Raleigh Parish Promotes Civil Discourse

Frank Lesko Around the Province

RALEIGH, N.C. — As the risen Christ walked with his disciples on the road, so too does the Church walk with us in our Christian vocation. The Justice and Peace Office of the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh organized a series of events this fall to help the parish navigate the contentious political season. The goals of the campaign were to help parishioners form their conscience, encourage participation in the political process and practice civility in discourse.

The “Civility in Discourse” pledge cards by the Franciscan Action Network were very popular and gave a context for dialogue this season. They were distributed to St. Francis staff, parents of the Franciscan School, and preschool student and parishioners.

The Justice Theater Project, an independent theater organization which started as a parish ministry several years ago, hosted the play Frost/Nixon during three weekends in September. The play showcases the human side of a powerful president wrestling with his conscience and with his legacy. Three of the shows featured guest speakers and a lively panel discussion on faith and politics.

The Justice and Peace Office also hosted voter registration, sponsored a series of bulletin articles and facilitated talks at ministry group meetings throughout the season. Copies of the USCCB’s Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship were distributed widely.

A featured event was a time of prayerful witness in an evening gathering. Four parishioners were called on to talk about the role of faith in forming their consciences. In particular, they were asked how being part of a faith community helped shape them early in life, how their faith has been a companion on their journey, and how experiences in church and volunteering in social ministry have had a transformative impact on their thinking.

Deb Royals-Mizerk, artistic director for the Justice Theater Project, witnessed her experiences leading dance activities at Central Prison, and how her interactions with a prisoner who saved her from falling while nine months pregnant opened a door to a deeper recognition of the inherent dignity of all. Kent Siefkes, former chair of the Knights of Columbus, shared how his experiences serving meals to migrant workers at nearby Our Lady of the Rosary Parish helped change his views on immigration. Doug and Danielle Fogg, a high school history teacher and an oncology nurse, told stories of their trip to our sister parish in Guatemala, which opened their eyes to U.S. foreign policy and immigrant rights in a way they never expected.

The culminating event was a talk by Kenneth Himes, OFM, on “Politics & Faith” on Oct. 21. Kenneth gave a lecture detailing how people can use the tools of Catholic moral theology to make informed voting decisions in line with Church teaching. Given the available choices, the multitude of issues in play in any election and the likelihood of social change all factor into the way a Catholic can lean on Church teaching to support them in their decision making. The talk was followed by a vibrant question and answer period as well as an informal reception. Ken is shown in the photo above with Mark Reamer, OFM, pastor.

— Frank Lesko is coordinator of justice and peace at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi.