They are years away from being eligible to vote, but on their first day of the school year, eighth graders at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School in Depew got a lesson on Faithful Citizenship.
"We in the Catholic Church consider it a moral responsibility to vote," said Bishop Richard J. Malone. "The church will never tell us for whom to vote, but the Church will raise issues of our time that we consider important to think about as you prepare to vote."
All 9,000 students in the 35 Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Buffalo are going home with a blank voter registration form and a letter from Bishop Malone urging parents to register if they are not already. "Through all of you students, we're trying to get the message to families that one our great privileges as Americans, and one of our great duties as Christians, is to vote."
Bishop Malone noted that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has put out helpful guidelines on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship at www.FaithfulCitizenship.org . Issues like abortion, physician-assisted suicide, immigration and economic policies affecting the common good are just some of the issues that the Catholic Church considers to be of great importance.
"As Catholics we have to take into account the teachings of Jesus and our Church. It's like a lens through which we look at the candidates we're going to vote for," said Bishop Malone who admitted it's not always easy to choose a candidate. "I'm a citizen, like all of you, and there are some elections where I find that neither candidate to me stands for all the things that Jesus stands for, and so that makes it kind of tough. That's almost always the case and that's why we have to form our consciences."
Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, also spoke with reporters who assembled at the school about the message leading into this year's election season. "For years, we've all gone to Albany and talked to legislators about the issues that are important to us as Catholics. This year, we're going on the other end to say to the Catholics, particularly those who choose to send their children to Catholic schools, to say 'let's look at how we vote as Christians."
Most of his audience, Wednesday morning, was made up of 13 year olds, but Bishop Malone pointed out that they are old enough to begin thinking like voters. "I would invite you in the weeks leading up to the elections to try to pay attention when you listen to different candidates saying different things and making different promises, and ask yourself 'do I believe this person represents my deepest values?"
See our image gallery for the First Day of School: