Why We Got on the Bus
On May 14 of this year, we at NETWORK gathered with colleagues to brainstorm what we could do at a critical time in our organization۪s 40-year history. The Vatican had recently mentioned us in a report that found fault with U.S. Catholic Sisters for “serious doctrinal problems,” which we consider unfathomable. The criticisms made us suddenly famous, and we decided to use that fame for goodto advance our mission for social justice. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
We have no idea who first suggested a multistate bus trip, but, by the end of the meeting, Nuns on the Bus was born. It was clear that we Sisters would take a journey in order to speak out against the budget passed by the House of Representatives and to lift up the works of Catholic Sisters.
We sought to stand with people at the economic marginspeople who would be grievously harmed by the proposed cuts in the House budget, which Representative Paul Ryan had a key role in drafting. By elevating their stories, we hoped to spread the idea that all Americans are responsible for the well being of their fellow citizens.
On June 17, the Nuns on the Bus embarked on an emotional journey through nine states. We visited service facilities where we sat and talked with struggling families, we spoke at rallies and press conferences, we visited congressional offices, and we prayed together daily. The journey was exhausting, but the memories will remain forever.
Throughout this country, people are struggling, and budget cuts are not the way to help them. These cuts will affect a number of programs that struggling families need to stay on their feet.
Through the Nuns on the Bus program, the Catholic Sisters have been able to bring about awareness of struggling families who would otherwise remain anonymous. We may read about those hurt by the recession in the news, but until you hear about these stories firsthand, it may not hit home.
In Toledo, we met 10-year-old twins Matt and Mark, who had gotten into trouble at school for fighting. Sister Ginny and the staff at the Padua Center took them in when they were suspended and it was discovered on a home visit that these little boys were trying to care for their bedridden mother who has multiple sclerosis and diabetes. The Sisters got her medical assistance and are helping the boys rediscover their childhood.
Mark gave me a tour of the Center and showed me the place he found most beautiful. It was a newly renovated bathroom with shiny blue and white tiles that he encouraged me to touch. Mark was awed by the beauty of the tiles, but the beauty that touched me was that which the Padua Center Sisters had unleashed in these young boys. We all share responsibility for the Matts and Marks in our nation.
We met Billy and his family at St. Benedict۪s dining room in Milwaukee. Billy۪s work hours were cut back in the recession and he has only enough money to either put a roof over his family۪s heads or food on their tablenot both. He and his wife chose a roof so their children could stay in the same school. They use food stamps and St. Benedict۪s dining room to eat.
Food stamps provide at-risk families with the means to stay afloat as they work to make their way out of poverty, yet the House budget would reduce funds for this critical program. Billy is taking responsibility for himself and his family, but he can۪t do it alone. We all share responsibility for creating an economy where parents with jobs earn enough to take care of their families.
In Cincinnati, we met Jini and her children who had just attended Jini۪s sister۪s funeral. Her sister, Margaret, died because she lost her health insurance when she was laid off during the recession. When she developed cancer she had no access to diagnosis or treatment. Her death was unnecessary and wrong.
The Affordable Care Act is another critical program we cannot see cut or repealed. When fully implemented, the Act will cover people like Margaret. We all share responsibility to ensure that this vital healthcare reform law is properly implemented and that governors in all states expand Medicaid coverage so no more Margarets will die unnecessarily. That is what we call “pro-life.”
The House budget has at its heart a lie. A lie that our nation is rooted in individualism, selfishness, and fear. That is not the case. Our country protects those who are in trouble and offers supports to the most vulnerable. We must preserve those social programs that allow us to help our fellow Americans when they have fallen on hard economic times.
No matter what anyone says, the House budget does not reflect our Catholic faith. It is also not in keeping with our Constitution. Our founders had it correcta democracy can only be about “We the People” coming together to form a more perfect union.
It is about all of us. As I said recently to the Democratic National Convention, “I am my sister۪s keeper. I am my brother۪s keeper.” That, too, is the truth.
Sister Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and leader of Nuns on the Bus.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of Spotlight. Spotlight is a non-partisan initiative, and Spotlight۪s commentary section includes diverse perspectives on poverty. If you have a question about a commentary, please don۪t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.