Of this we can be sure: the Nuns on the Bus certainly don’t travel at the back.
Though after reading Sr Simone Campbell’s magnificent ‘A Nun on the Bus’, I suspect these scintillating sisters would be only too happy to give up their seats for the weary and woebegone traveller.
Subtitled, ‘How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change and Community’, this memoir is a hymn to the legions of faith-inspired fighters bringing justice to the victims of the blitz on the poor which skulks behind the euphemisms of ‘austerity’ and ‘welfare reform’.
Distressed at proposed US budget cuts which would have heaped more pain on struggling Americans, Sr Simone and her colleagues in the campaigning group NETWORK decided to bring their message of ‘faith, family and fairness’ to the public on a Nuns on the Bus country-wide road trip in the summer of 2012.
Not surprisingly the novelty of nuns on a bus sparked the public’s imagination and proved a turning point in the battle between those who argued for more pain to be piled on those on the bottom of the ladder. Though ironically, the nuns really hit the media sweet spot when the Vatican in its wisdom placed the nuns under investigation for focusing too much on hunger and poverty rather than sticking to saving souls and inspecting marriage certificates!
And yet, instead of reaching for easy divisions between the one and the 99 per cent, the big-hearted nuns insisted they were on a mission which would benefit the 100 per cent.
I’ve been away from the Church so long that it’s as refreshing as it is welcome to hear a person who has spent 40 years plus in the service of the Sisters of Social Service (and they do what it says on the tin) that Catholic social teaching mandates us to care for the poor. And it’s not about handouts. “Justice comes before charity,” said the Pope (not the amazing Francis either but Pope Benedict), as A Nun on the Bus reminds us. “A one-off encyclical you might be able to dismiss,” says Sr Simone of the new guy (who you suspect has her back). “But you can’t downplay more than a century of social teaching that is built on the very words of Jesus.”
On her travels, Sr Simone and her sisters of mercy met ordinary people struggling to keep body and soul together, giving them hope and confidence to stand up strong for the promise of America. I recognise their stories from the tired and struggling families I met at the homeless shelters and food banks of our own great city — and found them just as heartbreaking.
Throughout her journey, Sr Simone enthused religious and faith communities, the very people who have to step in when government turns its back on the poor both here and in the US. As she says: “The sisters are often unsung, often underwater but never unappreciated. Nuns on the Bus was a hymn to the American sisters….standing with those who have been left behind, lifting up those who have been oppressed, gathering in those who have been pushed to the margins.”
Amen to that, says this sinner, and in the name of our common humanity, let’s not go down the road of misery signposted by so-called Welfare Reform in our own little part of this earth.