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Religious education programs on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship can be as simple or elaborate as the DRE or catechist chooses. They can be incorporated over several weeks and months, or they can be the focus of one class period or part of one, depending on how much time is available.
It is important for adults and children to be familiar with some of the key ideas from Catholic social teaching that shape our approach to issues and campaigns. To do this, it is helpful to have already shared with them in previous sessions the Themes from Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, or the CST101 video series, which summarizes these themes.
Promote Citizenship but Avoid Partisanship
Parish leaders and staff play an important role in promoting "faithful citizenship." However, it is not appropriate for parish representatives to promote partisan positions on candidates or parties. For more information, see Do's and Don'ts: Political Responsibility Guidelines to Keep in Mind during Election Season.
Infuse the Faithful Citizenship Message into What You're Already Doing:
Prayers and Liturgies: Opening and closing prayers for catechetical sessions can include general and special intentions for those whose lives are at risk, for those suffering from injustice, for political leaders who make important decisions, and, close to the election, for those who will be voting for our leaders.
Regular Religious Education Classes: In addition to offering sessions focused specifically on the Church's teaching on civic responsibility, those who offer religious education can weave this topic into other discussions. For example, a discussion of the Corporal Works of Mercy can explore why people need our mercy, how public policies affect them, and why it is important for us to participate in shaping a society of greater justice and compassion. Classes on the Trinity can recall that we are created as social beings in God's image and likeness, and can discuss how this leads us to believe it is our right and duty to participate in social, economic, and political life.
Seize the Opportunities: While elections are the most obvious opportunities to discuss the message of Faithful Citizenship, other events lend themselves to this topic as well. A local right-to-life march or a "lobby day" sponsored by a diocesan or state legislative network can generate both discussion and action on the Catholic tradition of participation in public life.
Expand Advocacy Activities: Many religious education programs do a good job of involving children and adults in efforts to serve those in need. They are encouraged—and in some cases required—to collect food for food banks, gather toys for needy children at Christmas, provide clothing and other items for the homeless, and perform many other services. However, too many religious education programs do not effectively involve students and their families in advocacy and political responsibility education. It is important to teach children and adults that voting and helping to shape policies that protect human life and promote justice and peace are part of what it means to be an active Catholic. One effective way to do this is to provide opportunities for adults to join a diocesan legislative network. Both young people and adults can learn a great deal from attending "lobby days" sponsored by state Catholic conferences or from researching and writing letters to decision-makers about issues of justice and peace. For additional parish voter education ideas and ongoing information about advocacy opportunities, contact your diocesan social action or pro-life office or your state Catholic conference, or visit the USCCB advocacy webpage.
Connect Our Tradition of Service to Our Tradition of Participation in Public Life: Some of the best starting points for teaching about the Catholic tradition of civic responsibility are the service activities in which parishioners are already involved. Catechists can encourage parishioners to do social analysis, through which they examine the underlying causes of the immediate problems their service efforts address. For example, when religious education classes collect food for those who are hungry, catechists can ask why people are hungry and what opportunities our society offers for us to change those conditions. When parishioners donate goods or money to a mission in a developing land, the bulletin or another handout can encourage them to consider how U.S. policies can exacerbate or relieve poverty in other parts of the world.
Do What You Can: Efforts to share the Church's tradition of civic responsibility can be as simple as asking a couple of questions during a class or as sophisticated as a parish-wide voter education campaign. The first step for most catechists and DRE's is to become familiar with the basic message by reading the bishops' statement and the brochure that summarizes it. Then decide what is realistic in your unique context, and do as much as you can to weave this message into your religious education programs.
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