Conscience Conversation: 2020 – a year in civic evangelization

Brendan: Well Matt, here we are—the end of 2020. The Holy Spirit moves in constantly surprising ways, and in that spirit (pun intended), it is amazing to reflect on how we thought 2020 was going to go versus how it actually went. I think about the process of putting together our strategic plan in late 2019 and early 2020, and thinking we would go about implementing it–not to mention, begin the search for funding to support the Catholic Conscience apostolate. 2020 had different ideas in store.

The pandemic and lockdown completely upended our plans for the year. But in its own way, it provided different avenues for us to go about our mission. For instance: were it not for the lockdown, we wouldn’t have moved events into a webinar format. But we did and had two excellent conversations on serving our neighbours in COVID-19 and serving as a Catholic on boards and committees. At the same time, we took time to bring together the right voices to help plan new programs for 2021–including a candidate formation and training program I’m so excited to launch.

Beyond that, we worked with partners in Saskatchewan and British Columbia to launch the Catholic Action campaign for both those provincial elections. What a leap forward that was for our work ministering to and engaging Catholic voters! And with an extraordinary group of lay leaders and bishops in both those provinces. I’ll leave that one to you, Matt, to describe in more detail.

In the wider world of Catholic civic and political leadership, I would be remiss not to mention the publication of Fratelli tutti. A number of those we work with have described it to me as Catholic Conscience’s mission in the form of an encyclical letter. Reading it, I couldn’t agree more. The Holy Father dedicated a sizeable section of the encyclical to “a better politics”, which we discussed at length with our friends in the Diocese of Saskatoon.

I am still digesting the Pope’s articulation of the idea of political love. Both you and I, Matt, have always taken the Pope’s concept of “politics as one of the highest forms of charity when ordered to the common good” as a real call-to-action in this work. But the way he expanded on this core idea to articulate a principle of political love. In arguing convincingly that those in politics–especially those who call themselves disciples of Christ!–must exercise a tender love for others, he asks bold questions for those whose vocation brings them into the realm of political and civic life: “How much love did I put into my work?” “What did I do for the progress of our people?” “What mark did I leave on the life of society?” “What real bonds did I create?” “What positive forces did I unleash?” “How much social peace did I sow?” “What good did I achieve in the position that was entrusted to me?”

I am left pondering these questions and am excited to continue mining the wisdom and insight Fratelli tutti offers.

In sum, I am so grateful for the ways the Holy Spirit has moved and guided the work of Catholic Conscience since its inception. Though this is only my second year working in this apostolate, I am reminded again and again how critical a ministry of Catholic civic and political leadership is in this moment in the history of our Church and our faith. I pray that the Lord guides us exactly where he wants us to be.

Matt, what are you most grateful for in 2020?

Matt: Thanks, Brendan. For me, the most gratifying and unexpected developments were the really extraordinary responses of our colleagues in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The staffs of the dioceses in Regina and Saskatoon, and the BC Catholic newspaper were truly amazing, providing guidance and suggestions for our platform comparisons and webinars, including especially the interviews they facilitated with five of the six leading parties in Saskatchewan.

And the BC Catholic devoted twelve full pages of their pre-election issue to our platform materials.

Really, it’s marvelous the way the Universal Church can pull together, when we’re focused on the common good.

And of course, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to several individuals and organizations for their very kind words – including Archbishops Bolen of Regina and Miller of Vancouver, and the communications offices in Regina and Saskatoon.

With their help, we were able to provide thousands of people with materials designed to help them make up their own minds, prayerfully and intelligently, in casting their votes. And most of them were between 24 and 35!

Brendan: It’s been a blessed year, Matt. I’m so grateful for the movements of the Holy Spirit in driving this apostolate forward for God’s purposes. I have felt the wind at our sails, despite the strange circumstances of the year. It’s funny: I hadn’t thought of it so vividly as an apostolate until a friend of ours in Saskatchewan used the word. But once I heard it, it felt like the right word. Working with other disciples of Christ, I feel we are playing a small part in evangelizing the culture and building the Kingdom here on Earth. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, from all of us here at Catholic Conscience!

Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, of counsel to a Toronto law firm, and a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, as well as a lay associate of the Redemptorists.

Brendan Steven is Executive Director of Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, active in Toronto’s Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and other Catholic institutions, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.

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