RALEIGH, N.C. — On Aug. 21, a characteristically muggy evening in North Carolina, more than 300 individuals gathered from the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi and neighboring communities of faith to participate in the first of a series of discussions on “Faith, Politics, and the Common Good.” The event, sponsored by the Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace, a ministry of the St. Francis of Assisi Church, was aimed at prompting dialogue about the public dimension of “personal” faith commitments and how those beliefs can be properly lived out in the public square.
“Following recent efforts in the advocacy arena, it was apparent to us that there was a great deal of confusion about the role of the Church in public policy issues and the relationship between faith and politics,” said Mark Reamer, pastor of St. Francis. In response to the confusion, the Franciscan Coalition developed the series as a way to help parishioners better understand the Church’s social teaching, the moral dimensions of public policy, and the importance of their participation on matters affecting the common good.
“How do followers of Christ relate faithfully to those that govern them?” Megan Nerz, director of the Franciscan Coalition asked the crowd. “As we approach the 2008 election year, we hope this series compels all of us to engage in dialogue, not for definitive answers and not to find out who is right and who is wrong, but to urge one another towards faith and good deeds and to challenge one another to bring Scripture and tradition to bear on the ambiguities of our world.”
In this headline event, U.S. Rep. David Price (Democrat, 4th District, N.C.) addressed the gathering with Russell Testa, animator and director of Holy Name Province’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. Testa approached the subject of “faithful citizenship” from his perspective as a Catholic — and more specifically, as a Franciscan Catholic.
Testa helped attendees see how age-old virtues like “prudence” and central tenants of Catholic social teaching, such as the primacy of “the common good,” can bear on the contemporary issues Catholic Christians face regarding their political engagement. Representative Price expounded on the theme of the common good, speaking on the necessary tension between “passionate participation” and “calculated constraint.” Adding important insights from his prolific career on Capitol Hill, Price urged attendees to continue to engage in the political process “across both sides of the aisle” — despite the polarized, partisan climate that dominates the moment.
The evening concluded with a lively question and answer session, where attendees had an opportunity to submit questions to the presenters. The questions ranged from the philosophical to the personal — prompting an insightful end to that evening’s dialogue. Yet, with over 200 questions submitted, it was apparent that this event marked only the beginning of the conversation.
Future events in the series are scheduled for October 9 with Rev. Clete Kiley (President of the Faith and Politics Institute, Washington, D.C.) and November 28 with Marie Dennis (Director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns).
In the photo are, Russell Testa and David Price, in front, and Megan Nerz, and Fr. Mark in rear.
— Joseph Wolyniak is the Advocacy Coordinator in the Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, N.C. He is shown in the photo nexdt to Mark Reamer.