The Vatican has initiated a witch hunt for nuns guilty of "doctrinal disobedience" because they are more concerned about social justice than demonizing gays and banning contraceptives, but that's not stopping a group of nuns who have embarked on a 9-state bus tour to promote social justice.
Nuns on the Bus' website explains, "As Catholic Sisters, we are missioned to stand with people in need and to be witnesses for economic justice," and cites scripture:
Jesus said, "You will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to earth's remotest end." (Acts 1:8)
The bus tour took off from Des Moines, Iowa, on June 17 after a prayer service and kickoff celebration. On Thursday, the bus arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of the health care overhaul bill.
"People at the bottom, those who are suffering, who have lost jobs, who are left out, who are working minimum wage jobs or who have part time jobs are being hurt more and more," Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of Network, told AFP News. "We think decisions should favor those folks, not the top, so we went on the road to take that case to the American public. We've met people who struggle every day just to put food on the table. I met the son of a woman who died without health care because they just didn't have it, so by the time she got to a doctor, she was terminally ill."
Some Catholics gathered at the Harrisburg bus stop told AFP that they were glad to see the Sisters out there, and said that they deserved praise for what they're doing because they will probably face fallout.
The group opposes the current House Republican budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), "because it harms people who are already suffering."
When the bus tour launched, Sister Campbell addressed an enthusiastic crowd at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Des Moines. "The reason we're going around the country is that most people do not know what the House of Representatives has done," she said, saying that Paul Ryan claims that his budget will decrease the national debt when in fact, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office says it will increase the debt. She was critical of the "trickle down economics" view embraced by Republicans who say that by giving tax breaks to the wealthy, jobs will be created for the poor. "It's shocking that CEOs would get an increase when the very people who create their wealth don't. That's wrong in a nation that holds itself out as a democracy of 'We the People.'"
Sister Campbell thinks that Ryan has mis-characterized Catholic teachings, inspiring the "Nuns on the Bus" tour. "What Paul Ryan wants us to think and what he says is that it's his Catholic social teaching that made him do that. His Catholic social teaching? If he had never uttered those words, I don't think we'd have a bus trip. He made me mad, and I'm a stubborn woman. [...] What he did, what he's trying to hide from us, is he's saying Catholic social teaching is all about the responsibility of the individual. It's just down to the individual to pull him or herself up by the bootstraps. But this is one place where Pope Benedict is on our side. Now I have to confess, his 'Encyclical Charity and Truth' is a little boring to read, but when you get to the nuggets of it, what is said clearly in there, is that you can only have individual responsibility as a keystone if you have intense solidarity. If we are one in our spirit of community, we know what each other needs, if we know and respond to the needs of the community, then we can have individual responsibility. It's the role of government to counter the excesses of any culture. And in our culture of individualism, the role of Catholic social teaching is to counter that individualism with a keen knowledge of solidarity."
Without solidarity, the sister explained, people feel lonely and depressed. "The only time that we are fully human is when we are connected to each other."
Sister Campbell pointed out the following issues in Rep. Ryan's budget, which she says do not reflect Catholic social justice:
- There would be huge cuts in the Food Stamp Program. She says that most people in the program work full time but don't have enough money to pay for food for their kids. She said that in a way, the Food Stamp Program is a business subsidy because it is paying for the needs of the workers.
- Head Start budgets would be cut and special educational services would be cut for the disadvantaged.
- Seniors would lose substantial health benefits.
- Nuns On The Bus has a state-by-state analysis of how the Ryan budget will affect nine states on their website and offers an alternative "faithful budget."
"This is not our country," she said of the Ryan budget and economic views of House Republicans. "This is not 'We the People.' This is not the Constitution that's based on the idea that all are created equal. Right? It's not based on the Constitution — we know this — that says we the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union — it ain't going to be perfect but it's more perfect, we keep trying — to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and, say what? Our posterity. That's who we are about. We need to invest for the future. We've benefited so much from the investment of our parents and grandparents. What are we leaving our kids and grandkids? I don't have kids, but you do. I worry about that. "
She spoke about images that appeared to her in prayer. One of them was the burning bush, when God tells Moses that He heard the cry of the enslaved people and sent Moses to set them free. "I had this image that we are called to be this bush where God can flame up in our lives and we can set our people free. It's the work of God in us that can make the difference. It's God flaming up, giving light — and a bit of destruction [...] but if we are faithful to God in this process, we will not be destroyed but enlivened." She also spoke of another image of Ezekiel and the dry bones which came to life with prophesy.
She joked about the Nuns On The Bus, the Colbert Report and the Daily Show (see Colbert Report clip below). "Laughter — you know, Dante says, that laughter is the language of angels."
The Network leader urged others to get involved, concluding, "And so, my friends, we have serious work ahead. We cannot do this alone. But if we have each other, if we have each others' backs, if we are the burning bush that can let God flame up in our lives and go without control to nine states, and try to stay sane in the process; if we are free to let God be in our lives, if we are free to breathe on each other and bring out this hope, something new is going to come. I have no idea what it is. I had no idea we'd be here two weeks ago, but here we are. Who's willing to maybe be part of this community, to move this forward?"
Sister Campbell had appeared on Stephen Colbert's show on Comedy Central:
Faith in Public Life notes that on an Iowa conservative talk radio show, host Jan Mickelson joked with Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) whether or not Congress had the authority to pull over the bus and pistol whip the nuns. Latham laughed the suggestion off.