By Leela Ramdeen Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium [The Joy of the Gospel], no 220, quoting United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, November 2007, no 13)
In just over two weeks, we will go to the polls to cast our votes for the candidate/party of our choice. It’s important for Catholics and the wider community to understand the importance of the call for us to participate in society.
Participation in the civic life of one’s nation is a key Catholic social justice principle. The domestic Church is on mission not to contemplate navels, as the saying goes, but to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. Each of us is a member of this society and has a duty to help promote authentic integral human development.
I had a long chat recently with a young man who came to see me at my home to discuss a personal matter. In his distress, because of his personal circumstances, he expressed his frustration about some of the challenges he and others face in his community.
He said: “Ah eh going out to vote for nobody, because voting eh changing notting!” I hoped that after our chat, I was able to convince him of the importance of exercising his franchise by voting.
Our Church states clearly:
“Citizens…should remember that it is their right and duty, which is also to be recognised by the civil authority, to contribute to the true progress of their own community according to their ability…All citizens ought to be aware of their right and duty to promote the common good by casting their votes. The church praises and esteems those who devote themselves to the public good and who take upon themselves the burdens of public office in order to be of service” (Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), Vatican II, 1965, # 65, & #75.
We are going through difficult times due to the impact on the economy of COVID-19, the loss of billions of dollars in revenue as a result of low global energy prices etc. But, with committed politicians of integrity, and with all of us rallying round to ensure that we ‘bounce’ back eventually, we can make it.
As the saying goes: ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’ Pope Francis tells us that “Politics is one of the highest forms of love, because it is in the service of the common good…” Together, we can build the common good; which refers to “‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.’ The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority.” (Catechism, 1906. And see 1897–1927).
Note the three essential elements of the common good: respect for the individual, the social well-being and development of the group, and peace which results from the stability of a just society.
The writer Louis L’Amour reminds us that “to make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers.”
If we are to participate effectively, we need to educate ourselves about what it means to live in a democracy.
Read the Preamble in our Constitution: https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/1.01.pdf
Parishes have a role to play in the education process. As the US Bishops said in Communities of Salt and Light (1993): “Parishes need to promote a revived sense of political responsibility calling Catholics to be informed and active citizens, participating in the debate over the values and vision that guide our communities and nation. Parishes as local institutions have special opportunities to develop leaders, to promote citizenship, and to provide forums for discussion and action on public issues…Parishes can help lift up the moral and human dimension of public issues, calling people to informed participation in the political process.”
Pope Francis’ statement to journalists on October 2, 2016 on a flight from Azerbaijan, is noteworthy. He said: “I never say a word about electoral campaigns. The people are sovereign. I will only say: study the proposals (of candidates) well, pray, and choose in conscience.”
In January 2020 he advised US Bishops: “…teach your people discernment by you stepping back from the sheer politics of it” and focus on the values at stake.
God bless our nation.
The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, of his brethren.
— Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1397 CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee