Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 02/10/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 5

The Virginia Catholic Conference wishes to thank all who came to Richmond on Thursday to lobby their legislators on issues important to Catholics as part of our annual Catholics in the Capital day.  The opportunity for our grassroots members to communicate with legislators is the epitome of the faithful citizenship we are called to by our faith!

Thursday evening, many of those who had met with their delegates and senators traveled to Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart to join Virginia’s bishops, members of the Governor’s staff and cabinet, legislators from both parties and others for the 2nd annual Virginia Vespers, in which we prayed for the needs of the Commonwealth.  Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond was the celebrant and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington delivered the homily, urging legislators and others to find unity and common cause in this age of bitter division and adversarial politics.  After Vespers, participants joined the bishops for a wine and cheese reception.

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A view of the congregation at Virginia Vespers from the choir loft

The Conference thanks all for a successful event and looks forward to next year’s Virginia Vespers!

That same afternoon, the House and Senate held floor debates and votes on their respective versions of the budget.  Members of conference committees from both chambers will be appointed next week to resolve differences between the House and Senate budgets.

Here’s a look at how Conference priorities fared this week:

Defunding the Abortion Industry:  HB 2264 (Del. Cline) – a top Conference priority – passed the House in a 60-33 vote last Tuesday.  On Thursday, it passed the Senate Education & Health Committee 8-7. The bill would divert state funds away from the abortion industry. The full Senate will vote on it early next week.

Conforming Virginia to the Hyde Amendment:  On Thursday, the House approved a budget amendment offered by Del. Bob Marshall that would prohibit Medicaid funds from being used for abortions that do not fall under one of the three exceptions allowed by the federal Hyde Amendment (rape, incest and life of the mother) in a 60-34 vote.   Currently, Virginia funds abortions beyond those required by federal law.  If Marshall’s amendment passes as part of the final budget, it would bring Virginia into line with 32 other states and the District of Columbia.

Religious Liberty:  In a 21-19 vote, the full Senate approved SB 1324 (Sen. Carrico) to protect the right of religious organizations, including charities and schools, to follow the teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman without being penalized by state government.  The legislation – among the Conference’s top priorities – will be considered next week in the House, which has already passed identical legislation (HB 2025, Del. Freitas).

Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants:  Conference-supported legislation, HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva), has passed the House in a 70-27 vote. It would allow various designations of legally-present residents of Virginia to obtain temporary driving privileges.

Immigrant Communities:  A Conference-opposed bill would force local police and sheriff’s departments to take responsibility for enforcing federal immigration law. HB 2000 (Del. Poindexter) passed the House in a 63-33 vote. We stand with the Commonwealth’s police chiefs in opposing this bill because it would strain local law enforcement agencies’ budgets, jeopardize their relationships with the communities they serve and make those same communities less safe.

Welcoming Refugees:  HB 2002 (Del. Poindexter) attempts to place redundant regulations on refugee resettlement agencies, such as Catholic Charities, to report statistical information about their ministries’ activities to the state. Much of this information is already provided regularly to both the Commonwealth and to the federal government, but this law adds additional red tape to the resettlement process while doing nothing to address fears related to national security. After passing the House, the Conference-opposed bill was approved by the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee in an 8-7 party-line vote. The full Senate will vote on the bill as soon as Tuesday of next week. Please stay tuned for an alert!

Education Opportunities for At-Risk Children:  In a 6-4 vote, the House Finance subcommittee approved Conference-supported SB 1427 (Sen. Stanley) to make low-income pre-K students eligible for the Education Improvement Scholarships tax credit program.  The full House Finance Committee will consider the bill Monday.

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 02/03/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 4

This week saw a flurry of action on several of the Conference’s legislative priorities.

As we approach crossover on Tuesday, February 7th, the House and Senate are rushing to complete their work and take action on their respective bills.  After Tuesday, the House may only consider bills passed by the Senate and vice versa.

This Sunday, February 5th, the House and Senate money committees will release their proposed budgets, which will be debated and voted on beginning next week.  Stay tuned for updates on Conference budget priorities!

On Thursday, February 9th, please join the bishops, legislators and Conference staff for these prayer and advocacy events:

Catholics in the Capital:  On Thursday, February 9th, come to Richmond and meet your delegates and senators and advocate for the important issues outlined in our agenda. Just schedule your February 9 legislators’ visits and our staff will be happy to provide talking points and updates beforehand. Find legislators’ contact information here. Let us know after you’ve made the appointment by emailing office@vacatholic.org.

Virginia Vespers:  After meeting with your delegates and senators, join Virginia’s bishops, legislators, fellow Catholics and people of all faiths as we pray for the needs of the Commonwealth at our second annual Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth on Thursday, February 9th at 5pm at Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A wine and appetizers reception follows.  Sign up here.

We look forward to seeing you in Richmond on Thursday, February 9!

Here’s a look at how Conference priorities fared this week:

Defunding the Abortion Industry:  A bill HB 2264 (Del. Cline) that would direct tax dollars away from the abortion industry passed out of committee on Thursday in a 14-8 vote. A top priority for the Conference, the bill will now move to the floor for a vote by the full House. This measure passed the General Assembly last year, but was vetoed by the governor.

Religious Liberty:  In a strong 57-37 vote, the full House approved HB 2025 (Delegate Freitas) to protect the right of religious organizations, including charities and schools, to follow the teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman without being penalized by state government.  Earlier this afternoon, the Senate General Laws Committee approved an identical bill, SB 1324 (Sen. Carrico), by an 8-6 vote (not yet available online).  The measure now heads to the Senate floor for a vote early next week. Thank you to everyone who took action on our recent alert on these top-priority Conference bills!

In related news, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging Americans to contact the White House and urge President Trump to follow through on his promise to strengthen religious liberty protections.  Click here to contact President Trump.

Immigrant Communities:  Multiple Conference-opposed bills would force local officials to work with the federal government to enforce immigration law. One measure to implicate campus officials in immigration enforcement, HB 2001 (Del. Poindexter), was tabled by the patron. One bill to require the same of local police and sheriff’s departments, HB 2236 (Del. Cline), was rolled into another, HB 2000 (Del. Poindexter). HB 2000 was then passed by the House Courts of Justice Committee in a 13-6 vote (not yet available online). We stand with the Commonwealth’s police chiefs in opposing these bills, understanding that they would strain local law enforcement agencies’ budgets and jeopardize their relationships with the communities they serve.

Welcoming Refugees:  Conference-opposed legislation, HB 1723 (Del. Anderson), would have imposed redundant reporting regulations upon charities that participate in refugee resettlement. Your advocacy and the participation of resettlement charities in the Commonwealth were crucial to the patron’s decision to strike the bill. However, a similar bill, HB 2002 (Del. Poindexter), passed the House in a 59-36 vote, even though most of the information that the bill calls for is already publicly available on the Virginia Department of Social Services website.

Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants:  The Conference is supporting a bill, HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva), that would allow various designations of legally-present residents of Virginia to obtain temporary driving privileges. The Conference supports legislation to expand access to driving privileges for all Virginians, regardless of immigration status. The measure was amended to apply only to residents who will be legally present as of July 1 of this year, and was reported by the House Transportation Committee in a 12-2 vote.

Parole for Juvenile Offenders:  The Conference is once again supporting a measure, SB 1152 (Sen. Marsden), to make those who received life-without-parole sentences as juveniles eligible for a parole hearing after serving 20 years in prison. After an amendment extending the time served to 25 years, the bill passed the Senate in a 28-12 vote.

Scholarships for TANF Recipients:  Conference-supported legislation, HB 2041 (Del. Murphy) and SB 838 (Sen. Stanley), would channel excess TANF (welfare) funds toward a pilot program to provide community college scholarships to recipients. HB 2041 passed unanimously out of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee but then died in House Appropriations. SB 838 passed out of the Senate Finance Committee, also unanimously.

Education Opportunities for At-Risk Children:  In a 39-0 vote, the Senate approved Conference-supported legislation, SB 1427 (Sen. Stanley), to make low-income pre-K students eligible for the Education Improvement Scholarships tax credit program. Thousands of Virginia students currently receive the financial assistance they need to attend Catholic and other nonpublic K-12 schools through this vital program.  Virginia can help at-risk children at an earlier age if this bill passes.  Other Conference-supported bills, which sought to increase the program’s tax credit from 65% to 90%, have been defeated for the year.

Recognizing the Harm of Pornography:  In a bipartisan 82-8 vote, the House of Delegates approved Conference-supported HJ 549 (Del. R.G. Marshall), recognizing that pornography leads to societal and individual harms. Virginia joins Utah and South Dakota as states that are recognizing these adverse effects. The resolution will now go to the Senate.  Stay tuned for another action alert on HJ 549!

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 01/30/2017

Being “the light of the world”: Speak out for the needs of migrants in 2017

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By Rev. Gerry Creedon

During National Migration Week, which began earlier this month on Epiphany Sunday, we reflected on East and West, North and South, finding a place in the light of the Son. Our U.S. Catholic bishops again invite us as a church “to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.”  We follow Pope Francis’ call to create a culture of encounter—dialogue, open hearts and minds.

Following last week’s migrant-related executive orders by President Trump issues surrounding justice for immigrants and refugees are very much in the news. Sometimes advocacy for justice for immigrants has to take place on a local level in our parishes and communities.  That advocacy needs to be pursued as well on the state level. Here is where our Virginia Catholic Conference can be a strong ally.  The Conference’s legislative agenda for 2017 includes supporting increased access to driver’s licenses for immigrants.

Recently I was working with an immigrant couple in pre Cana counseling.  When I asked for the correct spelling of their names they offered an out-of-state license, though they lived in Virginia.  Of course I knew why: many other states have much less restrictive policies than we do in regards to licenses for immigrants. I also understood how essential a driver’s license is to this young couple’s employment and income.  It could be the difference between getting to the hospital in time or not for a pregnancy-related emergency.  The overly strict procedures put in place by Virginia after the 9 /11 attacks need to be revisited.

A study group hosted by the DMV at the will of the Virginia General Assembly has offered some options for legislative action to the General Assembly, which is now in session.  At the least, Virginia needs to follow the federal standards of residency. This would permit the issuance of 6,000 additional licenses for Virginia’s drivers. This change would have safety and economic benefits.  As well, it would speak to a Commonwealth that comes closer to our Church’s mission to welcome the immigrant.  Del. Villanueva’s HB 2020 offers the promise of making “lawfully present residents” eligible for driving privileges. This is an important step.

To fulfill the mandate of faithful citizenship, it’s not enough to simply vote; we must also advocate at the federal, state and local levels.  We need to get to know and share our views with our legislators in their home offices, and we need to join forces with other Catholics to advocate on a state and national level.  Silence is rarely golden.  While as a pastor of a largely-immigrant parish I have focused on justice for immigrants, know that our Virginia Catholic Conference covers a broad range of life and justice issues in addition to issues facing immigrants.

Come to celebrate the pursuit of the common good alongside our bishops and state legislators! This year’s Virginia Vespers will take place at the Richmond Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on the evening of February 9.  I will offer the mid-day invocation on the Senate Floor earlier that day and would appreciate company up in the Gallery. Please also join me for Catholics in the Capital by visiting legislators one-on-one at the General Assembly building throughout the afternoon.

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Fr. Gerry Creedon is pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church, Dale City, and Chair of the Arlington Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 01/27/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 3

Today marks the 44th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., recalling the tragic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and the more than 59 million children who have since lost their lives.  The Conference wishes to express our appreciation of and solidarity with all who are marching for the dignity of life from conception until natural death in Washington today.   You can read statements commemorating the 44th Annual March for Life from Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington here and from Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond here.

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Fr. Terence Gordon, FSSP and parishioners from St. Joseph’s Parish in Richmond pose for the camera after today’s March for Life. Kimberly and Patrick Lewis, wife and son of VCC Associate Director Michael Lewis, are pictured in the baby stroller and behind Fr. Gordon

On February 9th, the Virginia Catholic Conference invites you to join us for these advocacy and prayer events:

  • Catholics in the Capital:  On Thursday, February 9th, come to Richmond and meet your delegates and senators and advocate for the important issues outlined in our agenda. Just schedule your February 9 legislators’ visits and our staff will be happy to provide talking points and updates beforehand. Find legislators’ contact information here. Let us know after you’ve made the appointment by emailing office@vacatholic.org.
  • Virginia Vespers:  After meeting with your delegates and senators, join Virginia’s bishops, legislators, fellow Catholics and people of all faiths as we pray for the needs of the Commonwealth at our second annual Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth on Thursday, February 9th at 5pm at Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A wine and appetizers reception follows.  Sign up here.

We look forward to seeing you in Richmond on Thursday, February 9!

The 2017 Virginia General Assembly session is quickly approaching “crossover” on February 7th, after which the House may only consider bills passed by the Senate and vice versa.  Over the next week, committees will be working hard to clear their dockets of all bills originally assigned to them.

Here’s a look at how Conference priorities fared this week:

Ultrasound Informed Consent:  Conference-opposed bills SB 1424 (Sen. Locke) and SB 1549 (Sen. Wexton) were defeated in identical 8-7 votes along party lines in the Senate Education & Health Committee. The bills would have weakened informed consent requirements before an abortion. Conference staff testified in opposition to these bills. The Conference was involved in the initial passage of these requirements.

Redefining Marriage:  The Conference opposed SJ 216 (Sen. Ebbin), a proposed constitutional amendment which would have removed from the VA Constitution the definition of marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.” Conference staff testified against the proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate Privileges & Elections Constitutional Subcommittee. The subcommittee recommended not to advance SJ 216, and the full committee will soon consider that recommendation.

Protecting Religious Liberty:  In a 14-8 vote, the House General Laws Committee approved HB 2025 (Delegate Freitas) to protect the right of religious organizations, including charities and schools, to follow the teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman without being penalized by state government.  This bill – one of the Conference’s top priorities for the 2017 session – now heads to the House floor, where there will be a vote next week.  Act now to urge your state delegate to vote for this bill on the House floor!

Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants:  The Conference once again supported legislation, HB 1682 (Del. Bloxom), to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver privilege cards to taxpaying residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The bill received the support of the Conference, in solidarity with members of our own church communities who contribute to the Commonwealth’s cultural and economic life. Despite overwhelming testimony in favor of the bill, it did not advance out of committee. We look forward, however, to supporting similar legislation, HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva), which would extend driving privileges to all immigrants who are legally present in the Commonwealth.

Immigrant Communities:  In a 68-31 vote, the House of Delegates passed HB 1468 (Del. Robert Marshall). Opposed by the Conference, this bill would force cities and counties to comply with every federal detainer request and undermine trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement. The measure will now move to the Senate.

Enhancing Scholarship Tax Credits:  In identical 7-4 votes, a House Finance subcommittee advanced two Conference-supported bills (HB 1962 and HB 1963, Delegate Massie) that would enhance the Education Improvement Scholarships tax credit program.  HB 1962 would increase the tax credit to 90% from 65%, and HB 1963 would make low-income pre-K students eligible for the program.  Thousands of Virginia students receive the financial assistance they need to attend Catholic and other nonpublic K-12 schools through this vital program.  The program could help many more children if these bills pass.  The full House Finance Committee is expected to vote on these bills on Monday, January 30.  Identical Senate bills will also be debated in the Senate Finance Committee next week.  Please take action here to tell your state delegate and senator to support these bills.

Protecting Consumers:  Conference-supported legislation, SB 1126 (Sen. Surovell), applies the Commonwealth’s lending regulations to a growing market of loans contracted over the Internet. The Conference has long supported measures to protect vulnerable consumers by closing loopholes that exist in Virginia’s financial law. With the addition of a clause saying the bill also must be approved next year, it passed the Senate in a 34-6 vote. See previous coverage of the Conference’s advocacy for this bill here.

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 01/20/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 2

The 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly continues to move full speed ahead as we conclude a busy second week of legislative business. The deadline to file bills is today, and Conference staff continues to comb through every bill filed, highlighting those for which to advocate or oppose.

House and Senate committees are in the midst of considering thousands of bills by “crossover” on February 7th , after which date the House and Senate can only consider bills that have passed the opposite chamber. Conference staff testified on quite a few of the bills debated in committees this week. Here’s a look at how some of those fared:

Regulating Abortion Clinics: Conference-opposed legislation, SB 877 (Sen. Favola), which would have repealed the abortion clinic regulations that led operations to be suspended at a Fairfax clinic last spring due to 26 health and safety violations, was defeated in an 8-7 vote by the Senate Education and Health Committee. The Conference played an important role in the passage of the law directing the Board of Health to devise and implement abortion clinic regulations in 2011, and vigorously opposes any efforts to weaken regulation and oversight of the abortion industry.

Recognizing January 22nd as the “Day of Tears” in Virginia: HR 268 (Del. Cline), which encourages Virginians to lower their flags to half-staff every January 22 to mourn the nearly 60 million innocents who have lost their lives to abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, passed the House on Wednesday in a 57-36 vote. This resolution is the first in the United States to pass, and supporters are hopeful that other states will follow Virginia’s lead. The Conference supported the resolution to remember the millions of children lost to abortion. The first Day of Tears will be this Sunday, January 22.

Adoption Tax Credits: Conference-supported legislation, HB 2027 (Del. Freitas), failed to advance out of a House Finance subcommittee on a voice vote. The bill would have created a tax credit and deduction for the adoption of a child within the Virginia foster care system. The subcommittee recommended that the proposal be referred to the Commission on Youth for further study. We look forward to continuing our work on this issue in the future.

Protecting Religious Liberty: In a 4-2 vote, a House General Laws subcommittee advanced a bill, HB 2025 (Del. Freitas), to protect the right of religious organizations, including charities and schools, to follow the teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman without being penalized by state government. The full committee will soon consider this bill, one of the Conference’s top priorities for the 2017 session.

Preserving Scholarship Tax Credits: In a voice vote, a House Finance subcommittee rejected a Conference-opposed bill (HB 1707, Del Filler-Corn) that would have reduced tax incentives for donations to charities and K-12 scholarship foundations that help low-income students.

Immigration Enforcement: A Conference-opposed immigration enforcement measure, HB 1468 (Del. Robert Marshall), passed out of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee in a 10-7 vote. This bill, which would force cities and counties to comply with every federal detainer request and undermine trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement, will be heard on the House floor next week. Alongside many of the Church’s leaders across the nation, Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco has directly addressed the issue in the wake of a highly publicized tragedy that took place within his archdiocese in 2015. You can read the archbishop’s statement in support of local law enforcement’s right to discretion in these matters here.

Raising the Minimum Wage: Conference-supported efforts to raise the minimum wage have been killed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. The Conference testified at the committee hearing that raising the minimum wage is a pro-family policy that respects the dignity of work and would enable the self-sufficiency of more working families. After the defeat of SB 785 (Sen. Marsden) in an 11-3 committee vote, SB 978 (Sen. Dance), was stricken by the patron. Four Conference-supported minimum wage bills still remain to be considered by a House committee.

Protecting Consumers from Predatory Lending: The Conference received press coverage for its advocacy in favor of SB 1126 (Sen. Surovell), which applies the Commonwealth’s lending regulations to a growing market of loans contracted over the Internet. The Conference has long supported measures to protect vulnerable consumers by closing loopholes that exist in Virginia’s financial law. The bill passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee with bipartisan support, in an 8-5 vote. It is expected to be heard on the Senate floor next week.

Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants: The Conference once again supported legislation, SB 1345 (Sen. Surovell), to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver privilege cards to taxpaying residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The Church stands in solidarity with undocumented parishioners who contribute to the Commonwealth’s cultural and economic life. Despite overwhelming testimony in favor of the bill, it failed in a 7-6 vote. A companion bill, HB 1682 (Del. Bloxom), will be heard by the House Transportation Committee in the near future. We also look forward to supporting similar pieces of legislation that are patroned by members of both parties, including HB 1419 (Del. Kory), HB 1688 (Del. Lopez), and HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva).

Virginia Executes Ricky Javon Gray

On Wednesday, the Commonwealth put to death Ricky Javon Gray at 9:42 pm, despite the petitions of Catholics and others for Governor McAuliffe to commute Gray’s sentence to life without parole. Gray is the 112th person to be executed by the Commonwealth since 1982, after he was sentenced to death for the 2006 murders of seven Richmond residents. Echoing Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond issued this joint statement expressing their profound sorrow and grief for victims of violence, as well as their hope for an end to capital punishment.

 

Plan to join us for these upcoming advocacy and prayer events:

Catholics in the Capital: On Thursday, February 9th, come to Richmond and meet your delegates and senators and advocate for the important issues outlined in our agenda. Just schedule your February 9 legislators’ visits and our staff will be happy to provide talking points and updates beforehand. Find legislators’ contact information here. Let us know after you’ve made the appointment by emailing office@vacatholic.org.

Virginia Vespers: After meeting with your delegates and senators, stick around and join Virginia’s bishops, legislators, fellow Catholics and people of all faiths as we pray for the needs of the Commonwealth at our second annual Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth on Thursday, February 9th at 5pm at Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A wine and appetizers reception follows. Sign up here.

 

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 01/13/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 1

The 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly kicked off Wednesday amidst a blanket of (melting) snow.  With no time to waste during the short 45-day session, delegates and senators set to work immediately on the business of the Commonwealth.

This session, the Virginia Catholic Conference welcomes two new associate directors who joined us in November:  Kevin Mauer, who hails from Utah, and Bill Re, who comes from Illinois. Together, they and other members of the VCC team will advocate from a wide-ranging agenda to preserve and expand pro-life protections, protect religious liberty and conscience rights, oppose cuts to crucial safety net programs, and more.   Our agenda for this current session can be found here.

Here’s a look at how some of the Conference’s priorities fared this week:

Ending the Lifetime Ban on SNAP Benefits:  In an 8-7 vote, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee defeated Conference-supported legislation, SB 830 (Sen. Favola), that would have repealed Virginia’s lifetime ban on those convicted of drug-distribution felonies receiving SNAP benefits (formerly known as “food stamps”). The Conference has long favored efforts to re-integrate into society people who have served their time after committing crimes. Former inmates often are barred from many employment opportunities because of their pasts, and struggle to meet basic needs as they re-integrate into society.

Action Items:

Ask the Governor to Grant a Stay of Execution: On Wednesday, January 18, Virginia is scheduled to carry out the execution of Ricky Javon Gray.  Please act now and urge Governor McAuliffe to commute Gray’s sentence to life without parole instead of executing him.  Pope Francis has said, “Today, capital punishment is unacceptable,” echoing the Catechism, the statements of his predecessors, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II, as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have taught, “No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.”

Plan to join us for these upcoming advocacy and prayer events:

Catholics in the Capital:  On Thursday, February 9th, come to Richmond and meet your delegates and senators and advocate for the important issues outlined in our agenda. Just schedule your February 9 legislators’ visits and our staff will be happy to provide talking points and updates beforehand. Find legislators’ contact information here. Let us know after you’ve made the appointment by emailing office@vacatholic.org.

Virginia Vespers:  After meeting with your delegates and senators, join Virginia’s bishops, legislators, fellow Catholics and people of all faiths as we pray for the needs of the Commonwealth at our second annual Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth on Thursday, February 9th at 5pm at Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A wine and appetizers reception follows.  Sign up here.

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 12/20/2016

Making Room at the Inn: How our Faith Compels us to Welcome the Stranger Among Us

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By Rev. Shay Auerbach, S.J.

I have the privilege of working in a parish that is predominantly Latino and immigrant.  At this time of year we have begun the traditional Posadas celebrations, a pre-Christmas novena common in Latino communities with origins in Mexico and Central America.

Every night in our parish, at eight different locations Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging is reenacted.  The celebrations recall history and at the same time invite reflection that God still seeks “lodging” in the human race.  He longs to be welcomed into our hearts, our families, parishes and the wider community.

Part of the ritual includes knocking at the door of the home slated to receive the posada.  A sung exchange begins.  Those outside sing in Joseph’s voice, begging for lodging for his very pregnant wife, tired from a long journey.  The response comes from the inside of the house, several times telling the pilgrims to go away, “leave at once, you might be criminals, we will beat you.”  The outsiders are insistent and finally the hearts of those inside soften and welcome the “holy pilgrims” not just into the home but into their hearts as well.

The existential connection is unnerving.  Immigrants being called criminals, threatened with violence if they do not leave.  The solidarity strengthens.  Mary and Joseph were also rejected yet they did not despair.   The power of conversion is equally as remarkable.  Hardened hearts soften, closed doors open.  There is room for all and a celebration begins with a banquet for all.

Isn’t this the essence of our faith?  God journeys to join the human race.  He faces rejection; even death.  Yet in the end, hearts are transformed and new life begins.

We remember Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay.  Later we hear about them as a family fleeing Bethlehem to escape violence and join the Jewish diaspora, the vibrant Jewish immigrant community in Egypt.

On December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the US Bishops invited us to a day of prayer and solidarity with refugees and migrants.  During National Migration Week beginning on Epiphany Sunday (Jan. 8 – 14) the bishops again invite us as a church “to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking”.  We follow Pope Francis’ call to create a culture of encounter—dialogue, open hearts and minds.

The coming celebrations join us in a profound way to an immigrant family who looked for a better life.  Our Christian life is rooted in the stories we hear in the next couple of weeks.  What better way to become more authentically Christian than to walk in solidarity with Mary and Joseph as they seek welcome, with the Holy Family as they journey to a new country.  What better way to pray, than to lift our voices with Joseph’s pleading for welcome.  What more honest practice to welcome the God who wants to take on our flesh than to examine where our hearts are closed, where our minds are frozen, where our doors are bolted shut.

And as we celebrate God taking up residence in the human family, let us be hope for our brothers and sisters who still face rejection and still journey.

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Fr. Shay Auerbach, S.J. is pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Richmond.  He is also president of the board of directors of Sacred Heart Center, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to create a hub for the Richmond Hispanic/Latino community which opens opportunities for economic and social integration, self-fulfillment, and community leadership development.”

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 11/16/2016

Prison ministry offers hope to men and women living in Virginia’s prisons

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 11/01/2016

Election fatigue or not, Catholics called to participate in the political process

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