Washington, D.C.—Pax Christi USA mourns the death of Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, who succumbed to brain cancer on Tuesday night. Senator Kennedy, who was diagnosed in May 2008, was seen as a champion of many issues important to Catholics concerned with social justice.
“Despite his own status as a person of privilege and power, Senator Kennedy’s legacy will be his wo rk on behalf of the marginalized, the impoverished, and the most vulnerable,” stated Dave Robinson, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA. “He had a deep understanding of and appreciation for Catholic social teaching and its focus on the common good.”
Senator Kennedy’s career in the Senate spanned 5 decades. As an effective lawmaker and one of the most powerful men in Washington, Kennedy exerted his influence to make government more responsive to the needs of seniors and children, communities of color, immigrants and workers, and many other “underdogs” looking for someone in power to give voice to their grievances and fight on their behalf.
Early in his Senate career, Kennedy became involved with civil rights legislation, a priority issue he would call “the unfinished business of America.” His leadership in the early 1980s helped to defeat the Reagan administration’s effort to weaken the Voting Rights Act.
“Senator Kennedy was a strong, vocal supporter of the civil rights of all Americans,” said Pearlette Springer, Pax Christi USA National Council Chairperson. “His passing saddens all of us who share a deep appreciation for his family’s commitment to and work for the civil rights of all of this nation’s citizens.”
Most of Senator Kennedy’s victories came on the domestic front, creating, upholding or expanding social programs to the benefit of millions or people in the U.S. In 2002, he voted against authorizing the Iraq war, calling it “the best vote I’ve made in my 44 years in the United States Senate.” His work on foreign policy also included leading the Congressional effort to impose sanctions on South Africa over apartheid, promoting peace in Northern Ireland, and his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Although he has been a long-time proponent of health care reform, his final days and his own illness brought into sharp focus his commitment to creating a health care system that serves every U.S. citizen, not only those who can afford care.
Senator Kennedy’s death comes just two weeks after the death of his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a long-time member and supporter of Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement.
“The impact that the Kennedy family has had on the consciousness of U.S. Catholics cannot be overestimated,” stated Robinson. “Their story parallels the story of Catholicism in the United States, from the margins and into the mainstream. For Catholics concerned with the Church’s social justice tradition like Senator Kennedy and his admirers within Pax Christi USA, that movement brought both challenge and opportunity.”