Mercy on the Election Forefront
By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team
The Sisters of Mercy certainly haven’t been sitting on the sidelines during this election season. They have been educating others about how faith shapes our role as citizens, exploring “hot-button issues” among voters, registering people to vote and speaking out for policies that support persons who are poor. Mercy educational institutions, meanwhile, have been providing opportunities for young people to learn about issues and candidates’ views.
As a member of the Sisters of Mercy’s Institute Justice Team, based just outside Washington, D.C., I was privileged to help prepare Mercy’s U.S. Elections 2012 resource, a guide that proposes questions to consider when assessing candidates’ positions on issues related to Earth, immigration, nonviolence, racism and women. This guide is available on the Institute website, along with other election-related materials such as papers on “hot-button issues” that are getting attention in races for elected office, a bibliography of helpful readings and links to fact-checking sites. It’s gratifying to see that Pax Christi, other religious congregations and even National Catholic Reporter have been promoting this resource.
But that’s only one way in which Sisters and their co-workers around the country have been involved in educating others on the issues and enabling them to participate in the election process. Among the many others are:
- Sister M. Gratia L’Esperance of Rochester, whom I suspect is just one of many Sisters volunteering to register people to vote.
- Sister Marilyn Sunderman, assistant theology professor at St. Joseph’s College of Maine, delivering an evening lecture at that campus on Jesus’ Ethics, Politics and the Common Good.
- Sister Mary Alice Synkewecz from the Collaborative Center for Justice in Hartford, CT, visiting the retirement centers of several congregations of women religious and some direct-service ministries to share information on candidates’ platforms related to issues such as social security, jobs, economy, security/defense, tax reform, immigration, healthcare, education, abortion, energy, foreign policy, campaign finance reform, environment and guns.
- Sister Karen Donahue, a justice coordinator from Detroit, teaching classes at Mt. Mercy University in Cedar Rapids about the influence of money in elections.
- Carlow University in Pittsburgh sponsoring a panel of faculty and staff members who addressed the election against the backdrop of Catholic Social Teaching.
- Mercy High School San Francisco, where students engaged in a mock election in which they voted on the positions of presidential candidates, including lesser known third-party candidates.
- Sisters in Missouri, Ohio and Rochester who joined the Nuns on the Bus effort to educate people about the importance of preserving funding for programs that assist persons who are poor and vulnerable.
“This 2012 election in the U.S. is a highly critical one, I believe,” said Sister Marilyn Sunderman about her approach to her lecture and a series of teleconferences on the same topic. “To offer non-partisan reflections that include a discussion of the common good, the importance of hospitable dialogue, the role of prudential conscience decision-making within the context of Jesus’ ethic and Catholic social teaching is helpful for Christian citizens to consider at this time.”
Carlow University, in addition to holding voter registration drives, focused its pre-election activities on educating students on the issues. A series of films were offered, including “Miss Representation,” which deals with women in the media, and “Sun Come Up,” about global warming.
“For me, the more compelling event was a panel of faculty and staff members who spoke about the election against the backdrop of Catholic Social Teaching,” said Sister Sheila Carney, special assistant to the university president for Mercy heritage and service at Carlow University. “The presentations generated an interesting conversation. A special feature of this event was that we held it in the church on campus where, at that time, there was a labyrinth. After the panel most of the participants walked the labyrinth together as a way of giving ourselves more time to reflect on and integrate what we had heard.”
In her visits to retirement centers, Sister Mary Alice Synkewecz shared reflection materials and encouraged participants to be responsible, informed voters.
“After the elections, it will continue to be our responsibility to hold our elected representatives on all levels accountable for the legislation they propose and enact,” she told the Sisters with whom she met. “As voters we have a right to expect that our representatives will be mindful of the common good when discussing proposed laws. Holding our elected officials accountable is a responsibility connected to the privilege of voting.”