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Bishop reminds people of faith how inequities spur justice

Seeing the stark inequities in the Gaza Strip earlier in January, Spokane Bishop William Skyl-stad told participants at the recent Eastern Washington Legislative Conference those inequities are “at the heart of advocacy.”

“Crossing at the checkpoint was like going from day to night, from luscious green fields to crumbled buildings, from nice cars and tractors to transportation by donkey cart,” he said.

The priest at Our Lady of Sorrows School told what it was to be in a land torn by violence, alienation and hate and to give witness through the school that Muslims, Jews and Christians can get along, respectful of and sensitive to each other’s religions.

Bishop Skylstad also told of going in 1993 to Malawi with Catholic Relief Services after the president for life had been voted out because eight Catholic bishops wrote a 10-page pastoral letter, “Living our Faith.” They were arrested and would have been executed except for intervention by the United Nations.

The bishop then recounted prophets from Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament and the advocates of the civil rights movement.

“The prophetic role is something to reflect on, exercise and live into the future,” he said.  “It demands vision of what can and should be, like Isaiah 11 envisioning the wolf being the guest of the lamb.  We are connected with one another and the world in which we live.”

In today’s culture of deepening divisions and harshness, he called for a revolution in relationships and for prophets to be mystics and contemplatives, looking into the future, aware of God’s presence everywhere and in everyone.

He called for exercising the prophetic role with humility to see beyond symptoms to root causes, with courage to overcome paralyzing fear, with nurture from spiritual traditions, with hope for the future, with an eye to plant seeds for the long haul, with awareness of their faith’s social teachings and with solidarity with all humanity.

“Being aware of the Catholic principles of social teachings—dignity of life, rights with responsibility, the option for the poor and vulnerable; workers rights, solidarity and caring for God’s creation—keeps us from focusing narrowly on only one teaching,” he said.

He uplifted people’s need to be grateful for pains and hard times,  joys and blessings, because people learn by passing through difficulties. He also noted advocates’ need to have and balance both the enthusiasm of youth and the wisdom of elders.

“In the United States, we can express our views and influence our culture and society for the good.  We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,” he said setting the faith basis for speakers from the Lutheran Public Policy Office (LPPO), Washington Association of Churches (WAC) and Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC), who discussed priorities for ecumenical advocacy.

Paul Benz, of LPPO and WAC, and Tony Cube, the new legislative director of the WSCC, reported on bills coming in the current legislative session in Olympia.

Priorities of the Religious Coalition for the Common Good include affordable housing, accessible health care, a living wage, protection of the environment, criminal restoration and justice, and fair taxes. 

The coalition includes the WAC, the Jewish Federation, the Intercommunity Center for Peace, Justice and Creation, Friends, Earth Ministry, the Church Council of Greater Seattle and Associated Ministries of Pierce County.

The WAC’s Faith Alert Network is a way to learn about issues.  The Faith Advocacy Day is Feb. 22 in Olympia for the WSCC, and Feb. 27 in Olympia for the LPPO and WAC.

This session adopts the biennial budget, which Paul says is “a moral document that should reflect the value of our faiths that the state care for ‘the least,’ the poor and vulnerable.”

Some specific bills they support include: ending the 40-cent co-pay for school breakfasts, restoring food stamps for released felons; promoting agriculture that reduces reliance on pesticides to produce safer, sustainable foods; ending tax exemptions for businesses that do not produce jobs; adopting a windfall oil profits tax; adequately funding human services providers and mental health services; promoting the Basic Health Plan; increasing the Housing Trust Fund and state TANF monthly payments; capping payday loan interest rates, and eliminating chemical flame retardants in household items.

For information, call 329-1410.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © February 2007