Nuns on the Bus 2016: A revolution of the heart

As the 2016 trip for Nuns on the Bus gets ready to launch, people sign the bus as a show of their support. (Susan Rose Francois)

Global Sisters Report brings you special coverage during NETWORK's 2016 Nuns on the Bus tour, which started July 11, runs through the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, and concludes July 29 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

How do we mend the gaps and reweave the fabric of our society? That is the question at the center of this summer's Nuns on the Bus tour which will cover more than 2,400 miles to meet with individuals, families and communities in 13 states, 23 cities, and be present at both major political party conventions.

Of course, before you can answer a question as big as that, you need to cover the logistics. Monday afternoon, nine Catholic sisters gathered in a small conference room at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison, Wisconsin, with the Nuns on the Bus staff to start our journey together. Some of the women have been on the bus before. Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell, the nun on the bus, has of course been on all five bus tours. For other sisters this is a repeat experience, and for still others, myself included, this is a brand new adventure.

Mentally I have been preparing myself by learning about the seven policy recommendations to mend the gaps in wealth and income inequality and gaps in access to citizenship, housing, health care, and democracy. I carefully studied the preparatory materials sent to us by the amazing staff at NETWORK. I even looked up the weather forecasts in the various cities we will visit over the next eight days to make sure I packed accordingly. Sitting in that small conference room as the staff reviewed the logistics with us, I thought to myself, I'm prepared.

Then something happened that is bound to happen when a group of nuns and people who hang out with nuns sit together in a circle. We shared some of what was in our heart. There was a common sense of excitement. There was also some anxiety and fear of the unknown as we begin a journey that, for this group of sisters, will finish in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. (Another group of sisters will then board the bus and head to Philadelphia and the Democratic National Convention.)

Within myself, I discovered a wondering that has been percolating quietly under the surface. In light of everything that has been happening in our country in recent weeks, from Orlando to Baton Rouge to Minnesota to Dallas, and in all of our hearts, is this really what I, what we should be about right now? Someone else in our circle verbalized their own version of the same wondering.

My heart, not my head, told me the answer. The Spirit has led us to this moment and brought us together for a purpose. There is such pain, sorrow and confusion in our society right now, and no one seems to know what to do. Yet here we are ready to embark on a journey of encounter, and listening to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places. What better response could there be for this moment in history?

This intuition was confirmed when we joined a crowd of 300-plus at the First Unitarian Society in Madison for the pre-launch blessing. First of all, I realized that there was no way that I could be prepared for the emotional experience of walking off the bus into a crowd of people who see the Nuns on the Bus as a symbol of hope for a broken world. Really, there are no words to describe the feeling, other than that this experience is bigger than any one of the individual women riding on the bus.

More importantly, every speaker during the evening program contextualized the meaning of this particular trip in the mess that we find ourselves in as a society, particularly the recent events these past weeks. At the root of the violence, racism and despair are policies that have created and perpetuated systemic injustice. There are not many spaces in our sound-byte-world where those connections can be made at both the head and the heart level publicly. Nuns on the Bus is one of those spaces.

Earlier this week as I was preparing for my first Nuns on the Bus experience, I ran across a quote from Dorothy Day that sums it all up for me. She said that the greatest challenge of her day, and I'd say it's even more urgent today, is "how to bring about a revolution of the heart." To those who questioned small efforts in the face of big problems, she said this: "A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do."

That is why so many people came out to the pre-launch blessing in Madison on Monday night, to cast pebbles into the pond, to add their signatures to the NOTB bus, to throw their lot in with the side of justice, goodness and peace. As they blessed us on our journey, they found their way into our hearts and will journey with us.

So how to do we mend the gaps and reweave the fabric of our society? One step, one stop, one signature, one story, and one conversation at a time. We cannot sit down and feel hopeless. There is still too much work to do in our revolution of the heart.

[Susan Rose Francois is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She is a regular contributor to GSR's Horizons column and was a Bernardin scholar at Catholic Theological Union and has ministered as a justice educator and advocate. Read more of her work on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph.]

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