How Advocacy Makes a Difference: Father Joe Grady’s Story
As a CRS Global Fellow and chaplain and theology teacher at Holy Family High School in the Archdiocese of Denver, Father Joe Grady has plenty experience speaking about complex topics in front of tough audiences. But meeting and speaking with congressional staff members about global poverty-reducing legislation was a different matter—one that pushed Father Grady out of his comfort zone but gave him a new perspective on what it means to put his faith into action. CRS met with Father Grady to hear more about his story.
Tell us about yourself and how you became a CRS Global Fellow.
As a high school chaplain and theology teacher, every now and then a student will ask me, "Father Joe, what is it that you actually do all day?" A good question. All day every day I wear a million different hats, one of which is the work of a CRS Global Fellow. Global Fellows are clergy who support the work of CRS abroad by spreading the message in our local American dioceses and apostolates. I was invited to become a Global Fellow while in formation to be a priest when some CRS staff came to our seminary to give a presentation. Somehow, before they were done, I knew that this was going to be a part of my life.
As a Global Fellow, you participated in a day of advocacy with CRS on Capitol Hill and met with your members of Congress. Did you have any kind of prior advocacy experience?
Prior to this visit, my engagement in advocacy was what most people have done: letter writing about various issues, the March for Life, etc.—the usual stuff of being an informed and engaged Catholic citizen. What we all do.
But I never imagined actually scheduling an appointment and going to meet with someone in Congress. In my mind, that sort of thing was reserved for people who live in a world of fancy suits and polished shoes and who eat legal jargon for breakfast. My shoes are usually not polished, I only own one suit jacket, which I got off the free rack in seminary, and I usually eat just oatmeal for breakfast.
What was the Hill Day experience like for you? What were you advocating for?
The day before the Hill visit, we were blessed to have time with CRS staff to learn about the issues at hand. There are a ton of resources available—both online and with CRS staff—for us civilians to be well informed about what's important to support CRS’ mission of ending poverty and helping people who are most vulnerable. And all these resources are available in such a way that you don't have to have a masters in political science to digest them.
For anyone who follows the news, it's clear that the federal budget is a big issue of late. Given the extreme situations around the world with the war in Ukraine, inflation, and global hunger on the rise, it's clear that the United States’ funding of USAID is now necessary more than ever. On our Hill visits, our request of the representatives was very simple: robust funding for international poverty-reducing development and humanitarian assistance, and the passage of the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act.
Now, maybe it doesn't come across as all that simple. And on one level, you're right: It's not. But once I actually sat down with the congressional staff, it was clear that they weren't interested in technical precision or insider knowledge of how things get done. They were more interested to hear what their constituents were passionate about and why Congress should be passionate about the same things. So while, yes, it was important for me to put in a little elbow grease and learn the basics about the various pieces of legislation, I also discovered that it was even more important to be passionate about the issues so that I could explain why these things are vital for American Catholics.
How did your advocacy connect to your faith and work as a priest? What do you think is the importance of advocating?
In scripture the Holy Spirit is often called the Advocate, while the devil is called the Accuser. The advocate takes the risk of fighting the accuser and goes in front of the tribunal to argue for the sake of someone who might not be able to argue for themself.
While we were at the CRS Baltimore office, we had a Zoom meeting with a CRS staff member stationed in Somalia, one of the hardest hit areas for hunger, after six failed rainy seasons. Having that link with someone in a current area of emergency helped me to understand that when I went up to the Hill, I wasn’t just asking Congress to keep these issues in mind because, on the whole, it's probably a nice idea to be a generic do-gooder. Rather, in specific, I was advocating for real people in real moments of crisis in real places of need, whose well-being depends upon the concrete action of the global community now. In some very small and mysterious way, it's hard not to acknowledge that this is also somehow the work of the Holy Spirit.
Since your Hill visit, has there been any development on the legislation for which you advocated?
I am happy to report that the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act passed under the National Defense Authorization Act, and that an additional $1 billion was secured for international assistance in the 2023 federal budget! It's amazing to hear about something like that happening in Washington and understanding that I had a small part to play in making that happen.
Do you have any advice for people who are new to advocacy?
I would say just do it. I had the fear that I would have to be an expert, that a congressional staffer would ask me a complex question about a legal intricacy, and I would be at a loss. I learned, though, that while it is good to be informed about issues, it's even more important to be passionate and tell my story. We'll never know what sort of impact a simple conversation like that can have all the way across the world.
Join Father Grady in making a difference! Email your members of Congress to support funding for international programs that address global poverty, hunger and the impact of climate change so all members of our global family can thrive.
As a CRS Global Fellow, Father Grady speaks in his community and in dioceses across the United States about Catholic Relief Services’ mission to end global poverty and help people experiencing the greatest need in more than 120 countries around the world. He has been a CRS Global Fellow since 2017.