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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 11, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page story
Bishop Cordileone installed in Oakland
Catholics to lawmakers:
‘Don’t shred safety net’ for state’s poor

Hector Medina, director of Latino Ministry in the Oakland Diocese, leads Catholic Lobby Day participants in song as they walk to the state capitol.

Determined to influence public policy, more than 650 Catholics from throughout the state, including the Oakland Diocese, and several of the state’s bishops came to Sacramento for Catholic Lobby Day on April 28.

Speakers in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and at a noon rally on the state Capitol steps called on Catholics to put their faith into action on behalf of the poor and powerless. The California Catholic Conference, the public policy office of the state’s Catholic bishops and sponsor of Lobby Day, asked participants to focus on three bills in the Legislature and on the issue of drastic budget cuts again facing the state.

“We are not here as budget experts,” said Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, in his remarks to the crowd that filled the cathedral. “We are here as people of faith, common sense and hope, and we are here to tell legislators not to shred the safety net.”

When legislators make tough decisions about which programs get funded, Dolejsi said, Catholics must remind them to take care of the poor and vulnerable.

Participants focused their efforts on three bills affecting the acutely vulnerable: newborns up to a month old, poor families who need food stamps, and children who are prisoners in the California correctional system.

Speaking on Assembly Bill 1048, the bill that would expand existing law to permit a newborn’s surrender up to 30 days after birth, was John Watkins, coordinator of social justice for the Diocese of Oakland.

Watkins is the foster father of three-month-old John Douglas Garcia Watkins, a child born on Jan. 26 of this year and surrendered by his birth mother on Jan 28. Watkins and his wife, Christine, are in the process of adopting the infant.

Watkins argued that the current 72-hour window for surrendering an infant doesn’t take into account barriers of language and transportation, the lack of public awareness regarding the option of surrender, and the timing of post-partum depression, which can set in after the 72-hour window has passed. “AB 1048 is about helping women in crisis, helping babies and saving lives,” he said.

To illustrate the necessity of passing Senate Bill 399, a re-sentencing bill for young offenders, Jesuit Father Michael Kennedy had 15-year-old Peter Wolf stand next to him as he spoke. Wolf, a freshman from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, held a plastic garbage bag while Father Kennedy, co-chaplain of Sylmar Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, read excerpts from letters written by incarcerated boys Wolf’s age. After reading aloud from a boy’s letter, Father Kennedy would drop it into the garbage bag.

“These boys are thrown away,” Father Kennedy said. “They are 15 and 16 years old, and they are never, ever, ever going to leave prison.”

Father Kennedy noted that the United States is the only country in the world that incarcerates kids for the rest of their lives.

Speaking about Assembly Bill 1057, the CalWORKS and Food Stamp program, was Maria Rangel, director of the nutrition program at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Stockton. The grant-funded outreach program assists people in the registering for food stamps.

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