When Pope Francis visits the United States this month, Sister Simone Simone Campbell told a WNDC audience on September 16, he will stress “the best-kept secret of the Catholic Church”—more than 100 years of papal teaching about economic justice and living in ways that promote the common good. That message, detailed in an 1891 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII but often “forgotten” because “it makes people nervous,” will be a key theme of Pope Francis’s message to our nation and the world.
Sister Simone, director of NETWORK (a national social justice advocacy organization) and founder of the Nuns on the Bus campaign, described the “economy of inclusion” that NETWORK (and Pope Francis) passionately promotes. Pope Francis “is trying to open the Church to the message that no one should be left out of our care or of the conversation” about our national well-being, she said.
The Nuns on the Bus project, formed in 2012 to oppose the harsh impact of the Paul Ryan budget on the poor and middle classes, is now on its third tour throughout the nation to collect stories about the challenges and needs of people everywhere. They have been conducting a 2,000-mile tour through seven states—Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia—that are strongly marked by political divisions. The sisters hoped to present video clips of their conversations with people they met on the tour to Pope Francis ahead of his visit.
At every stop, the sisters heard powerful stories from Americans buffeted by economic hardship and the impact of our divided politics. Sister Simone described meeting Mothers to Mothers in St. Louis, African American women who form alliances with white women to promote mutual understanding. These African American mothers face problems few white mothers could imagine, such as having to sternly instruct their sons how to keep from being killed by police. One woman, asked by her grandson how long such problems will continue, ruefully answered, “For the rest of your life.” Those of us “who walk around in white skin,” said Sister Simone, have a special obligation to help correct such injustices.
“What kind of nation are we,” Sister Simone asked, when a child they met in Kansas City—whose parents were deported when her father went to pay a traffic ticket—tried to kill herself to protect her grandmother and sister from the burden of supporting her? Recent political rhetoric about undocumented immigrants ignores how our national policies (such as the NAFTA and CAFTA treaties and our war on drugs) destabilize thecountries these people are fleeing—or how our own businesses encourage immigration to exploit the cheap labor of immigrants, she said.
“We the people,” said Sister Simone, can and must do better than to tolerate such injustices. To live up to our nation’s ideals, we must engage in “holy curiosity” (find out what is going on); “sacred gossip” (spreading the word about what needs to be done); and “doing one thing well.”
If we each do our part, she believes, we affirm the value of community and challenge the “unpatriotic lie” that our problems are so overwhelming that there is nothing we can do. By committing to one specific action, we can beat back injustice, care for one another, and make the United States a better place for everyone.
Sister Simone Campbell is the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Help Create Hope, Change, and Community. A documentary titled “Nuns on the Bus” is now in production, and more information about how to support NETWORK is available at www.networklobby.org.
WNDC members can view a videotape of Sister Simone’s talk by visiting the video gallery tab on the members’ only section of the WNDC website. You can also purchase a DVD of the event by calling Patricia Fitzgerald at (202) 232-7362.
WNDC Vice President for Communications