And on the fourth day…Nuns on the Bus came to South Bend, Indiana. In the chapel of Good Shepherd Montessori School–which doubles on Sundays as the sanctuary for the First Unitarian Church–the women religious involved in this nine-state pilgrimage met with about 300 adoring, sign-waving supporters, and two dissenters.
“We are consubstantial with you!” read one hand-lettered sign of greeting.
“Thank You for keeping the Vatican II Church going for us!” read another.
“Our Sisters Prophets Among Us,” said a third.
And indeed, the event–termed a “friend raiser”–had the feel of a genuinely prophetic experience. Led by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, four of the nuns described encounters they have had with Americans of various occupations and income levels since they started their tour last Monday in Des Moines. Already they have traveled through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Over the next 11 days they will pass through Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, ending up on July 2 in Washington, D.C.
The thrust of their effort is to call attention to the hurtful and destructive aspects of the Republican budget plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and to call instead for a budget that makes paramount the needs of the poor and the vulnerable.
Without once mentioning the names “Obama” or “Romney,” the sisters reminded their audience that political decisions made in Washington and in the various state capitals will have enormous consequences, and that the Gospels and Catholic social teaching have important things to say about the choices America’s citizens and their leaders must make.
What the nuns seek, Sister Simone said, is “reasonable revenue for responsible programs.” And the Ryan budget, which would cut food stamps, cut Medicaid, reduce taxes for the wealthy and raise them for the rest, and raise defense spending beyond even what the military has requested, is neither reasonable nor responsible, she and her colleagues said.
While the audience members were overwhelmingly supportive of the nuns and their program, they were not unanimously so. Louann Kensinger, who described herself as a teacher at South Bend’s Riley High School, and her husband showed up, carrying placards calling for a stop to the Obama administration’s “HHS mandate” requiring contraception as part of employee health coverage. The nation’s Catholic bishops have said this requirement–and a subsequent compromise plan offered by President Obama displacing the requirement to insurance carriers–infringe the religious liberty of Catholic schools, colleges, hospitals and other institutions. The bishops have mounted a nationwide campaign of opposition.
Significantly, during her presentation, Sister Simone said that one of the happy aspects of the Nuns on the Bus effort was that it put the nuns on the same side as the bishops, who have raised objections on moral grounds to several aspects of the Ryan budget.
Kensinger’s objections to the nuns’ program was not unfamiliar. She said, in posing a question to the nuns, that “we have spent $5 trillion” on antipoverty efforts since the 1960s, and poverty has become, if anything, even worse. What America suffers from, Kensinger said in a subsequent interview, is “a poverty of values, not cash.”
She did not explain how taking food stamps, medical care and other necessary assistance away from needy Americans would improve their values.