Karen Barry Schwarz – Special to the Florida Catholic
Each year, Catholics from across the state gather in Tallahassee to participate in Catholic Days at the Capitol. This two-day event provides an opportunity for the Faithful to put a call to political responsibility into action and to strengthen the presence of Catholic values in the public square.
This year, Catholic Days at the Capitol took place March 7 and 8, 2023, with almost 300 of the faithful traveling to the Capitol in Tallahassee, most of them wearing red as is tradition, including 68 from the Diocese of Venice.
“This number of people traveling from the Diocese of Venice to the Capitol for Catholic Days is an all-time high – a 20-plus year record for us,” said Jeanne Berdeaux, the Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director. “We’re especially excited to have had 38 high school students with us this trip!”
The trip has been organized and led by Berdeaux for the past two decades. The group travelled by bus to Tallahassee. In addition to 30 adults, 38 students represented Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, and Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria.
Berdeaux spends months in advance planning the trip, making appointments with legislators for the faithful to discuss the key issues of importance to Catholics, according to direction provided by Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. The goal is to ensure that legislators know the Church’s position on several key issues and, ideally, to convince them to support (or oppose) certain bills.
This year, there were three bills on the agenda, addressing issues of abortion, education, and the death penalty. The faithful asked legislators for their support of the proposed abortion and education bills, and to oppose the current bill addressing the death penalty. Specifically, Catholics want legislators to:
- Support provisions that prohibit abortion after detection of a heartbeat. (While this bill does not end abortion in Florida, it limits its harm and is a significant improvement over current law.)
- Expand access to state scholarship programs for all students and convert state scholarships to educational savings accounts. (Parents should have the option to choose the educational environment that best meets the needs of their children.)
- Retain the unanimous jury requirement to impose a death sentence, rather than go to a majority requirement. (If Florida is going to retain the death penalty, our state should preserve the highest standard possible to recommend the most severe penalty society can impose.)
Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, Diocese of St. Petersburg, welcomed the group to Catholic Days at the Capitol, reminding the faithful that participating in the legislative process, including advocacy, is not only a right but a responsibility.
Bishop Dewane addressed the group just before they attended their legislative meetings, sending them off with a prayer: “God Almighty our Heavenly Father, we are grateful that you have brought us together this day… We ask you particularly to give us the courage this day as we go forward. Courage to speak up, courage to listen to those with whom we dialogue, but also the strongest insight, the intellect, to respond in a caring and a giving – in Your way – to the threat that we sometimes hear against life.”
A 10th grader from Cardinal Mooney expressed his enthusiasm for the trip felt by many of the high schoolers, “We’re here to fight for the rights of unborn children, and for the preservation of life as Catholics understand it; the death penalty, or abortion . . . so many people suffer from the effects of it. It does more harm than good in our society. That’s what Catholics are really advocating for.”
Other Diocese of Venice students added their excitement, explaining the purpose of the trip: “We’re here to learn about the issues that are facing Florida right now!” “We’re here to become future leaders of our generation!” “We’re here to make a Catholic presence at the capitol!”
Catholic Days at the Capitol concluded with the Annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, concelebrated by all the Bishops of Florida to pray for those working in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. Bishop Erik Pohlmeier, Diocese of St. Augustine and the most recently appointed Bishop in the state, delivered the homily. In addition to Faithful from across the state, several legislators were in attendance.
Catholics are asked to wear red to Catholic Days at the Capitol, and to the Mass, as the color red is said to invoke the Holy Spirit.
To get involved in Catholic Days at The Capitol in the Diocese of Venice next year, contact Jeanne Berdeaux at 941-441-1101, or Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org. To learn more about the legislative issues of concern to Catholics, connect with The Florida Catholic Advocacy (FLCAN), an online community established by the Bishops of Florida to connect, educate, and mobilize Catholics across Florida’s seven dioceses. Get alerts from FLCAN by signing up at www.flaccb.org/join-flcan, or to receive alerts via text message, simply text FLCAN to 50457.