BY: Marsha Forson
“‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, … [He] has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ (Is 61:1-2) … I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year”.
Pope Francis quoted this passage from Isaiah, (proclaimed by Christ at the beginning of his ministry), to formally declare the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Isaiah speaks of his call to participate in the Divine work of creating a more just world. His joyous call is our call as well. There are as many ways to be missionaries of mercy as there are people, but I propose yet another way – a way vibrantly lived out by St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Philadelphia, namely, that of civic participation.
The parish is a member congregation of the interfaith community organizing group, Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER). POWER, which is funded in part by a Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant, will have more than 20 of its congregations participate in Get Out the Vote initiatives. This non-partisan effort will start internally. They aim to ensure that 100% of the members of each participating congregation are registered to vote. The congregations will then go forth into their communities with voter registration forms in hand. Members will participate in door-knocking campaigns, and be trained to assist citizens in the voter registration process.
What does voting have to do with mercy? Mary Laver, a lay leader at St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Outreach coordinator for POWER, and co-author of the PICO Year of Encounter program, says that the answer lies in Catholic social teaching’s (CST) emphasis on the necessity of participation. Our civic participation is an “extension of the belief that Catholics have in the dignity of the human person” Laver says. She believes that Christ’s call of mercy in Matthew 25, (the call to give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and company to the prisoner), points beyond these immediate needs to the “need for every person to be a tangible part of how society is run…” and ultimately “to the need for mercy and justice.”
CST proclaims that it is our duty and basic human right to participate in society for the advancement of the common good. David Koppisch, associate director of POWER Philadelphia, says that the spirit of Get Out the Vote campaigns, and consequently the spirit of merciful participation, should continue beyond election day. POWER groups, particularly St. Vincent De Paul, work to keep voters engaged on social justice issues year round. After helping people feel included in the civic process by encouraging them to vote, POWER congregations then encourage them to be ‘year-round prophets’ by speaking out about injustices in our communities between elections. In 2014, they worked to pass a ballot referendum that would provide just wages to airport subcontractors, most of whom were living in poverty. Bringing good tidings to the afflicted. POWER organizations are also working to ensure that public schools in Pennsylvania that serve our poorest children get the resources they need.
This year, may we view our right to civic participation as an opportunity to be instruments of mercy.