Dozens of Iowa United Methodists were among the congregation at a Sunday evening prayer service at the beginning of a nine-state bus tour advocating for the needs of poor and vulnerable people. The service, held at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Des Moines, included remarks from Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby. Sister Campbell is among a group of women religious who will be part of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour that will travel some 2700 miles, ending in Washington, D.C. on July 2.
“What you have to know,” Sister Simone said, “is that my community is dedicated to the Holy Spirit…and the way I explain this whole thing is by saying that it’s an explosion of the Spirit. Each moment is an amazing gift, just like being here in Des Moines is an unexpected delight.” A conversation, on April 14, that focused on how to let more people know about Network and its work on behalf of the poor. At about the same time the Vatican criticized the work of LCWR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “I’ve been trying to be a public face for Catholic Sisters so that the public could have a face about religious life…because religious life is such a gift and joy and happiness…and give Sisters the time to do the very private and intense work that they need to do.”
After speaking to a group of 150 people, Sister Simone said, “twenty immediately volunteered to help…they had a bigger imagination…and on the afternoon of May 14 we came up with the idea for a bus trip.” Within ten days necessary support was in place. The story broke in the New York Times on June 6. “The bus, the design, the support, and now Des Moines…it’s all a gift of the Spirit…you cannot control what’s happening.”
The nine-day tour, which formally kicked off on Monday, June 18, with a press conference at Rev. Steve King’s office in Ames, is the “nuns’ drive for faith, family, and fairness.” “Where our passion really gets generated,” Sister Simone added, “is in what we can control in our electoral process…The reason that we’re out and around in our country is that most people don’t know is what the House of Representatives has done…they passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget without hardly any change.” Sister Simone described, in detail, the changes “that will harm the poor and vulnerable among us…and increase the debt at the same time.” Ryan says that it’s his “Catholic social teaching” that guided his budget. “His Catholic social teaching…if he had never uttered those words I don’t think we’d have a bus trip,” Sister Simone noted. “As Pope Benedict’s encyclical stated, you can only have individual responsibility as a keystone if you have intense solidarity…if we are one in our spirit of community…if we know and respond to the needs of the community…and it’s the role of government to counter the excesses of any culture.”
Sister Simone concluded her remarks by observing, “the powerful thing I’m discovering by this bizzaro bus trip…the foolishness for Christ’s sake…is it gives hope…we have serious work ahead; we cannot do this alone…and we have each other.”
The congregation prayed a “prayer for conscience and courage in times of public struggle,” based on the writings of Sister Joan Chittister, “Loving God, lead s beyond ourselves to care and protect, to nourish and shape, to challenge and energize both the life and the world You have given us…lead us beyond fear, apathy, and defensiveness to new hope in You and to hearts full of faith. Give us the conscience it takes to comprehend what we’re facing, to see what we’re looking at and to say what we see so that others, hearing us, may also brave the pressure that comes with being our of public step. Give us the courage we need to confront those things that compromise our consciences or threaten our integrity. Give us, most of all, the courage to follow those before us who challenged wrong and changed it, whatever the cost to themselves.”
The Sisters and staff of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour were sent with the blessing for “a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deeply within your heart. May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people…May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.”
“Nuns on the Bus” will make approximately 30 stops, travelling through nine states, covering 2,700 miles, and visiting 10 congressional offices. The journey will be chronicled on www.nunsonthebus.org and Twitter using #NunsOnTheBus