Issues matter: But so do morality, ethics
Two recent opinion surveys cast an interesting light on how voters try to integrate morals and ethics with policy concerns as they ponder candidates in this year's election.
Ethics and honesty
A recent poll conducted by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center and sponsored by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Capital Times of Madison asked 539 registered voters how important ethics and honesty were in picking a candidate for governor.
Ninety-six percent of the voters said ethics and honesty were very important or somewhat important to them in making that decision. Respondents placed ethics and honesty ahead of other concerns, including access to health care, public education, holding down taxes, and reducing spending.
Several days later, another poll, this one conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, asked just over 1,000 state residents what problems are the most important facing the state, and which issues needed the most attention from state government.
Taxes (identified by 25 percent) and the state budget (10 percent) were tagged as the most important problems.
On the question of what issue state government should do something about, controlling health care costs led the way (29 percent), followed by tax reform (21 percent), and improving the economy and education (tied at 18 percent). The ethics of state and local officials lagged far behind at six percent.
Substance of character
One might argue that one of these polls is wrong. At first glance it might appear that ethics and morals are more important than the survey by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute suggests or much less so than indicated in poll by the UW Survey Center.
But perhaps both polls are correct and - read together - suggest that voters take their citizenship seriously.
It is not necessarily a contradiction for voters to suggest that morality and ethics are important in choosing a leader while at the same time recognizing that government cannot be as effective in changing ethical behavior as in addressing more tangible concerns.
Rather, the message here may well be that citizens understand that the character of the decision maker is more important than his stance on particular issues. Voters seem to be saying that they want to have confidence that their leaders, when confronted with the difficult problems at hand, will make decisions for the right reasons.
Voters recognize that taxes and budgets are a problem and that health care costs and schools need attention.
They are also saying that they want to pick leaders who can be trusted to take a broad rather than a narrow view of the public interest. They are looking for someone they can count on to define the common good in terms of the legitimate interests of the whole, not the private concerns of the few.
So, while candidates and consultants may offer slogans like, "It's the economy, stupid," voters seem to care more about the substance of character.
Media strategists may want voters to ask, "Am I better off?" but voters seem more interested in the question, "Will the candidate do the right thing?"
The voters seem to grasp their responsibility. The candidates have a few weeks to show that they grasp theirs.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Witnesses to the end of the earth:
World Mission Sunday around the world
Picture it. Sunday morning. World Mission Sunday morning, with the people at a new parish ready in mind and heart for this special day of "prayer and sacrifice" for the worldwide mission of Jesus.
Posters on the wall depict the church in other parts of the world. Special prayers have been prepared. Some of the different ethnic groups present at Mass will join in offering the Prayer of the Faithful in their native languages.
The parish could be in the Diocese of Brooklyn, couldn't it? Or Dallas or San Diego or Miami. It could be, but it isn't. Try the Diocese of Ho in Ghana, West Africa. It's World Mission Sunday there, too.
The church is universal. So is its mission. And so is World Mission Sunday, celebrated this year on Oct. 20.
Every word counts
Every word of World Mission Sunday counts.
Sunday. It happens on Sunday, the Lord's day, when Catholics of the world gather in churches and chapels, in temporary lean-tos and even outdoors in the blazing sun, to praise God, to receive his Body and Blood, and to go back out into the world of home and daily work to bring the love of Christ to life there.
Mission. It calls us to think about our part in the essential work of the church: our duty to go - in person or in heart and prayer - to make disciples of all nations.
World. It involves the whole world. From the Pacific Islands to Asia, across Africa, Europe, and the Americas, Catholics are praying for those who serve in mission dioceses and those who are lifted in spirit by their service. Parishioners are also offering financial help for the daily missionary work of the church.
Stories of sacrifice
Pope John Paul II says that World Mission Sunday teaches us how to give: "as an offering made to God in the Eucharistic celebration and for all the missions of the world."
Over the years, stories of World Mission Sunday sacrifice have come to the Propagation of the Faith.
In the midst of terrible strife in Rwanda some years ago, the people of one parish offered a World Mission Sunday gift-beyond-measure: the equivalent of $81 to help others live in the faith that was holding them up minute by minute.
In India, a man sold his goat and offered the whole amount in the World Mission Sunday collection.
Called to witness
Always, from our baptism on, we are called to be Jesus' witnesses not only in our daily surroundings but also: "to the ends of the earth." Especially on World Mission Sunday, together with millions upon millions of Catholics in Ho and Harrisburg, in Rwanda and Rochester, in India and Indianapolis - all over the world - we reach to the very ends of the earth.
World Mission Sunday, under the aegis of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, helps to nourish the missionary heart of Catholics and to call forth generosity for the work of more than 1,100 mission dioceses around the world.
This support includes aid toward establishing new parishes and mission outposts, for the training and support of lay catechists, and for needs of religious communities whose members serve in teaching, health care, parish work, and social services.
Msgr. Delbert Schmelzer is director of the Propagation of the Faith for the Diocese of Madison. Contributions to the Propagation of the Faith may be made at the parish or may be sent to: P.O. Box 44983, Madison, WI 53744-4983.