Catholics observe legislative session through lens of social justice at Faithful Citizenship Day

Catholics were powerfully present at the Louisiana State Capitol in terms of numbers of attendees and their commitment in standing up for social justice issues during this year’s Faithful Citizenship Day, sponsored by the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops (LCCB), on April 17.

This year’s Faithful Citizenship Day attendance was more than double from last year, from 38 at last year’s event to 92 this year, according to LCCB.

The day, themed, “Send a Clear, Consistent, Life Ethic Message,” began at St. Joseph Cathedral Parish Hall.

Tom Costanza, executive director LCCB, began his welcome by noting the youthful presence from Rummel High School in New Orleans and Notre Dame High School in Crowley.

“It’s great to see so many young faces,” said Costanza.

He gave an overview of LCCB’s priorities at this year’s Louisiana regular legislative session: life and dignity of the human person – protecting life from conception to natural death; call to family – parental choice in education and assisting pregnant and parenting moms; options for the poor and vulnerable – improving wages for struggling families and addressing poverty; and solidarity in restorative justice – improving mental health, victims’ services, re-entry and juvenile justice programs.

Then, fortified with prayer and information, the attendees walked down the street to the capitol to sit in on committee hearings addressing topics of interest for them.

Photo: Robbie Laborde, Jennifer Gilchrist and Madison Smith attended the LCCB event.

The participants described the day as a well-rounded experience in approaching the political realm through a faith-based perspective.

Jorje Lavastida, coordinator of the Office of Life, Peace, and Justice of the Diocese of Baton Rouge said, “It was a great day shared with many people and groups who want to be educated. I was glad to hear that this event keeps growing and that this year we had the largest number of attendees. It is important that we Catholics are very well educated on civic matters and on topics that should inform our vote. These Faithful Citizenship Days do that.”

Deacon Shelley Joseph, deacon assistant at St. Isidore the Farmer Church in Baker, learned about the legislative process and how it impacts the people he serves.

He noted that during a health and welfare committee hearing, one senator brought in several expert witnesses and discussed issues related to a bill.
“I have done hospital and nursing home visits, so it was so good to get an overview of that process, how the legislature interacted with it,” said Deacon Joseph.

Sister Maura O’Donovan, a Sister of the Holy Faith of New Orleans and leader of the grassroots Burning Bush, a ministry dedicated to ending violence, followed legislation that involved supporting life and human dignity.

“I was born during World War II. As a child I didn’t understand everything that was happening,” Sister Maura, who is an Irish immigrant. “But when I began to read and be interested in the world around me, what had gone in the world just at my doorstep (such as the Holocaust), I was horrified that such things could happen.”

She added, “A lot of work can be done in our churches, our faith communities, and I’m not just talking about Catholic churches, to help people realize they have a voice and the importance of exercising it.”

Likewise, Douglas Kariker, case management worker for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese New Orleans found the committee hearings to be exciting and heartwarming.

“While in one of the sessions there was a vote in favor of a bill that LCCB was supporting,” said Kariker. “The person sitting at the desk advocating for the passage of this bill cried when the vote was taken and there was unanimous approval. There were a lot of teary eyes in the committee room.”

After attending the morning session, the group returned to St. Joseph Cathedral for Mass, celebrated by Bishop Michael G. Duca, and listened to and visited with Catholic legislators during lunch. Attendees returned to the capitol and in a proud moment were recognized by the House of Representatives.
Many attendees said such moments showed that when Catholics come together legislators notice.

Dr. Susan Weishar, a Fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans, said, “The turnout of almost 100 Catholics from across the state committed to learning more about how they can advocate for just government policies at this year’s Faithful Citizenship was amazing. I know that for the past three years (Costanza) has been working hard to engage people in the pews in public policy advocacy with frequent Action Alert emails and weekly video updates. He has been accessible to other organizations working for the common good, and it has really paid off.

“I came away from the day with a renewed appreciation of how the social teachings of the Catholic Church can provide a beautiful, coherent, and practical ‘roadmap’ for building a more just and humane society.”
Bridget Soileau, President of Baton Rouge Right to Life, agreed.

“It was interesting to learn how we can actually affect the legislative process, even if in a small way. However, if enough faithful Catholics participate and stand up for our moral values, we can make a big difference. I thoroughly enjoyed the day.”

The current legislative session is scheduled to end Monday, June 3. To track action taken on bills and other information, visit

by Debbie Shelley, Catholic Commentator, Diocese of Baton Rouge. This story was originally published on