By Amber Shiflett
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – About 270 advocates turned out at the Virginia Catholic Conference headquarters Thursday in support of Catholic Advocacy Day, an annual event that rallies legislative support from Catholics across the commonwealth on issues relating to human life, dignity and the common good.
Since 2005, the event has been sponsored by the Virginia Catholic Conference, a public policy advocacy organization established by the Most Rev. Paul Loverde, bishop of Arlington, and the Most Rev. Francis DiLorenzo, bishop of Richmond.
The Virginia Catholic Conference was created to represent the interests of Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses on matters before the Virginia General Assembly, U.S. Congress and other state and federal legislative bodies.
Jeff Caruso, the executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, believes Catholic Advocacy Day is an opportunity for Virginia’s Catholics to demonstrate the solidarity of the Catholic community.
“It’s a day for Catholics to exercise their baptismal responsibility to the legislative process and to try and bring about the common good in society,” Caruso said.
Various factors affect legislation. Caruso said a key influence on legislative decisions is grassroots advocacy. He said Catholics have a valuable viewpoint to share with legislators, and it’s important that their view be taken into consideration when lawmakers vote on certain bills.
Catholic Advocacy Day is about Virginia Catholic communities joining together to protect their common beliefs.
“Legislators certainly want to hear from their constituents and want to hear what their viewpoints are and what their reasoning is,” Caruso said. “A really important thing that we have to offer to the public debate is that we’re not coming from a liberal or conservative standpoint.”
On Thursday morning, attendees gathered at the Virginia Catholic Conference headquarters in downtown Richmond. They were met with breakfast, opening prayer and welcoming remarks from Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo.
Loverde began the day by discussing the significance of advocating for the social well-being of Virginians.
“We are one in the Lord, and we are one in advancing the causes of justice and peace and of all that is good and right for all the citizens of our beloved Commonwealth,” Loverde said. “It is important for us to be united and to be clear about how we’re going to advocate and support the issues that are so dear to the welfare of all.”
Members of the Virginia Catholic Conference followed with a legislative briefing on bills and issues from the 2013 Virginia General Assembly session. Their major areas of interest include the death penalty, unborn life, economic justice, health care, social concerns, religious freedom and education.
Caruso said he feels strongly about the agenda that the Virginia Catholic Conference advocates for, especially because it is nonpartisan.
“It doesn’t come at things from the left or the right; it shows the interconnectedness of a wide variety of issues,” Caruso said. “On every piece of legislation that we work on, what we‘re really trying to do is advance human dignity.”
After discussing the 2013 issues, attendees gathered at the General Assembly Building, where they each were scheduled to speak with a legislator.
The attendees include not only adults but also students from Virginia’s Catholic schools. Caruso said it is important for students – “the next generation of faithful citizens” – to become involved in the legislative process at young age.
“We have young people that take such an interest in the political process and try to seek to bring about the common good,” Caruso said.
For Caruso and other supporters of Catholic Advocacy Day, the event signified what the Virginia Catholic Conference is all about: protecting human life and dignity.
The conference’s positions reflect “a consistent moral framework,” Caruso said.
“Whether it’s the unborn child or the person on death row, or the person who’s living in poverty, or the child in search of the best education possible, or immigrants arriving to our country in search of a better life, or the fundamental family unit – all of these issues show an interconnectedness.”