Hoy, Diocese of Monterey; Louise Johnson and Yolanda Park, Diocese of Stockton.
The main issues represented on Capitol Hill included:
- Strengthen funding in the FY 2017 budget for poverty–reducing international development and humanitarian assistance. The funding will provide developmental assistance; accessing water and education to help farmers improve their yields; health assistance regarding vaccinations, and responding to outbreaks like Ebola. Humanitarian funding literally saves lives internationally and domestically.
- Provide a line-item funding regarding the Green Climate Fund. The fund is the main international mechanism to help developing countries protect their people from the consequences of climate change (adaptation). The negative effects of climate change represent an existential threat to our whole world, especially our poorest countries. If climate change forces millions of people to abandon their drought–stricken fields and flooded cities, it will create greater poverty and migration in an unstable environment. The U.S. is the only nation who has yet to participate in a Green Climate Fund with other participating nations.
- Criminal Justice Reform and Reentry: The United States leads the world in incarceration with over 2 million people currently in our nation’s prisons and jails. The cost to imprison people, especially regarding non-violent offenses, has resulted in broken lives, homelessness, and broken communities. We urge our Senators to support The Sentencing Reform and Corrections ACT of 2015 (S.2123), allowing qualifying offenders to complete a recovery program while in prison and limits the use of solitary confinement on juveniles including the Second Chance Reauthorization ACT (S.1513, H.R. 3406) administered through faith-based groups and the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713) giving judges flexibility in sentencing.
We recommended humanitarian funding regarding Refugees and Immigrants, especially as it relates to the crises in Syria and Central America. Especially to hosting countries, including the United States to do their fair share of resettling to deserving, carefully screened refugees.
The Diocesan Director of Social Ministry, Deacon Ruben Solorio, even though his flight was canceled, preventing him from making the trip, scheduled an appointment with Senator Diane Feintein, three weeks before the conference. This allowed the California delegates who made the trip to be the voice of the Church. Senator Feinstein sent her Legislative Assistant Christopher Gasper to communicate with us including her Legal Counsel Peter Hyun. Sharon Miller, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph’s Director of Social Ministry, spoke to Mr. Hyun specifically on the criminal justice system using the Cathedral’s Office of Social Ministry, Bridges of Hope Reentry program as our County’s evidence-based approach to reducing recidivism. Mr. Hyun was impressed and requested statistics to be emailed with the hope of replicating the program at the Federal level.