By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
AUSTIN — North Texans joined more than 3,000 Catholics from across the state on March 24 as they rallied in support of Texas bishops advocating for a variety of legislative issues.
The rally was part of Texas Catholic Advocacy Day, a day-long event organized by the Texas Catholic Conference intended to mobilize the Catholic community on a number of forthcoming bills in the 84th Legislative session. Bishops from nearly every diocese joined participants on the steps of the state capitol and Catholics spent the better part of the day going to various legislative offices to press cases important to Catholics to elected officials or their staffers.
“We’re so grateful to all of the bishops of Texas who are here and all of the people from the dioceses of Texas who are really special,” said Houston-Galveston Archbishop Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. “It’s really a spectacular sight.”
The day before the rally, Cardinal DiNardo celebrated Mass with rally participants and 12 Texas bishops at St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Austin. The cardinal encouraged those in attendance to be courageous in defense of the faith, but also to display generosity and kindness.
“There is always someone who needs to be forgiven,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
Arriving at the rally with a group of Bishop Dunne Catholic School students, who joined others from the Diocese of Dallas in making the trek to Austin, theology teacher Catarina Torres-Wignall said the trip provided her students to see yet another way of putting faith into action.
“I think it’s really exciting for them to go see how the democratic process works, meet representatives from their legislative office, get to know what it’s like to speak to a legislative representative and talk about Catholic values that are important to them,” Torres-Wignall said. “It’s validating to know that you can make a difference and not just react to a problem on the tail end of it. You can be on the front end in maybe stopping the problem in the first place.”
For Bishop Dunne sophomore Zaiya Ogbonna, whose father is a native of Nigeria, her first trip to the capitol was revealing.
“I’ve never been able to see [the legislators] pass a bill in person,” Ogbonna said. “I think it’s important to be here because every voice counts and the fact that we all came shows that we do care and we’re a part of a bigger movement.”
Officials from the Texas Catholic Conference have been meeting with lawmakers on behalf of the Texas bishops and advocated for a number of bills pertaining to issues such as the protection of human life, children and families, healthcare, immigration, protecting the poor and criminal justice.
“We have a religious voice to express just like any other community that expresses their view,” said Jennifer Allmon, associate director of the Texas Catholic Conference. “It’s not that we’re attempting to dominate the political discourse, but that we have a voice in that process. Advocacy Day enables the average Catholic person in the pew to come and engage on their faith and their culture.”
Allmon said the conference is especially advocating for advanced directive reform legislation, an end to payday lending, the establishment of an education tax-credit scholarship, and the abolition of the death penalty in Texas.
“Each one of you is a living expression of the best qualities of the American idea, where being a faithful citizen and a faithful Catholic intersect,” said San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, who spoke to the crowd at the rally. “Today we celebrate the blessings of what our values and beliefs represent, as we endeavor to help shape a more just and compassionate society. Today, you carry the hopes, the dreams and the fears of our brothers and sisters throughout Texas.”