By Susan Szalewski
Catholic Voice, Omaha Archdiocese
LINCOLN – Fueled by prayer, church teaching and information on the legislative process, about 90 people met with state senators March 24 at an inaugural “Catholics at the Capitol” event, sponsored by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), Diocesan Councils of Catholic Women, Catholic Daughters of America and the Knights of Columbus.
The group included some who had experience in lobbying lawmakers, including Mark Kenney of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, who for more than 25 years has been an advocate for issues central to his faith, and Maris Bentley, a member of Christ the King Parish in Omaha and a board member for Nebraskans United for Life, also in Omaha. She had been at the Capitol the week before for a March 18 “Pro-Life Legislative Day.”
But the group also drew people who don’t typically meet one-on-one with senators. Dee Leuck of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Omaha said she hadn’t made that kind of effort before.
“This is absolutely all new to me,” Leuck said in a hallway outside the legislative chamber, after meeting with state Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, her representative.
She said she picked up a Catholics at the Capitol flier the weekend before, while at a pro-life living rosary at St. Bernard Church in Omaha. “It caught my eye, and I thought, ‘This is something I need to go to.”
Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha welcomed attendees to a 9 a.m. gathering at St. Mary Church, across the street from the Capitol. The gathering included prayer and talks on “Living Our Faith in the Public Square” by Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln; an overview of key legislation by Greg Schleppenbach, NCC executive director; measures impacting marriage and education by Sheri Rickert, NCC policy director and general counsel; and immigration challenges by Omar Gutierrez, manager of missions and justice for the Archdiocese of Omaha.
The group then walked across the street to the Capitol and requested meetings with their senators, who were debating measures and voting, but as they had time went out to visit in the hallway and rotunda.
After meeting with lawmakers, many group members watched senators in action from the balcony over the legislative chambers. At one point, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley stopped the lawmaking process to formally welcome and introduce Catholics at the Capitol.
Many also returned to St. Mary for a 12:10 p.m. Mass, and some stayed for prayer in front of a Lincoln abortion facility.
Schleppenbach said he was pleased with the turnout and hopes to have more people next year.
“Eventually we’ll have hundreds,” he told those gathered in the basement of St. Mary Church. “I’m confident.”