Nine states, 29 cities, 2,700 miles. That’s the physical ground the Nuns on the Bus covered during their 16-day tour from June 17 to July 2. The tour was sponsored by Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, to criticize the cuts to the safety net proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget and to hold up the importance of faith-based charities that would be harmed by the cuts. But the spiritual, political, and educational ground they covered was much greater. Awareness of their tour and the concerns they raised about the harm the Ryan budget cuts would inflict on struggling Americans extended to all 50 states, to believers and nonbelievers, to young and old, and virtually everyone in between.
In some ways the nuns performed a modern-day miracle. Their moral authenticity transformed apathy and cynicism into hope and joy. They spoke against the immorality of the Ryan budget cuts and presented an alternative—the Faithful Budget—that asks us all to do our fair share. They made it clear in visits to charities that government funding and faith-based efforts are not opposed to each other but rather if you hurt one, you wound the other. And they heard stories of lost jobs and homes and lack of health insurance—stories that “break your heart,” according to Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK who organized the tour.
As word of the tour spread, crowds grew and the nuns were embraced as they stepped off the bus. Signs read: “We love our sisters,” “Keep up the good work,” “Nuns rock!”, “The church needs nun sense not Vatican nonsense.” Balloons saying “hope” soared in the air.
While this phase of the tour is now over, the nuns’ campaign for justice and fairness is gaining steam. In the coming days the sisters will bring their message, along with the stories they heard, to policy leaders and elected officials in Washington, D.C., and selected states. They will keep challenging Rep. Ryan’s claim that his budget is a true reflection of the Catholic faith, instead of a repudiation of core Catholic teachings. They will help raise the visibility of faith-based and community charities that need government funding in order to survive. And they will challenge us all to—in the words of one of the participants at the rally who was taught by nuns—“do better and live up to our potential.” That is their challenge to us as individuals and to our nation too.
Here are some highlights from the tour:
- The nuns visited homeless shelters, health clinics, adult tutoring centers, alternative schools for suspended students, ministries to the deaf and disabled, housing and support services for single-parent families, farms that provide fresh food to low-income neighborhoods, dental clinics, meal programs, prison ministries, child care centers, soup kitchens, justice advocacy groups, and more. Many of these faith-based groups receive government funding and would be seriously weakened by Ryan budget cuts to early childhood education programs, nutrition assistance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, education, and more.
- The nuns went to South Bend, Indiana, where 26 percent of the children live in poverty; two districts in Detroit, Michigan, where 44 percent and 47 percent, respectively, of the children live in poverty; a district in Richmond, Virginia, where 30 percent of the children live in poverty, and other towns and cities where the poverty rate is shamefully high. These children and their families would lose vital services if the Ryan budget cuts became law.
- In the states the nuns visited, the Ryan budget would slash more than $386 million in Head Start funding over the next two years, more than $668 million in education, and more than $598 million in Medicare prescription drug coverage. More than 966 million fewer meals would be served to those in need, and more than 7 million people would no longer receive health care through Medicaid. Beyond that, more than 126,000 jobs would be lost in these states because of Ryan budget cuts.
The Ryan budget “rejects church teaching about solidarity, inequality, the choice for the poor, and the common good. That’s wrong,” Sister Simone Campbell said in an interview at the end of the tour. You don’t have to be Catholic to know she’s right.
Sally Steenland is Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page. Thank you to the Initiative’s interns, Hannah Moser and Elana Leopold, for their research.
- Ryan vs. Ryan by Catherine Woodiwiss and Alexandra Scheeler