With 1.2 million Catholics in Wisconsin, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee told hundreds of them gathered in the State Capitol in Madison that, “We are definitely a player in the state of Wisconsin, there is no doubt about it.”

He added, “As Catholic people [we are called to] act and speak out and to protect and promote the self-evident truths of God’s creation.”

The archbishop’s remarks were given during a prayer service at the State Capitol on April 30.

It was part of the 11th biennial Catholics at the Capitol, held both at the Monona Terrace in Madison and at the State Capitol.

Catholics at the Capitol is a day of prayer, formation and advocacy for all who are interested in learning more about Catholic social teaching and how to advocate effectively.

It was presented by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin, which is celebrating 50 years this year.

Growing in community

The event began at the Monona Terrace with WCC Executive Director Kim Vercauteren welcoming the “packed house” to the day.

Archbishop Listecki gave opening comments and led everyone in the Prayer of St. Francis.

Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines of Milwaukee introduced the keynote speakers, Samantha Vosters and Vincent Noth, to talk about “the wonderful work they do at Riverwest Food Pantry [in Milwaukee]. I have great affection for what they do.”

Vosters, the team formation director of the food pantry, talked about her journey to help out, which started with a chance meeting with a man named Harold, who was eating a free meal at a food site in Milwaukee while she was volunteering there

“Sitting with Harold filled me with so much joy that it blew me away. I didn’t expect it to hit me so hard,” said Vosters.

“This man was my brother — a man with a background totally different and foreign to mine. I had a deep encounter with the Lord through him,” she added.

She continued that along with a hunger for food, many people also have a deeper hunger.

“There’s a deep ache of loneliness that we all experience. We have forgotten that we belong to each other,” Vosters said.

That is the mission of the Riverwest Food Pantry in Milwaukee, to be more than just a source of food items for people who need them.

Noth, the executive director, talked about the mission of the food pantry — to place an importance on the “power of food.”

Along with providing healthier food, Noth said there “has to be dynamic engagement around food. You have to leverage the power of food in our community, food as a means to gather people and empower people, food as a means to build a culture of public health.”

Noth said the food pantry fits more of a “community food center” model, with its own gardens, kitchens, and volunteer mentors available to help those they serve.

Noth said, to them food serves “as a catalyst for neighborhood well-being.”

Breakout sessions

Following the keynote, there were five breakout sessions that participants could attend.

The issues covered included: solutions to homelessness, Latino ministry and services, innovations in pro-life care, introduction to Catholic Social Teaching, and prison ministry and re-entry.

In the prison ministry and re-entry session, the presenters were Msgr. James Bartylla, Diocese of Madison administrator and jail minister; Andre Brown from Project RETURN in Milwaukee; and Michael Adams from Milwaukee JobsWork.

Msgr. Bartylla focused on jail ministry, which he called “a very Catholic ministry, which means you have to have a hard head and a soft heart.”

He added, “you learn the dignity of the human person through this ministry very concretely,” remarking how many of them have become very holy people during their incarceration.

Brown and Adams focused on re-entry, or “assisting those who have moved past that mode of criminal activity” and giving them a “real life second chance,” said Brown, who helps the formerly incarcerated make a permanent return to society.

Adams talked about the job resources that Milwaukee JobsWork provides to those who have spent time behind bars.

“We want to make sure individuals are brought on board that are living in situations that they want to change themselves,” said Adams. “Folks come to us because they want to change their situation.”

Prayer service and visiting lawmakers

Following lunch, everyone either walked or rode a bus over to the Capitol for the prayer service, held in the rotunda.

Archbishop Listecki told those gathered, “We are exercising one of the great fundamental rights of the United States, that is, the exercise and freedom of religion. To be able to express one’s faith, and to do so publicly, we are also exercising our right to engage in the body politic — to be here together to express our views to those” legislators.

The archbishop thanked the lawmakers and staffers that were able to attend the service.

Following the prayers, attendees were encouraged to visit the offices of their respective legislators to speak with lawmakers or staffers.

Attendees were given handouts with important issues to discuss, such as budget items related to poverty, immigration, health care, criminal justice, and education.

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