Beliefs Culture Institutions Politics

New ‘Nuns on the Bus’ tour to highlight Pope Francis’ US visit and agenda

Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 "Nuns on the Bus" tour. Photo courtesy of Network
Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 "Nuns on the Bus" tour. Photo courtesy of Network

Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 “Nuns on the Bus” tour. Photo courtesy of Network

(RNS) Pope Francis is set to arrive in Washington on Sept. 22 by plane.

The nuns are coming on a bus.

But Sister Simone Campbell, once again the driving force behind the newest iteration of the “Nuns on the Bus” phenomenon, thinks whatever their modes of travel, both the pope and the Catholic sisters are united in their core themes: a faith-based promotion of economic justice and political consensus for the common good.

“Pope Francis talks about an economy of inclusion,” said Campbell, executive director of Network, a Capitol Hill-based Catholic social justice lobby that organized the first Nuns on the Bus tour during the 2012 presidential campaign.

“What he says is that politics needs to control economics, economics should not control politics,” she continued. “We realize that he’s definitely right, but our problem in the U.S. is that our politics are purposefully polarized, so that politics are powerless to affect the economy.

“In order to have an economy of inclusion we need a politics of inclusion,” she said.

Hence the goal of the fourth Nuns on the Bus tour: to “bridge the divide,” as the latest slogan says, and “transform politics.”

Over the course of two weeks, starting on Sept. 10 in St. Louis, Campbell and nearly a dozen nuns will travel some 2,000 miles through seven states — Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia — that are marked by sharp political divides.

Supporters pray during the “Nuns on the Bus” kick-off rally on May 29, 2013 at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J. RNS photo by David Gibson

Supporters pray during the “Nuns on the Bus” kickoff rally on May 29, 2013, at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J. RNS photo by David Gibson

“The route is not to our base,” she said, contrasting this trip with previous ones that often stopped in cities and towns with communities receptive to the Catholic social justice message. “We’re going to places where there are differences of opinion, to nourish conversations about the serious work of governance.”

In town hall meetings and at shelters and food pantries, at houses of worship and in meetings with legislators, the sisters plan to listen to the problems and challenges of Americans on the economic margins. And, Campbell said, they will collect video clips of their stories that she will try to get to the pope ahead of his visit. Campbell said she wants Francis to be able to hear from “folks that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to see, or hear from.”

“That’s the theory,” she said. “I hope it works.”

The bus will wind up in the nation’s capital just as the pontiff arrives for his highly anticipated six-day visit, his first to the U.S.

On Sept. 23, the day after his arrival from a three-day visit to Cuba, Francis is to meet President Obama at the White House.

The following day, Francis will address a joint meeting of Congress — a first for a pope — before heading to New York and then wrapping up his trip in Philadelphia on Sept. 27. There, he will celebrate an outdoor Mass that is expected to draw upwards of a million people.

Campbell said she hoped to put the bus, a large charter wrapped with a distinctive logo and bright colors, somewhere that the pope could at least see it.

“I asked the White House if we could park on Pennsylvania Avenue right outside the White House. That didn’t work,” she said with a laugh.

Still, that Campbell and the nuns find themselves in sync with the pope is a remarkable change of fortune.

In early 2012, the Vatican, then headed by Pope Benedict XVI, announced that its doctrinal office was launching an investigation and overhaul of the main leadership organization of the nation’s 50,000 nuns. The Vatican charged the nuns with straying from orthodoxy and promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Sister Simone Campbell addresses an audience Monday July 2, 2012 to concluded the Nuns on the Bus tour.

Sister Simone Campbell addresses an audience on July 2, 2012, to conclude the “Nuns on the Bus” tour.

The Vatican also said the sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or LCWR, spent too much time on social justice causes — Campbell’s advocacy for health care reform, a long-standing priority for the Catholic Church in the U.S., was apparently especially troubling — and not enough time propounding church teachings on abortion and sexual morality.

Rather than retreating in the face of the Vatican probe, the LCWR pushed back against the accusations, and buoyed by an outpouring of support from ordinary Catholics, Campbell and Network launched the first Nuns on the Bus tour in the summer of 2012 to focus on victims of the nation’s economic slowdown.

It was a media sensation and was followed by two others, in 2013 and 2014, which highlighted the need for immigration reform and the problem of money in politics.

Less than a year after that first tour, Benedict resigned, and Francis was elected pope. The first Latin American pontiff, Francis is deeply committed to advancing the church’s social justice doctrine, and he also moved to wind down the Vatican investigation of the LCWR, which formally ended in April with an olive branch to the sisters.

“Obviously, Pope Francis’ message is exactly what we’ve been doing for 43 years,” Campbell said. “Having that affirmation is hugely supportive.”

But, she added, “what’s important is that we continue to do the mission regardless of how it goes,” and whatever the hierarchy says.

(Editor’s note: David Gibson assisted Sister Simone Campbell in writing her memoir, “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.”)

YS/MG END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

12 Comments

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  • What an awesome story!! If my ancestors whom were Nuns of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame Were Still Living, I Know They Would Be On That Bus fighting as well!!!!
    Keep it up and May the Good Lord Be With All of You!

  • If Sr. Simone wanted the politics of inclusion she says she does, she could speak out on Senator Boxer’s absolutist abortion position instead of remaining silent in the face of the ongoing Planned Parenthood controversy. Of course, that would probably mean Sen. Boxer would disinvite her from the speech. I find Sr. Simone as inconsistent on this issue as the libertarians she criticizes are on the economy.

  • “Nuns on the bus” sounds like the Pope’s groupies on his tour, which is pretty appropriate given priest behavior that his group has been hiding.

  • Jesus and his disciples and apostles never got involved in worldly politics and/or wars. Instead, their major focus was preaching the good news of God’s kingdom or heavenly government as the only hope for mankind (Matthew 4:17; 24:14; Revelation 21:3,4).

    The preaching of that government, instead of man’s, is evidently not on their agenda nor their top priority; but the Pope meeting Congress and the entire organization trying to change man’s politics are.

  • Your god musta been stoned to write Revelation. Seriously. Have a few less tokes before you read it next time.

  • And we pray daily “thy kingdom come and thy will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN” We can never entirely transform this broken world into Christ’s perfect heavenly kingdom, and we know this. But it is nevertheless a crucial part of the Church’s mission to speak prophetic truth to power wherever we are, and to prod the flawed societies where we live consistently in the direction of justice.

  • Some other thoughts about the Book of Revelation:

    “Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation “the insanest of all books”.[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he “considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” [31]

    Martin Luther once “found it an offensive piece of work” and John Calvin “had grave doubts about its value.”[32]

  • Not so fast!!!

    Another take:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2014: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    continued below:

  • Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • “both the pope and the Catholic sisters are united in their core themes: a faith-based promotion of economic justice and political consensus for the common good.” Translate: socialist/communist ideaology.”

    Find a communist country girls and spew your stuff there, economic justice, social justice —global warming, global cooling, climate change all part of the redistribution of something,
    Some ones hard work, ideas, investment, profit, earnings, blood, sweat and tears—and yes people like me, your hands in my pockets. This is why I will only support my parish. I am supposed to donate to your retirement fund. You disgust me. Your boss coming here will fit right in with your socialist crap. Capitalism is the only form of economics that has lifted untold millions out of poverty. Don’t come to my country and bad mouth it. Instead try defending the murdered, chopped up babies at Planned Parenthood. Park your bus there. Thankfully you are not teaching anymore and filling the…

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