For five days at the beginning of February, almost 600 Catholics joined together in Washington to pray, learn and advocate for the least among us. This was the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering of 2019, and it was attended by many of us from Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the USCCB, St. Vincent de Paul Society and a host of others.
The gathering is organized by the U.S. Bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. This central gathering brings together participants whose faith inspires them to respond to pressing current domestic and global challenges relating to poverty, war, injustice and the promotion of human life and dignity.
The theme of this year's gathering was "Let Justice Flow: A Call to Restore and Reconcile." Each day we grounded ourselves in prayer and liturgy, knowing that "our help is in the name of the Lord." Bishop Frank Dewane, the chair of the Committee for Domestic Justice and Human Development was the main celebrant at our opening Mass. And our closing Mass was presided over by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Bishops' Conference.
The workshops, presentations and conferences, in addition to giving us important, faith-based insights into current affairs, were also geared toward preparing us to be advocates for those we represent when we discussed our positions with our federal legislators.
Our advocacy work with Congress is to make clear that every day each of our organizations works to draw a "circle of protection" around "the least of these," and that we consider the federal government to be a vital partner in that work. Our point was that Congress should fund programs and resist budget cuts by prioritizing programs that help people living in poverty, both at home and abroad, and support policies that promote stewardship of creation.
Each of us at the gathering spent a day on Capitol Hill, meeting with our respective senators and members of Congress, or their staffs, discussing programs, funding and legislation that we put forward to protect or promote the well-being of the marginalized and vulnerable.
There is no question that our requests were ambitious, but the need here and abroad is so great that we must call on our government to be bold and compassionate in our policies. In particular, our advocacy was based in three categories: domestic issues, international issues and immigration issues.
On the domestic side, we focused on preserving funding for nutrition programs that alleviate hunger such as SNAP benefits and the WIC program, among others. Plus, we pushed for more investment in affordable housing to reduce homelessness and reduce the risk for vulnerable households. Finally, we supported appropriations for carbon emission legislation to address climate change.
From an international perspective, we asked to preserve funding for poverty-reducing and humanitarian programs that save lives and address the root causes of conflict and crushing poverty.
Our immigration concerns centered on finding a bipartisan solution that offers Dreamers a path to citizenship, creating a permanent legal solution for those who have Temporary Protection Status, and to protect unaccompanied children and asylum seekers.
Our faith calls us to be "faithful citizens," to use our voices to advocate for the marginalized and the disenfranchised, and to support their human development and preserve their dignity. We will be visiting members of Congress when they are here in their districts later this month. If you are interested in joining us, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.