Diocese encouraging people to vote

September 29, 2016 | The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette | Link to Article

With a vigil, phone calls and home visits, the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese will focus this weekend and next on turning out voters prepared to “vote their values” in the November election, a spokeswoman said Thursday. 

The activities are part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ longtime Faithful Citizenship drive, in partnership with PICO National Network’s new “Together We Vote” campaign.

The latter effort, described as broadly faith-based but with many Catholics in leadership roles, aims to reach 1 million “marginalized voters” nationwide before Election Day, according to its website. 

Locally, trained volunteers will participate in a commissioning vigil at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Fort Wayne’s St. Joseph Catholic Church, 2213 Brooklyn Ave. Then they will fan out to the parish’s neighborhood on Fort Wayne’s near-southwest side to contact residents personally, said Audrey Davis, a drive organizer with the diocese’s Office for Social Justice in Fort Wayne.

A similar outreach will take place 3 to 6 p.m. Oct. 9 in the neighborhood of St. Patrick Catholic Church, 2110 S. Harrison St. in Fort Wayne.

The two churches were chosen because both have concentrations of Hispanic and Burmese residents in their congregations or schools, Davis said.

“A good portion of these voters don’t have any tradition of civic engagement in their culture,” she said, noting many come from countries with dictatorships or regimes where voting is discouraged or even dangerous.

However, the drive aims to reach both Catholics and non-Catholics, Davis said. Other parishes where it is taking place are in Goshen, Ligonier, Plymouth and South Bend. 

Other Fort Wayne-area parishes will have civic responsibility messages from the pulpit Sunday.

The hope is to have 2,000 conversations with people in the diocese described as “the least, the last and the lonely” in the drive’s literature.

“These are voters that are currently least able to participate in voting – maybe they work, speak a different language, have felony records and don’t know if they can vote, and those who are needing encouragement to know that their voice matters,” Davis said.

Volunteers will carry registration forms, absentee and early voting and ask people to sign a pledge to keep candidates focused on the group’s priorities after the election.

She said volunteers have been trained not to espouse or disparage specific candidates or parties. They also will not urge single-issue voting, such as voting only for candidates against abortion, she added.

Instead, Davis said, the workers will listen to voters, ask them to balance the issues important to them and, informed by Catholic teaching and values, “prayerfully” make their choices.

“We are suggesting that the theological mandate that those of us who follow Jesus have is a respect for the life and dignity of every human person from conception to natural death,” Davis said in an email.

“That means standing for the truth about marriage and family, promoting a preferential option for the poor and economic justice, pursuing justice for immigrants, working for peace and countering violence and caring for creation.”