October 9, 2015

‘Nuns on the Bus’ visit Indy on way to welcome pope to the U.S.

The “Nuns on the Bus” tour recently stopped at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Indianapolis as part of their journey of support for Pope Francis’ call to build an economy of inclusion. (Submitted photo)

The “Nuns on the Bus” tour recently stopped at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Indianapolis as part of their journey of support for Pope Francis’ call to build an economy of inclusion. (Submitted photo)

By Emily Denton (Special to The Criterion)

As the “Nuns on the Bus” tour recently stopped in Indianapolis, the eight religious sisters traveling together made it clear that their journey was tied to Pope Francis’ urgent call to build an economy of inclusion.

“It’s a matter of justice. I feel like we need to take the stories we’re told during our travels and take them to the politicians,” said Sister Mary Ann Lacy, a Daughter of Charity and an immigration attorney, as she spoke to those gathered at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Indianapolis on Sept. 18.

“Then it’s harder for them to cut a program that is putting food in someone’s mouth. That’s why I ride the bus. Hopefully, we’ll break their hearts open and make some real changes.”

Indianapolis was the ninth city visited by the sisters on their way to Washington, where they hosted a rally on Sept. 22 welcoming Pope Francis to the U.S.

While in Indianapolis, the sisters also held a rally and press conference at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, where they spoke alongside Indianapolis community leaders working on health and education issues. The sisters nodded in agreement while hearing from Laura Henderson, executive director of Growing Places Indy, and Kate Franzman, gardener at Growing Places Indy, about their work in urban agriculture.

“When we raise up the needs of the poor and the needs of the Earth, we are doing what the pope asks,” Sister Simone Campbell commented on the bus after leaving the Legacy Center.

A Sister of Social Service, Sister Simone is the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, which has a 40-year track record of lobbying for critical federal programs that support people at the margins of society.

Social justice was the focus of the town hall meeting at St. Thomas Aquinas Church later that evening. People were asked to pledge to try to transform politics and the economy. They were also invited to sign the exterior of the bus as evidence of their commitment to the tour’s theme, “Bridge the Divides: Transform Politics.”

Participants were also encouraged to start a dialogue about the issues that are most pressing in their community. Then they were asked to discuss how to move forward. After a sixth-grade student voiced his frustration with racial injustices of the past and similar issues today, Sister Simone stopped to address everyone.

“Cross-generational conversation is essential. We need young people to say ‘we’re not afraid,’ ” she said. “And the young need the older people for encouragement and to teach them that faith can sustain them in times of trouble. Faith is nourishment. We are living in a challenging time, but a time of opportunity. All over this tour, we see young and old hungry for this conversation.”

The “Nuns on the Bus” offer a three-step plan to reclaim democracy, starting with “holy curiosity.”

“Get out and interact with someone different from yourself, and then really listen. Don’t isolate yourself to only those just like you,” Sister Simone advised.

She added that “sacred gossip” was the second essential step. She noted, “Share with others what you learn from these interactions.”

The third step focused on, “Do one thing and do it well.”

“We’re in this together, so we don’t have to be overwhelmed by doing it all ourselves,” Sister Simone said. “We just have to do our part.”

The religious sisters gathered the input from responses given in each city they visited. The sisters hoped to share the information with members of Congress in an effort to raise spending caps so human needs programs can be fully funded.

Sister Simone’s vision of traveling on a bus was realized in 2012 when the Catholic sisters’ tour focused on protesting cuts in federal programs for working families and the poor. But she had a different expectation of bus travel.

“I thought the bus would have bench seating and we would be able to fit 40 or so nuns on it, like a school bus,” she said. “I didn’t realize it would be like this.” The interior of the bus is a horseshoe of lounge seats where the sisters can sit comfortably, face each other, and share the stories from their journey.

Sister Judy’s favorite part of the day is morning on the bus.

“We always start each day in prayer,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to appreciate this opportunity we’ve been given. It’s sacred to hear all the stories. Along with the hard things we’re told, we also have the privilege of witnessing how much good is happening. We get to tell people in all different places, ‘You’re not alone.’ ”

(Emily Denton is a teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis. To read about the “Nuns on the Bus” 2015 legislative agenda, visit bit.ly/1VzlVxp.)

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