Catholics at the Capitol

by Antonina Zielinska

Catholics from New York State gathered in Albany, March 13, for the New York Catholic Conference’s (NYCC) Catholics at the Capitol, to express their support for issues of interest to N.Y. bishops.

“We have a duty to be very active and involved,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan. “America is at her best when religious voices have a place in the public square.”

On the day prior, bishops and other New York Catholic leaders met with legislative leaders from the government, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to discuss many of the issues on the agenda March 13.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said the meeting with the governor was cordial. While there are issues that separate the two parties, he said, Gov. Cuomo does seem to agree with the bishops in certain areas.

After meeting with the governor, Bishop DiMarzio, led the opening prayer at the New York State Senate.  He asked God to give the policy makers “the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of David and the compassion of Jesus.”

Among the issues discussed in the Senate that day was funding for the state’s mandated services and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) and other financial relief to parents who send their children to religious and private schools. Both houses of Senate passed recommendations to support these efforts. Bishop DiMarzio said the governor also expressed his support.

Brooklyn Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein was among the attendees at a reception hosted by Bishop DiMarzio later in the day.

“I wanted to thank the bishop for coming here and speaking about the issues,” she said. “I know the impact and vitality of religious schools.”

James Cultrara, director for education for the NYCC, said this agreement is among the conference’s latest achievements. This was an issue that was heavily emphasized during last year’s Catholics at the Capitol event and the conference continued to lobby for it all year long. The results were clearly seen on the day the bishops met with legislators, Cultara said.

Richard E. Barnes, executive director of NYCC, said the conference is able to influence state policies thanks to the Catholic lay people who come every year to express their support of the Catholic Conference. This year, over 1,000 people rallied to personally speak with elected officials and their staff people.

“This demonstrates to the legislators that the Catholic people have the same concern for the issues that the Catholic Conference and the bishop are speaking about all year long,” Barnes said.

The executive director also said that an important part of the Day is educating Catholics on each individual’s ability to influence public policy.
Among those who participated was Maria Gualy, a case manager for Catholic Charities in Bushwick and a newly naturalized citizen.

“The day I made my naturalization, I registered to vote,” she said. “Seven days later, I received my registration card. And now I’m lobbying. In 10 days, I’ve lived so many parts of our democracy. I’m so happy!”

She said she came to Albany to ask for rights of the immigrants she serves everyday at Catholic Charities and was amazed at how much she was able to do. Prior to this event, she said she felt like a spectator when it came to U.S. politics.

“Before I was just watching TV and reading the newspaper, and it seemed like everything was happening somewhere else,” she said. “But today it was happening to me for the first time. I know what it is to petition the governor… I know democracy is something we can practice day to day.”

Nina Valmonte, a director of Catholic Charities, said it is part of the Christian duty to promote human dignity by helping improve social circumstances.

“It is not enough that we are giving people food, but we have to address the policies that put them in those situations,” she said.

Nina Valmonte meeting with Assemblyman James Brennan
Bishop DiMarzio celebrating Mass with Bishops Howard Hubbard of Albany and Robert Cunningham of Syracuse
Knights at Mass
Catholics in a Legistative Building

Knights of Columbus