Catholics At Capitol Knock On Legislators’ Doors
Published: March 3, 2011
Catholics from around the archdiocese sit in the House of Representatives gallery among a host of other visitors. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—While the docket of the Georgia House of Representatives includes high-profile legislation aimed at immigrants to this country, legislators heard a reflection Feb. 17 from the chaplain of the day, Bishop Luis R. Zarama, a naturalized U.S. citizen.
“You have an enormous task before you this year,” Bishop Zarama said, speaking from the well of the chamber to state representatives.
As leaders, whether civil or religious, “it is sometimes too easy to forget what we have to do—to serve the people entrusted to us,” he said.
“You have been entrusted with the care of the people of Georgia,” he said.
He cited the Book of Genesis, the prayer of Solomon and the river of compassion that runs throughout Scripture in his words to the legislators.
“In the Book of Genesis, we see the extraordinary value God placed on the human person,” he said.
When Solomon was to become king, he continued, “Solomon asked for only one thing—wisdom. He knew it was only with divine wisdom that leaders of the state could govern justly. . . . God gave Solomon wisdom and a discerning heart and the nation prospered.”
In addition to asking for God’s guidance, Bishop Zarama said, it is necessary to act as God instructs and leads.
“In seeking guidance and divine wisdom, we must also follow it,” he said.
He added, “Without compassion, we cannot be following the sacred Scriptures.”
Bishop Luis Zarama was the chaplain for the morning as he led a prayer on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) introduced Bishop Zarama, outlining his academic degrees in canon law, philosophy and theology, and his pastoral work in North Georgia since he was ordained a priest in Atlanta over 17 years ago. He was the first Hispanic priest to become a pastor in North Georgia and later became vicar general.
The native of Colombia, South America, became an American citizen on July 4, 2000. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him auxiliary bishop of Atlanta in July 2009.
Speaking earlier that day to approximately 50 Catholics gathered for a lobbying day at the legislature, Bishop Zarama said that people immigrating to the United States, whether legal or not, do not forfeit God-given dignity.
“We need to try and respect the dignity of the human person,” he said to those who came to “Catholic Day at the Capitol.”
“I believe in my heart (for) 95 percent of the people who come to this country … it was a need of survival. That is something we need to keep in mind.”
“Human people who are in need—that is what we have. We need to find a way to put them in the system and not blame them,” he said. “It is easy to blame them. They cannot say anything.”
“God is not pro-life. God is life,” Bishop Zarama said. “That is a big, big difference.”
The belief of the church is to “protect human beings in their natural life … from the beginning to the end and everything in between,” he said.
Immigrants over the 235-year history of the United States have built the country, he said. “The country was blessed through the hands and backs and work of these people.”
‘Your Presence Is Important’
Catholic Day is held each year through the sponsorship of the Catholic Communications Office of the archdiocese to introduce interested people to the workings of the Georgia General Assembly and to ask for their help in speaking to their individual legislators on particular bills.
Three bills were featured this year.
Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, told those gathered, “Your presence, particularly on immigration, is very, very important.”
“We need to get our Catholic view of human dignity out there more and more.”
Where does the dignity of the human person come from?” he asked. “It comes from the hand of God. It doesn’t come from the state.”
The Georgia Catholic Conference has testified against House Bill 87, he said, which has a lengthy series of proposed sanctions on employers who hire those in the country illegally and also would give local law enforcement new responsibilities to ask for immigration documentation and enforce federal immigration law.
“Comprehensive immigration reform really has to be done at the federal level,” Mulcahy said.
Mary Boyert, director of the Respect Life Ministry of the archdiocese, spoke on House Bill 89, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”
This legislation would require a physician performing an abortion to first determine the gestational age of the unborn child and if the child was 20 weeks’ gestational age, the abortion could not be performed unless the health of the mother required it.
Boyert said that in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal it was not widely known that the unborn child can feel pain after a certain stage of development.
She said it is now known that after 20 weeks the unborn child has all the physical structures to experience pain. This is shown in the way surgery in utero is done, she added.
“Routinely they operate on the unborn child in the womb and when they do so they administer anesthesia,” she said.
In an abortion, there is no measure taken on behalf of the unborn.
She also said she has concerns about how the bill is written, in particular whether the exception for “health” reasons is too broad an exception. She also was concerned that the wording specify that health exceptions and the age of gestation be determined by an objective party, not by the abortion clinic itself.
Approximately 1,500 abortions a year in Georgia occur after 20 weeks’ gestation, she said.
Pat Chivers, communications director of the archdiocese, spoke on House Bill 62, directed toward enhancing an already existing scholarship program for children with special needs. Some 2,500 children statewide are now participating.
This bill would address a problem with the payment process for this program and also adds a mechanism so all parents can be notified about the availability of the program.
Willie Guadalupe of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Newnan, and her friends from Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City, prepare to leave the office of State Sen. Ronnie Chance. Although they were unable to meet with him, they all signed a letter and left it for him.
‘Very Exciting To See All This’
After an orientation in the morning, Catholic participants headed to the Capitol, where they heard Bishop Zarama speak to the House and then split up to visit their individual legislators.
Tom and Judy Dorn from St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek, were among those participating.
“This has been very exciting to see all of this, as well as meeting the bishop,” Judy Dorn said.
Her focus was on the legislation directed toward pain experienced by the unborn child in an abortion.
“To me, I don’t see how you could hurt an unborn child anymore than you could a newborn. They are both helpless,” she said.
Tom Dorn, who taught special education in California, was lobbying on behalf of the special education legislation.
“I am concerned they will receive the special education they need,” he said.
Virginia Seery of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta, met her legislator, Mary Margaret Oliver.
Trained in biochemistry, now in her second career as a statistical analyst for the state Department of Community Health, Seery was advocating for the passage of House Bill 89.
“We would like to see it passed, but with a good definition of what a health emergency is and we want someone who is really appropriate to make that decision, not an abortionist,” she said. “We want an objective determination of gestational age and of a medical emergency.”
“Bill 89 has to be amended before it can be accepted wholeheartedly,” she said.
This is her second year coming to the legislature on Catholic Day and when she retires she hopes to become even more active.
“I am hoping to be involved particularly in right-to-life issues,” she said. “That is so broad. Today we have three bills we could talk about.”
Ruth Bookalam from Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City, who has also taken part in previous years of lobbying, said, “I am always so overjoyed that in this country, we can speak. … We have a voice.”
While she said she advocates for “immigration, for other social justice issues,” her primary passion is the loss of life through abortion.
“The number lost to abortion is staggering. The number lost daily to abortion is an injustice,” she said. “That for me is the biggest injustice. They have no trials. These babies have done nothing. They are the least of our brothers.”
A native of Chile, she praised the “sense of community” in the United States and the freedom of expression that is not available in so many places around the world.
“I think we have a voice in this blessed country,” she said. “We have a voice.”